Today at noon, Rome time, the Instrumentum Laboris – the text that will guide the second half of the Synod this October – was released in Italian. Some highlights, courtesy of Whispers in the Loggia:
Stacking out at 147 paragraphs – some 20,000 words – the text is arranged around three pillars: the challenges families face, the “discernment of the family’s vocation,” and “the mission of the family today,” each of them slated to take up a week of the discussions at the 4-25 October assembly.
Among other highlights, the final portion of the framework deals with the proposed changes of practice cited by their supporters as necessary for the church to better respond to families in challenging situations amid current pastoral practice.
On the assembly’s most hot-button issue of all, the instrumentum speaks of a “common accord” among the world’s bishops toward “eventual access” to the sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried couples, but only following “an itinerary of reconciliation or a penitential path under the authority of the [diocesan] bishop,” and only “in situations of irreversible cohabitation.” The text cautions that the proposal is only envisioned “in some particular situations, and according to well-precise conditions,” citing the interest of children born in a second union. On a related front, ample treatment was given to the state of marriage tribunals, with calls for a “decentralization” of the annulment courts and the floating of the “relevance of the personal faith” of spouses in terms of their understanding of the marital bond as a means for declaring the nullity of a marriage.
Elsewhere, three paragraphs were devoted to pastoral ministry to families “having within them a person of homosexual orientation.” While reaffirming the 2003 CDF declaration that “there exists no foundation whatsoever to integrate or compare, not even remotely, homosexual unions and the design of God for the family,” the text urges that “independent of their sexual tendency,” gays “be respected in their dignity and welcomed with sensibility and delicateness, whether in the church or society.”
The news about the continued push for the divorced and remarried to be admitted to the sacraments under certain circumstances is unsurprising. We have known that this wasn’t going to go away quietly, and there are always certain angles that can be pushed, leaned on, or used to apply leverage to move an agenda which should be immovable forward.
The part about homosexuals, on the other hand, surprises me. That’s strong language, particularly considering what we saw come out of the Relatio Post-Disceptationem (the mid-synod report) last October. That said, I’d be willing to bet the bottle of bourbon I’m itching to pop open that this isn’t the last word on this topic. Attacking the Sixth Commandment has a distinct advantage to those who favor sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance: break down the meaning of marriage, and “same-sex marriage” begins to make more sense.
As regards this whole Synod business — which is about to go back into full swing — I saw a comment on social media today that really struck me:
“Pope Francis operates according to a very clever, Jesuitical dialectic. By denouncing the most obvious, “old school” sins in the most bombastic way at times, he puts other more “complex” sins on a spectrum of dialogue and compromise. Such sins literally “pale in comparison” with the hardcore sins that he likes to target. This also explains why he invokes the devil so much. It not only connects him to “the people” in a charmingly homely way, but also, more importantly tares the moral scale so drastically on one end that all lesser “human” evil becomes less taboo and thus more amenable to dialogue and pastoral compromise. This is precisely how the debate about communion for the divorced living as remarried has operated: since we all agree that some things are just wrong/evil (e.g. child sex trafficking, slave labor, organized crime, abortion, etc.), then we can discuss more amicably how to “solve” problems generated by less flagrantly evil sins. The chief mechanism is to flatten the gravity is some sins by putting them all on a seamless spectrum of moral nuance (viz. implicitly putting abortion and less than absolutely open immigration policies on a par), while still validating his moral earnestness by thundering about the devil and mobsters. The added bonus is that, if anyone opposes his earnest, sensible, pastoral, humane, considered, etc. proposals on behalf of the God of Surprises, he can quite literally demonize the opposition as pharisaical minions of the devil’s work.”
Such an agenda would clearly entail a great deal of cunning. It is not my purpose here to attribute this agenda to Pope Francis, but rather to highlight one possible rhetorical device by which the issues that have been on the table at the Synod could have been pushed to the fore. We are left to ponder the reasons why Roman Catholic Prelates are openly discussing moral issues long-since settled as though they can simply be nuanced into contradiction.
The problem this presents is not merely the concern of lowly Catholic writers like myself. As regards the mid-synod relatio from last October, we recall to mind the words of Bishop Athanasius Schneider, who said, “This is the first time in Church history that such a heterodox text was actually published as a document of an official meeting of Catholic bishops under the guidance of a pope, even though the text only had a preliminary character.” He went on, “This document will remain for the future generations and for the historians a black mark which has stained the honour of the Apostolic See.”
Somehow, these things are transpiring. Somehow, this agenda is moving forward, although the pope himself is overseeing the proceedings. With the release of Instrumentum Laboris today, we are on the cusp of a whole new round of discussions, interviews, revelations, and assessments in the leadup to October, not a few of which, because of the global media coverage that will no doubt accompany them, will begin once again to shape the perceptions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike about what we believe and what can be changed. With the recent “Shadow Council” and the continued forward motion of the German bishops, unhindered in their opinions or defiance, what we can expect from the Synod itself is anyone’s guess.
But as Pope Francis is so fond of saying, God is a “God of Surprises.” The unexpected can certainly happen, even in a Synod with a stacked deck. We will be watchful and prayerful, and trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest.