We were terrified beyond all else by the disastrous state of human society today. For who can fail to see that society is at the present time, more than in any past age, suffering from a terrible and deeprooted malady which, developing every day and eating into its inmost being, is dragging it to destruction? You understand, Venerable Brethren, what this disease is – apostasy from God, than which in truth nothing is more allied with ruin, according to the word of the Prophet: “For behold they that go far from Thee shall perish” (Ps. 1xxii., 17). We saw therefore that, in virtue of the ministry of the Pontificate, which was to be entrusted to Us, We must hasten to find a remedy for this great evil, considering as addressed to Us that Divine command: “Lo, I have set thee this day over the nations and over kingdoms, to root up, and to pull down, and to waste, and to destroy, and to build, and to plant” (Jerem. i., 10). But, cognizant of Our weakness, We recoiled in terror from a task as urgent as it is arduous.
– Pope St. Pius X, E Supremi
As the Synod proceedings wrapped up last Saturday, Spectator blogger Damian Thompson published a piece entitled, “The Vatican Synod on the Family is over and the conservatives have won.” The headline hovers above a sour-faced photo of Pope Francis, glaring menacingly at the camera.
Thompson explains himself as follows:
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that conservatives basically ‘won’ this synod – they fought successfully behind the scenes and in the debates to block changes to pastoral practice that (a) they believe go against the teaching of the very anti-divorce Jesus of Nazareth and (b) would have outraged the increasingly powerful churches of Africa.
This narrative has been picked up by various Catholic media outlets and bloggers, all of whom seem to be content to celebrate what actually amounts to a small step backwards; not a defense of Church teaching, but not too many inches given.
At the New York Times, Ross Douthat took a more neutral — and sensible — stance, saying that there wasn’t a victor
because there weren’t two “sides” or camps or (heaven help us) factions or anything so nasty as all that. It was all a dialogue, a moment of encounter and discernment, an opening to the Holy Spirit that set the Roman Catholic Church free to be church in a new way for the third millennium. It was a beginning, an overture, the first chapter in a neverending story, the first step on a permanent journey, because we are all sojourners together. So nobody won, because really everybody won.
As Saint Athanasius would say, LOL. No, look, what actually happened is that conservatives won what was probably the closest thing to victory that they could have hoped for, given that 1) the pope was against them, and 2) the pope stacked the governing and writing committees and the voting ranks, and did I mention that 3)the pope was against them. (People who still argue that Pope Francis was studiously neutral, that he just wanted dialogue, or that his views are unknowable, need to sit down and read the tongue-lashing he gave to conservatives in his closing address — and contrast it with the much more evenhanded way he closed last fall’s synod, when conservative resistance to the synod’s intended direction was much more disorganized.) Which is to say they produced a document that used unfashionable words like “indissoluble” to talk about marriage, that mostly avoided the subject of homosexuality, and that offered a few dense, occasionally-ambiguous, slightly-impenetrable paragraphs on welcoming and accompanying divorced and remarried Catholics without offering either a path to communion absent an annulment or proposing to devolve that question to national bishops conferences, as the German bishops and the rest of the progressive caucus at the synod clearly wished.
Not that such a devolution isn’t still in the offing. The final Synod relatio was not a mandate, it was a suggestion. The power to decide what happens now rests in the hands of Pope Francis. And as Douthat reiterated twice, “the pope was against” us. Yes, us – the people who oppose radical alterations to the Church’s teaching AND to her pastoral practice, both of which are inextricably intertwined.
Allow me to pause for a moment to say this: we are not “conservative Catholics.” We are faithful Catholics. The political label carries baggage that distracts from the important distinction between orthodoxy and heterodoxy – a distinction that is critical to understanding the Synod proceedings. I understand that people need shorthand when trying to identify the various factions in what should be a factionless Church. I’ve grappled with this issue myself. But we need to be clear on this point: the people who want to see unchangeable Catholic doctrine and practice left unchanged should just be called Catholics. The people who want to change it should be called something else. I’m not sure what, exactly. They tend to bristle at even the implication that they are heretics, even though that’s what many of them are. But without a formal declaration of heresy, that’s a difficult charge to make stick. “Protestant” might also be a good word, but it’s already taken, and this requires something more specific. “Kasperite” is thrown around with some regularity these days, but it gives him too much credit.
Whatever word we come up with, “Catholic” isn’t it. And with the pope in the corner of the revolutionaries, there are some tough questions that need asking. Since these things are above my pay grade, I’ll refrain from openly doing so here. But those with the competence to do so should, perhaps, be doing so. Sooner, rather than later.
Instead, let me toss out another flaming bag of you-don’t-want-to-know-what’s-in-it. I know there was a spoiler in the title of this post, but here goes anyway:
WE DIDN’T “WIN” ANYTHING.
Yes, the final relatio, so far as we know (since we’re still waiting for a final English version) does not have anything heretical in it. And I guess, if you have low self-esteem, and believe, like a sad but loyal dog, that as long as you’re not being kicked you’re experiencing real love…well, then you might be a little excited about this. But the document isn’t a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates on the doorstep of the faithful. After three weeks of trench warfare, it represents — in the most optimistic interpretation — a stalemate. At worst, it’s a significant loss of ground, inasmuch as it fails to address the rampant speculation that has infested the Church for the past 20 months that the pastoral practice on the reception of communion by the divorced and remarried will be changed.
If THAT wasn’t the backdrop for this document, it’d be uninteresting to pretty much everyone. But that is what led to its creation, and we can see just how hard they worked to keep orthodoxy at arms length when they coyly quoted Pope John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio in paragraph 84 – but only the part that said this:
Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.
Somehow they left off part of that same paragraph in Familiaris Consortio. The part that said this:
However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.
This relatio is about as secure a barrier against communion for the divorced and remarried as a front door left open and unlocked in a bad neighborhood. Sure, it has some of the right features, but so what? This thing is primed and ready for exploitation. It has professionally-designed time bombs baked right in. Just like Vatican II. Which, of course, is never fully implemented – even after half a century.
I reached out to Bishop Schneider this week to share something I had written about the Synod. This morning, I received a response:
We have to not be naive, because of the apparently orthodox text. In reality, there are dangerous traps and back doors masked in a very cunning manner, which open the way for the Kasper agenda.
Whatever else you want to say about them, the bishops and popes of the conciliar and post-conciliar Church have learned how to do one thing with astonishing skill: like straw spun into garbage, they churn out official documents full of language so bereft of definitive meaning that it forms a pulsing nexus of perpetual aggiornamento; an everlasting gobstopper of theological novelty that somehow manages to pass the scrutiny of every so-called “conservative” Catholic to come down the pike, solely on the basis that it isn’t explicitly heretical.
We have breathtakingly low standards.
Did anyone truly expect a deeply, openly heterodox text? Does anyone believe that this ends here? Does anyone think that Pope Francis — the same pope who imposed two apostolic letters to streamline annulments without the consultation of any relevant dicastery, without speaking to any of the canonists at the Apostolic Signatura who should have vetted the jurisprudence therein — has really been put in his place by “conservative” Synod fathers? Does anyone think that his concluding speech signaled defeat – a speech which lashed out at those “dead stones” who care about doctrine, promoted cultural and moral relativism, and said that “the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness”?
This is not over. We didn’t get the cure to this fatal disease, we got an obvious placebo. Stop celebrating, because the next wave is already coming, and no matter how exhausted we are, the fight goes on.
The heretics in the Church are not cowed. They are more empowered than ever. Those who advanced heterodoxy at the Synod were not disciplined – nor were they, as so many wishful-thinkers speciously tried to convince us, brought to Rome by Pope Francis to be “smoked out.” They are his friends. They helped get him elected.
Do you know who did get “smoked out”? The Catholic bishops.
[Francis] had quite another idea for the second synod gathering, the one that just took place. It seems clearer, now more than ever, that it was designed to help him “take the pulse” of the bishops. And it was successful. In a sense, he has “smoked out” those bishops who, up until now, have not shown their hand.
Don’t believe it?
On Saturday evening, as he brought this latest synod assembly’s work to a close, the pope told the bishops and observers what he believed the exercise had been about.
Among other things, he said: “It was about laying bare the closed hearts, which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teaching or good intentions, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families.”
Francis undoubtedly took note of those prelates he had in mind.
And while he thanked the bishops for engaging in “a rich and lively dialogue” through the many “different opinions which were freely expressed,” he lamented that some synod participants spoke out “at times, unfortunately, not entirely in well-meaning ways.”
He surely jotted down the names of a few more bishops.
Jotting down names and making tactical, retributive strikes is a thing that people do when they have the upper hand. Unorthodox clerics in particular are incredibly fond of language like “accompaniment,” “encounter,” “oppenness,” “dialogue,” and “collegiality.” But just like the Social Justice Warriors who crusade for diversity by crushing anyone with an opposing viewpoint, these two-faced clerics turn immediately on those who hold critical views of their pet ideologies the second they think they have an advantage. They then do all that they can to shut those voices down.
See, for example, the Hunt for Ross Douthat, currently underway:
— Massimo Faggioli (@MassimoFaggioli) October 27, 2015
Ah, the elites do love their credentialism. They think everyone, no matter how ignorant, should have a voice on controversial or even settled topics, unless they are the ones that are precious to them. In that case, they need qualifications. If the New York Times has any remaining integrity, they’ll ignore this little paean to censorship on the part of those who think conscience is inviolable — until, at least, your conscience tells you to say something they don’t like. We can’t have truth being bandied about willy-nilly, after all. Someone could get hurt.
This may be a notable example, but it’s hardly an isolated one. This sort of battle is being waged on smaller fronts, hidden from the public eye. Several of our writers (or would-be writers) have felt the sting of Cathinform – the religious thought police who demand conformity to the paradigm of papal positivism, or there will be consequences. I’m sure there are countless scenarios playing out along the same lines in parishes and dioceses and colleges and publications across the world. And depending on the degree to which one of the unwashed critics’ livelihood depends upon the benevolence of the Church, the noose can be pulled incredibly tight.
Meanwhile, there are no shackles in sight for Kasper, Daneels, Marx, Cupich, Bonny, Forte, Baldisseri, Koch, Coleridge, and the whole wretched hive of scum and villainy who can’t seem to leave Christ and His Mystical Bride unmolested. In fact, Kasper feels that the Synod was a win. Cardinals Marx and Schönborn and Archbishop Koch were pleased. Fr. Thomas Reese was pleasantly surprised by the real exploitability of the “internal forum” language:
What is remarkable about the three paragraphs dealing with divorced and remarried Catholics is that the words Communion and Eucharist never appear. Yes, that’s right, they never mention Communion as a conclusion of this internal forum process.
So what does it mean? A conservative might interpret it as closed to Communion because it was not mentioned in the text. A liberal might interpret it as including Communion since it is not explicitly excluded in the text.
I think that the truth is that Communion was not mentioned because that was the only way the paragraphs could get a two-thirds majority. Like the Second Vatican Council, the synod achieved consensus through ambiguity. This means that they are leaving Pope Francis free to do whatever he thinks best.
Hats off to the drafting committee that found exactly the right language to achieve consensus even if it does not give a definitive answer to our questions.
And that brings us right back to the real heart of the problem: when two diametrically opposing sides both claim victory, one of them is wrong. (Just ask Aristotle!) This was a Rorschach Synod put on by a Rorschach papacy, but just because everyone who felt so inclined could project what they wanted onto it doesn’t mean the inkblot didn’t form a rather suggestive picture. Sometimes when one looks at a shape and sees something that makes them blush, it’s not just a Freudian contortion of the mind. This Synod has been called the “Synod of Sex” by a number of commentators, and with good reason: the forces of the Devil and the flesh — most of them pelvic in nature — have waged war against the ancient and sacrosanct bastions of the Church, and those able defenses have cracked, if not crumbled.
But there are more engines of the siege en route.
Sexual violence of a certain character is known by a rather unambiguous term in the English language: rape. With the barely thwarted attempt to force upon the Church an acceptance of sexual deviation that would have compromised the purity of her teaching, what we witnessed at the Synod was nothing less than an attempted rape of the Mystical Bride of Christ. The perpetrators — those whose very job it is to defend her from such violence, no less — were allowed to walk away from the scene of the crime untouched, to continue seeking opportunities for their lecherous desires to reach fruition.
Pope Francis is the guardian of the Church. He has allowed these rough men to attempt to violate Christ’s sweet spouse, and has raised his voice in protest not against those seeking to have their way with her, but against us – the very ones who would protect our mother from such an outrage.
We will not forget the neglectfulness of our spiritual father in this moment of need. Pray for the conversion of this pope, that in his heart he may come to repent of his refusal to stand for Christ’s truth in this vital matter at the heart of our faith — a denial of his Lord in a moment of crisis as surely as was that of St. Peter’s on the night of The Passion. Pray for the Church, for she is even now the subject of malicious designs by the wolves who have entered in among her shepherds. And pray for the poor man who will be elected to the papacy next, whoever he may be, that he will be terrified by the responsibility, inspired by the love of Tradition, emboldened by his veneration of the Church, guided by the holiness and wisdom that come from a true love of God, and resolute in the task that will urgently befall him: the restoration of not only the dignity of the papacy, but of all things in Christ.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.