The Synod and the Unnecessary Crisis


Damian Thompson has an excellent post over at the online edition of The Spectator regarding the controversy that has preceded the Synod on the Family (“Communion for divorced: Pope Francis has created a crisis”). To his credit, Mr. Thompson goes beyond the internecine warfare which has garnered most of the headlines in the months leading up to the synod, instead focusing his attention on the Holy Father’s culpability:

“The Vatican Synod of Bishops on the Family begins…amid a degree of chaos unprecedented in recent Catholic history. And I’m afraid it’s the Pope’s fault.

Francis kicked off proceedings in February by asking the retired German Cardinal Walter Kasper to address the world’s cardinals. Kasper used the opportunity to float his proposal – which he’s been advocating for years – that divorced and remarried Catholics should be allowed to receive Holy Communion.”

No one should have been surprised by the Cardinal’s antics, however, for none of this is new for Kasper. The prelate has spent decades squarely placing himself in opposition to many of the views held by Francis’s predecessor Pope Benedict. Back in 1993, while still a diocesan bishop in Germany, Kasper joined two other bishops in issuing “pastoral instructions” to priests authorizing them to give Holy Communion to the divorced and civilly remarried. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time, swiftly addressed the issue, forcing the German bishops to immediately rescind the policy.

And yet this was the retired Cardinal who was brought back in from the cold and given a platform on which to speak before the consistory last February. The confusion and conflict that we are seeing today, this high profile and very public battle between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, is an unnecessary crisis. It did not have to be so.

Damian Thompson concludes:

“This is one hell of a mess. And it raises questions about the judgment of the Pope (whom I admire enormously). Kasper is an outlier, theologically speaking. It is bizarre that Francis has effectively allowed him to set the agenda for the first Synod, an ‘extraordinary’ meeting that will be followed by a general Synod on the Family in 2015. There could easily be a year of anger and confusion between the two meetings – manifested primarily in parishes where priests and communicants aren’t sure where they stand.

We’re not talking here about a simple division between liberal and conservative prelates. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, hardly a traditionalist, has said that any marriage which is ‘truly the place of the conscious, willing acceptance of God’s grace can no more be dissolved than the Eucharist can be returned to bread, because it is the work of God’.

Nichols isn’t committing himself to any specific position in this debate, but it’s clear that he recognises that unpicking the Magisterium on the Communion ban would be nightmarishly difficult. I suspect he speaks for the majority of the world’s cardinals, who have to bear in mind that Jesus himself was more ‘hardline’ on divorce than on any other aspect of sexual morality.

Pope Francis has opened Pandora’s box before the first session of the Synod. Was that deliberate? Or had he just not thought through the consequences of putting Kasper in the driving seat? Either way, he has blundered.”

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP

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