Louie Verrecchio
Synodal Ebola: Dr. Weigel to the rescue
By Louie Verrecchio
October 16, 2014

Below please find a recent National Review column by George Weigel, The Great Catholic Cave-In that Wasn't.

It is precisely what one might expect of this icon of neo-conservatism; a disjointed quasi-defense of the indefensible and a veritable "All's well!" in the face of the Church's auto-demolition.

Weigel's words are in bold.
    For the better part of a half century, the New York Times, and similarly situated purveyors of news and opinion, have eagerly awaited the Great Catholic Cave-In: that blessed moment when, at long last, the Catholic Church, like many other Christian communities, would concede that the sexual revolution had gotten it right all along and would adjust its teaching and practice to suit. A Times "breaking story" on October 13, under the headline "Vatican Signals More Tolerance Toward Gays and Remarriage," might have struck the unwary or uninformed (or those equally committed to the Times agenda in these matters) as a signal that Der Tag, the Day, had finally arrived.
Typical neo-con strategy; construct a straw man that is easily knocked down rather than engage the issue at hand. No one (no one whose opinion actually matters at any rate) is claiming that "the Catholic Church" has conceded that the "sexual revolution was right all along."
    Thus Elisabetta Povoledo wrote that "an important meeting at the Vatican used remarkably conciliatory language on Monday toward gay and divorced Catholics, signaling a possible easing of the church's rigid attitudes on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage." It would be hard to cram more misinformation into one sentence.
For the most part, the offending quote attributed to Elisabetta Povoleda is correct. The Relatio, while unable to change immutable doctrine, does indeed approach the topic of homosexuality in a less "rigid" (read, less Catholic) and conciliatory way. On this point there can be no argument.

As far as the sanctity of marriage is concerned, again, inasmuch as the Relatio conveys a certain "attitude, Signora Povoledo does not appear to be out of touch with reality on this point.
    1) The notion that the Catholic Church approaches suffering people who struggle with chastity, failing marriages, or both with "rigid attitudes" is slander.
"Rigid," of course, is not a Catholic concept, but it is disingenuous to pretend not to know that this is the secular manner of referring to the Church's unshakeable (if only her churchmen would follow suit) commitment to her own teachings and the immutable doctrines said teachings, and related disciplines, convey.
    Yes, there are priests and bishops who sometimes display a lack of pastoral charity in these difficult circumstances.
Weigel has apparently adopted the liberal presumption that "rigid" adherence to doctrine is less-than-pastoral and even uncharitable. These are the kinds of concessions one is apparently forced to make when taking on the role of defender-of-the-indefensible chicanery that has flourished under Pope Francis; most often at his very own urging.
    But they are a distinct minority. As any serious Catholic with experience of the Church's confessional practice knows, confessors are far more compassionate and understanding than this kind of Dan Brown caricature suggests.
What have "confessors" to do with this discussion??? We're not talking about contrite souls entering the confessional here.

If he means to speak of "confessors" as those who confess the Catholic faith, again, he is simply parroting the liberal notion that forthright teaching somehow lacks compassion. Either way, this is a swing and a miss.
    2) Moreover, what the Catholic Church believes about the ethics of human love and about marriage is not a matter of "attitudes."
Precisely, Counselor, which is why a Synodal document laced with an attitude that is decidedly soft (to be charitable) toward homosexuality and adultery is so dangerous; it runs counter to what the Catholic Church actually believes.
    It's a matter of truths. Many of those truths can be demonstrated by reason, if people are willing to work through a reasonable argument. Some of those truths, especially those pertaining to the permanence of marriage, come from the Church's Lord himself. To suggest that any of these truths are matters of "attitude" is another form of slander.
No kidding, George, and that's the real point; the Relatio itself is guilty of slandering so many truths. As such, one wonders why Weigel isn't attacking the Synod directly for its role in this fiasco, never mind the pope.

The answer, one assumes, is that taking shots at the secular media is low hanging fruit; nourishment for the neo-con soul; whereas engaging the errors that have been flowing out of Rome on a near daily basis during the current pontificate may well be detrimental to one's professional health.
    3) And then there's the slam implicit in that phrase, "rigid attitudes . . . on the sanctity of marriage." Does the Times now espouse flaccid attitudes toward the sanctity of marriage? Would a culture further corrupted by marital breakdown and divorce be more to the Times's liking?
Earth to George (or should I say, Jorge)... The issue at hand has not to do with what the Times might espouse, but what the Synod itself has conveyed; i.e., the issue concerns the flaccid attitudes found in the Relatio itself.
    4) Beyond these typical bits of Times-speak, Ms. Povoledo utterly misrepresented the document on which she was putatively reporting. It was not issued by "a meeting" or by "the Vatican." It was not an authoritative document in any sense; it was an interim report on themes that had been raised in the previous ten days of debate and discussion at the synod. It had absolutely no legislative weight – synod documents are consultative, not legislative – and I am told by those who were there that various formulations in the report were seriously criticized in the synod debates. Moreover, the interim report will be chewed over in the ten synod language-based discussion groups – where, one suspects, further criticisms will be aired – before any final report is issued. To turn this kind of interim report into the virtual equivalent of a papal encyclical is ludicrous on its face.
So, let me make sure I understand this point correctly... The Relatio carries no legislative weight, therefore, it represents no potential for harm?

Consider for a moment just how hypocritical this argument is.

No one, absolutely no one, imagines that articles published in the Times carries any ecclesial weight. This being the case, why is Weigel spending even a moment confronting what he considers to be its offenses against Catholic truth?

The reason is obvious; he believes, and correctly so, that even weightless propositions put forth in mainstream media publications can pose a very real threat to the mission of the Church; namely, the salvation of souls.

If this is true, and it most certainly is, how much more of a danger is posed when a document set forth by a Synod of Bishops undermines the faith?
    The 2014 synod is an agenda-setting exercise that was intended by Pope Francis to help prepare the work of the 2015 Synod on the Family. The pope knows full well that marriage and the family are in crisis throughout the world. In his own remarks before the synod, he said that he hoped the synod would lift up the beauty of Christian marriage and Christian family life in a world too dominated by what he's often called a "throwaway culture," the throwaways all too frequently including spouses and children. That some bishops, theologians, and bishop-theologians from dying local churches in Europe have tried to use the synod to instruct the entire Catholic Church on appropriate pastoral solutions to difficult and tangled human situations will strike some as cheeky, and others as just bizarre. But whatever those synod fathers and advisers thought they were doing, what they effectively have done is to contribute to the false sense that this, at last, is the moment of the Great Catholic Cave-In.
So, Weigel admits it; certain of the bishops have succeeded in painting a false picture of what the Church believes! Again, why then is he spouting so much verbiage nitpicking a Times article when the bishops themselves, as he plainly admits, are to blame?
    The synod fathers are wrestling with difficult questions. How does the Catholic Church best approach, in a pastoral and charitable way, those who are living in what the Church has no option but to consider, objectively speaking, irregular situations? How does a Church of sinners – which is what all of us Catholics are – call people in those situations to the conversion to which all Christians are constantly called? How can it bring people to see the truth of their situation, and how can it best help them deal with that? These are not simple matters; matters of the heart rarely are. A decent respect for the difficulties and the delicate human situations with which the synod fathers and the pope are grappling demands something better from the putative newspaper of record than a throwaway line about "rigid attitudes."
And yet, one would think that such issues have never been dealt with by Holy Mother Church in the past. The truth is, the Church has been addressing these "difficult questions" for some 2,000 years.

Sure, there are matters, like homosexual couples raising children, that are somewhat unique to our day, but if we're lloking for someone to blame for the fact that the press is on high alert to see just how things are going to change, one need look no further than one bishop in particular.

Any guesses as to who that might be, George?

How desperate the neo-cons are to forget that Pope Francis went on record both praising Kasper's ideas and insisting that the Church cannot simply affirm what has always been taught, when in truth such affirmation is precisely his duty.
    And if the Times and others really want to dig into a serious debate that's underway beneath the surface at the 2014 synod, they might consider this: The experience of the 20th and early 21st centuries suggests that there is an iron law built into the Christian encounter with modernity, according to which Christian communities that maintain a clear sense of their doctrinal and moral boundaries survive and even flourish, while Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries become porous wither and eventually die.
And now we get to the richest part of all:
    Why have the Catholic leaders who have gotten the most press at this synod, including Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, failed to grasp that? Why do they want to emulate the pattern charted by the dying communities of liberal Protestantism?
These questions should be addressed directly to Pope Francis; he is the driving force behind the entire affair. Kasper is little more than a useful mouthpiece.
    And how do those who have learned that lesson craft pastorally effective strategies that address real situations of suffering without compromising the truth?
Men such as these do exist in people like Cardinal Burke; the same who is about to pack his bags for a largely irrelevant post thanks to his willingness to do what the George Weigels of the world wouldn't dare.
    That's the real issue at this synod, and it will be the real issue at its successor next year.
No, the real issue is, and will remain, just how far Pope Francis is willing to go in order to marginalize those who dare to think and behave and teach as true Catholic pastors of souls, that he may make straight the paths that will lead to the church-of-man that he so clearly desires to construct.

© Louie Verrecchio


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