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Synod may be an unpleasant three weeks


We continue the doleful task of looking ahead to the Synod on the Family next month in Rome; it promises to offer the Church a reprise of the division and confusion of last year's synod.

synod1 In October 2014, the managers of the synod cleverly manipulated the process to create the impression the Catholic Church was getting ready to follow other Christian communities in abandoning the Christian tradition on marriage and sexuality.

This earned the synod, and by extension Pope Francis, thunderous praise from the secular media.  It caused considerable confusion within the household of faith, and many synod fathers rushed to clarify all that had become unclear.

At Synod 2015, there will be no element of surprise.  Everyone coming is already expecting manipulation from the synod managers and outside pressure from those pushing a liberal agenda.  This time, the defenders of Gospel tradition will be organized too.  It will be a rather unpleasant three weeks.

In October 2014, the synod managers and those advocating pastoral innovations were at pains to suggest that no matter what might change in practice, the doctrine of the Church would not be touched.

Of course sacramental practice reflects doctrine, so you cannot really change the former significantly without touching upon the latter, but as it became evident that doctrinal issues were being contested, the innovators shouted all the louder that doctrine was not being touched.

We now see that that is not true, as pointed out by 50 esteemed theologians and philosophers from around the world, including some of most distinguished moral theologians of recent generations.

One of the latest in a growing stream of publications preparing for the synod, the "appeal" of the scholars was released last week on the website of the journal First Things.

The scholars point out that the Instrumentum Laboris (the "working document" or preparatory text) for the synod, on the specific question of contraception, calls into question the teaching of Blessed Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and of St.  John Paul in Veritatis Splendor.

The argument presents a very careful analysis of the moral act, but the analysis is all the more damning for being precise, nuanced, and exact.

Given the signatories are the leading scholars in the field of marriage and family, the failures they have detected in the Instrumentum Laboris mean the synod managers who drafted it were too sloppy to get Catholic moral doctrine correct, did not consult the relevant experts in the field, or, with another agenda afoot, chose to falsely present Catholic doctrine.

None of those options builds confidence for how the synod will be conducted.

The heart of the scholars' critique is that the Instrumentum Laboris presents an objective moral norm, in this case relating to conjugal morality, not as something good that is derived from the nature of the human person and the conjugal act, but rather as an arbitrary rule that may, in certain circumstances, actually be bad for those who observe it.

The Catholic tradition has long been that the Church teaches that certain acts are wrong because there is something wrong with them, not that they are wrong just because the Church says so.  The Instrumentum Laboris errs in that it adopts the latter framework.

Of course sacramental practice reflects doctrine, so you cannot really change the former significantly without touching upon the latter. . .

While the scholars' analysis focuses on a particular aspect of conjugal morality, the faulty approach of the synod managers could easily be applied further afield.

"The text of the Instrumentum Laboris is seriously defective," write the scholars.  "It appears to stand in direct tension with the magisterial teachings contained in Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor.

"While [the Instrumentum Laboris] presents itself as an explanation of Humanae Vitae's meaning, in fact it empties the encyclical of its central teaching.  What is at stake here is not a minor detail, but a serious distortion of the basic content of Paul VI's document.

"The inadequacies and misrepresentations contained in the InstrumentumLaboris may have devastating consequences for the faithful, who are entitled to know the truth of the depositum fidei."

Instead the faithful "will be confused about the relation of the conscience to objective moral truth.  Ultimately, this confusion will not be confined only to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

"Allowing the formulations of [the Instrumentum Laboris] to stand as part of the Synod's teaching would imply that its logic could be applied to other areas in which the Church's teaching concerning intrinsically evil acts is at stake, such as abortion or euthanasia."

At Synod 2014, Cardinal George Pell said that the question of Holy Communion for those divorced and civilly remarried, examined in this column last week, was a "stalking horse" for those who wished to unravel the Church's entire sexual ethic.

Insofar as the synod managers produced the InstrumentumLaboris with malice aforethought rather than theological incompetence, it seems Cardinal Pell was right.



cregister Father Raymond J. de Souza. "Synod may be an unpleasant three weeks." The Catholic Register (September 21, 2015).

This article is reprinted with permission of The Catholic Register.

The Author

desouza Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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