by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris
That question was once asked by Stalin in a provocative way to poke fun at the Pope from a dark, militaristic standpoint. Following the Synod, one may ask this question in a more wholesome theological and spiritual light.
Those who pretend that the Synod Fathers were not divided – and vocally so on the Synod floor – are living in the land of make-believe. All one has to do is read Pope Francis' final address to the Synod Fathers to get a feel for the divisions that really existed among them. One shouldn't have to apply political labels to matters of faith and morals, but it's hard in common parlance not to speak of differences in the Church without using terms like right, left, center, center-right, center-left, extreme right, extreme left, moderate, traditional, conservative, liberal, progressive, etc.
It is worth mentioning that not all the Synod Fathers were as vocal as others in presenting and defending their positions. For example, the Italians seemed to be a rather taciturn lot compared to the outspoken bishops of Africa, Germany, Austria, Poland, North America and Australia. We must be grateful for the contributions of the African bishops in holding the line on homosexuality, while the bishops of Poland stood their ground on "Familiaris Consortio" of the late great St. John Paul II.
It is interesting to note that the Final Document of the Synod makes reference to paragraph 84 of "Familiaris Consortio" but leaves out Pope John Paul II's theological and pastoral rationale for refusing to allow Holy Communion for the divorced/remarried. This, of course, was no mere oversight on the part of the drafting commission but a deliberate omission meant to placate those more liberal and progressive bishops who really want more openness in this regard.
Regardless of what one may think of the document, it is in fact a much welcomed improvement over the poorly written and haphazardly organized "Instrumentum Laboris" (the working document of the Synod). Moreover, the fact that the Synod Assembly only voted on the document's individual 94 paragraphs and not on the document as a whole is perhaps a sign of what some feared might turn out to be a "no confidence" vote. At the very least, one could safely say that the "Relatio Synodi," which has no magisterial or legislative (canonical) weight, is merely a document filled with recommendations that the Pope will now decide what to do with, if anything. He may or may not incorporate them into a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which he may or may not choose to write (although the Cardinal Secretary of State seems to suggest that such a document is in the offing).
Certainly, however, the Synod's final document could have a greater impact once it is mulled over by national episcopal conferences and individual bishops and likewise serves as a focus for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy which gets underway on December 8, 2015.
Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the implementation of Pope Francis' "Motu Proprio" which, in the words of Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB (" The CEO," as he refers to himself, of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation), was the "appetizer" leading to the main course, which was the Synod. I suppose, following Fr. Rosica's logic, the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, could be dubbed "the Synod's dessert.”
Perhaps one of the most difficult areas of implementation of the Synod concerns the formation of conscience in relation to the moral law. The document does not admit of any principle of gradualism because the natural moral law is based on absolute and objective truths. At the same time, however, the Synod Fathers wanted to emphasize the primacy of conscience in the moral life.
It is the duty of the Church's pastors, in particular, that of bishops and priests, to help guide people, believers and unbelievers alike, in the formation of their conscience according to the teachings of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. This "discernment" process is crucial and it is most effectively done not so much in the confessional as in spiritual direction, when there is ample time for a priest to counsel a person who sincerely seeks to grow in his or her life of faith and devotion.
The Synod Fathers emphasize the importance of dealing with individuals on a "case by case" basis. While this sounds like a commonsensical, pastoral suggestion on the surface, bishops and priests need to be careful not to fall into the errors of moral relativism and subjectivism, often associated with casuistry. Each person cannot become the excuse for developing a new doctrine and a new morality. Rather, bishops and priests will better serve the cause of Church unity if they learn to be more on the same page when applying the clear doctrinal and moral teachings of the Church to the individuals who come to them for pastoral help. If, on the other hand, bishops and priests become accustomed to creating a new set of rules for each person who seeks their spiritual guidance and counsel, then they may, wittingly or unwittingly, create more division in the Church. The first step in any "case-by-case" approach is assisting the individual to develop an informed conscience, which means beginning with the perennial truths of Gospel morality.
Does Catholicism really want to go the way of Judaism in the United States of America that consists of three main branches – Orthodox, Conservative and Reform? Division in the Church may be a dream for secularists and Communists like Stalin, but it isn't the plan of God for His Church – one, holy, catholic and apostolic. And, on that basis, I trust that the Pope does not want any more “divisions"!