by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris

Jesus Himself once issued a caution, which the Pope and other Synod Fathers would do well to heed: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

Officialdom in any institution sometimes puts too much stock and takes too much pride in promoting a cool, calm and collected exterior when in fact there is chaos, controversy and conflict going on the inside. In this day and age, dominated by social media and technology like the Internet and smart phones, the Church can hardly afford to play rhetorical games or engage in window-dressing. Ultimately, as Our Lord teaches in the Gospel, what is done in secret will be revealed in the broadest daylight. 

Italians put a lot of emphasis on making "una bella figura," which literally means "a beautiful figure." But, in striving to do this, many people unwittingly make what the Italians call "una figuraccia" ("an awful figure") – quite the opposite of what was originally intended in making "una bella figura."

Desperately trying to make a "bella figura" can be paramount to constructing a superficial and indeed false façade around a delapidated edifice. Somewhere between Polyannish idealism and Cassandra-like cynicism and skepticism there is something we called realism, which allows us to see and evaluate matters as they truly are. While everything is not coming up roses at the Synod, the sky is not falling, either. In fact, as the Synod enters its third and final week, it is still very much "a work in progress." Certainly, however, there are undeniable tensions among the Synod Fathers.

The more "conservative" bishops believe strongly that one cannot change pastoral language and praxis concerning Communion for the divorced/remarried without changing the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage, as is plainly taught by Our Lord in the Gospels and in magisterial documents like "Familiaris Consortio" and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The more "liberal" or "progressive" bishops at the Synod disagree; they don't see how changing pastoral language or praxis will end up changing doctrine. The bishops in this camp maintain that the Church as a whole or perhaps at the local level through national episcopal conferences can change the pastoral praxis of the Church to include a "Via Penitentialis" ("Penitential Way") that eventually would allow divorced/remarried couples to receive Holy Communion without impinging on the doctrine regarding the indissolubility of marriage. It is worth mentioning that "punting" the issue to lower levels of ecclesiality is exactly what the Archbishop of Canterbury is now trying to do because of the moral and doctrinal disarray within Anglicanism!

Cardinal Péter Erdö, General Relator of the Synod, began the Synod by presenting a "Relatio" ("Presentation") in which he re-stated the solid Catholic doctrine on marriage and the family. He emphatically denied the liberal or progressive position that there can be a "via media" or "middle road" between truth and falsehood/orthodoxy and heterodoxy when it comes to objective Church teaching on marriage and the family. In other words, either the bond of marriage is indissoluble, or it is not! If the bond of marriage is truly indissoluble, then the Church cannot admit divorced/remarried couples to Holy Communion.

A "Via Penitentialis," permitting couples to be readmitted to sacramental communion, would make no sense for couples who cannot obtain a declaration of nullity (commonly termed an "annulment") for their first marriage because, in truth, the Church has no authority from her Lord and Founder to dissolve a valid marriage in favor of divorce and remarriage. And, therefore, as long as the first union stands, any subsequent unions constitute an on-going state of adultery – again, as taught by Christ Himself.

It is helpful to recall that the 16th-century Protestant Reformation in England started precisely over this very question when the Pope refused to grant King Henry VIII a rescript of divorce from Catherine of Aragon to marry his paramour, Ann Boleyn – whom King Henry eventually had beheaded in order to take up with other concubines and eventually to found his own schismatic Church, known today as the Church of England or Anglican Communion.

At the present Synod, there is a "Fraternal Delegation," which includes our separated Anglican brethren. For quite some time now, the Anglican Church has been evolving liberally and progressively, some would argue "morphing," into something that King Henry VIII would probably barely recognize. After all, let’s not forget that the Pope once bestowed on King Henry VIII the illustrious title of "Defensor Fidei" ("Defender of the Faith") because he wrote a letter defending the doctrines of Catholicism against the attacks of Martin Luther, a renegade Augustinian canon who began by condemning the excesses of selling indulgences and ended up rejecting a vast array of Catholic dogmas and doctrines. Unfortunately, King Henry's insatiable lust for women and his insistence that one of his six wives produce a male heir trumped his concern for doctrinal orthodoxy in the long run.

If we look at the Church of England since the beginning of the 20th century till the present moment, we notice that each time the Anglican Communion has sought to accommodate to the ways of the world , she has lost not only credibility but also clerical and lay followers. Permitting divorce and remarriage, artificial contraception, same-sex unions, and the ordination and episcopal consecrations of active gays and lesbians may have made the Anglican Communion among Christianity's trendiest denominations, but it has hardly served the common good of Anglicans who believed themselves to be a "via media" between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Blessed John Henry Newman, arguably the most renowned English convert to Catholicism in the 19th century, once wrote that having studied the writings of the Fathers of the Church, he was finally convinced that the idea of the Church of England as a "via media" was "absolutely pulverized." Newman made these comments long before the Church of England would devolve into the morally liberal and progressive (bankrupt, really) denomination it has become.

And yet here we stand in the 21st century, in the Third Christian Millennium, at a Synod of Bishops in Rome where there are a handful of Synod Fathers and other participants who would like nothing more than for the Catholic Church to resemble the Church of England. Of course, that would be a disaster (both theologically and sociologically) and would provoke a real schism in the Catholic Church.

The last thing we need in this confused and confusing contemporary world is a Catholic Church that is splintered and divided like the numerous Orthodox Churches and Protestant ecclesial communities with which she dialogues and whose "Fraternal Delegations" are represented at the Synod. 

Jesus Himself once issued a caution, which the Pope and other Synod Fathers would do well to heed: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

 

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