It was to be expected that the response from the old guard in the Vatican to the ground-breaking Relatio to mark the middle of the Synod on the Family in Rome would be, well, not too enthused. It’s important to remember that almost all the cardinals and bishops wielding authority in the church were appointed by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI whose core themes were the banishment of real dialogue in the church and absolutism on the questions of family and marriage and homosexuals. They were as adamant about shutting down the discourse begun in the Second Vatican Council as Francis quite clear is about re-opening the conversation. And so the protector of Catholic doctrine – Cardinal Gerhard Müller – has just spluttered the view that the document is “an undignified and shameful report.” And lurid conspiracy theories are in play:
In one full day, Sunday (or in 2 days, 48 hours, if all hours of Saturday are included, with no time for meals or sleep), the rapporteur and his secretaries gathered the views of all the Fathers, identified and separated those portions that had more widespread support and thus represented a truly Synodical opinion, wrote, and translated this 6,000-word report? Has the Vatican suddenly become the most efficient bureaucracy in the history of the universe? Or was it all simply prepared and translated beforehand, to create “facts on the ground” that could not be reversed and created pressure on the Synod Fathers during this second week?
There is, of course, an alternative view: that for the first time in a long time, the leaders of the church were asked to listen to the testimony of actual Catholics living real lives in the modern world; to see once again the sensus fidelium so long dismissed by the last two Popes, to resuscitate the idea of the church as being an “expert in humanity.” Paul Elie:
For several decades, if not longer – for the whole lives of those of us who are younger than fifty, at the very least — the church’s claim to be expert in humanity has been belied and undermined by the church leadership’s flagrant indifference to the experience of humanity outside the bounds of the church, as found in the family in particular. I mean families broken and reconstituted; families envisioned, imagined, fashioned, and maintained on the ground out of necessity; families whose members cherish one another as family first of all, putting the family bond above differences that might divide them. At the same time, the church’s claim to be “expert in humanity” has been compromised drastically by its leaders’ willingness to use the world’s most cynical expertise to deny their own failure to protect the rights of children entrusted to them by families beyond numbering.
Now all of a sudden in Rome here are the princes of the church willing to learn as well as teach – willing to learn from people with experience of divorce, of companionship outside of marriage, of homosexuality. For the church, this synod is summer school held a few weeks late, the first course in a remedial education in human nature – a first step on the path toward its becoming something like “expert in humanity” once again.
There will be backlash; there will be outrage; there will be intrigue. But the words issued today cannot be taken back, however hard some try. I simply pray that this wonderful Pope lives long. We so need him. The world needs him – and what he has to say.
Our coverage of this remarkable day in the history of Christianity began with my take, with further reactions collected here, and the theocon meltdown here. Jesse Helms’ state of North Carolina saw its first same-sex marriages today as well. Yes, if you’re wondering if I’m a little bewildered by hope, you’re not wrong. Meanwhile, Israel’s continued annexation of other people’s land drew an unprecedented rebuke from the British parliament; David Remnick stood up against the scourge of sponsored content; and the incoherent, impossible air war against the latest group of Islamist fruitcakes turned into even more of a real Turkey. Plus: more evidence of the fathomless heterosexuality of our president; and a correction of the day for the ages.
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