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As the Synod on the Family opens this week, Catholics and other attentive observers should be careful about the way the media covers the unfolding events.

During Vatican II, the New Yorker’s “Xavier Rynne” (aka Fr. Francis Murphy), famously depicted the Council as an epic battle between backward, conservative reactionaries, and broad-minded, liberal reformers. This popular but highly misleading style of reporting continues to this day.

At the indispensable Get Religion website, Dawn Eden catches and corrects a recent report by David Gibson, of the Religion News Service, published just before the Synod opened, that falls into this trap.

“In Gibson’s report,” writes Eden, “we have the conservative meanies against the proponent of ‘reforms’ who want to ‘fully integrate divorced and remarried Catholics into Church life.’”

But, as Eden notes, this is quite misleading, for the Catholic Catechism (no. 1651) emphasizes, rather, “that the divorced, and remarried, even with the sacramental restrictions, ‘can and must’ participate in Church life.”

Further Gibson’s report “does not acknowledge ways in which [Cardinal Raymond] Burke and others are seeking to show compassion while upholding Church teaching,” continues Eden. Instead, it depicts Burke as merciless, and repeats “unsourced datum that Burke is reportedly set to be sidelined by Francis,” which Eden regards as “a cheap shot, pure and simple.”

For those looking for sounder guidance on what Catholic “reform” has actually, historically meant, C. Colt Anderson’s book, The Great Catholic Reformers: From Gregory the Great to Dorothy Day cannot be recommended highly enough. As Anderson shows, all the best and true Catholic reformers—whatever their political views or prudential decisions—were always strong proponents of established Church doctrine, and fierce disciplinarians when it came to upholding Church teaching, particularly in the area of sexual morality (a main target of today’s “reformers”). In other words, they were forerunners of today’s much-maligned “conservatives”—and never mind that the great Dorothy Day was an ardent pacifist.

She and other genuine Catholic reformers understood that, misleading labels aside, moral laxity is not reform, dissent is not enlightenment, and rebellion is not renewal. Pope Francis and his most astute bishops now gathered in Rome surely know that, whatever may be written about them and the Synod in the forthcoming days and weeks.

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