The recently published North American Final Document for the Continental Stage of the 2021–2024 Synod (NAFD) confirms suspicions that the discussions at the October 2023 Synod on Synodality will almost certainly center around the alleged failure of the Church to be inclusive, welcoming, and respectful. The supposedly aggrieved include well over half of the faithful: “women, young people, immigrants, racial or linguistic minorities, LGBTQ+ persons, people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment.” Not listed here are faithful Catholics, exiled from their parishes, who prefer to attend the Traditional Latin Mass. Not all grievances are created equal.
The NAFD takes for granted that there is a tension between being inclusive, welcoming, and hospitable and being faithful to Christ: “Alongside the desire to be a more inclusive and welcoming Church was the need to understand how to be more hospitable, while maintaining and being true to Church teaching.” The just-below-the-surface assumption here is that fidelity to the Church’s teaching needs to be re-imagined and re-worked so that various people will not feel that they are being excluded and rejected. Church teaching is put on trial. Rejection of that teaching is accorded pride of place.
What is going on here? Women who want to receive Holy Orders, people who are unhappy that their immoral sexual acts are categorized as being gravely sinful, divorced people who remarry outside the Church and want to receive Holy Communion—all of them claim that they are being unfairly treated. They claim that Church teaching is hurtful and un-Christian, and they will only feel fully welcomed and affirmed by the Church when their desires and actions are recognized as legitimate, and the Church changes her teaching. The NAFD considers all this to be up for discussion, which means that those pushing for doctrinal change are being treated as prophets needing to be heeded, and not as heretics needing to be rebuked.
[D]elegates also named women as a marginalized group in the Church. “We have come a long way, but we deplore the fact that women cannot invest themselves fully”. While clarity is still needed around exactly what a fully co-responsible Church looks like, delegates proposed the examination of a variety of aspects of Church life, including decision making roles, leadership, and ordination. Central in the discernment of these questions is the faithful acknowledgement of women’s baptismal dignity.
Women are not marginalized in the Church. Women who reject the Church’s teaching that only men can validly receive Holy Orders put themselves in a position of defiance and distance themselves from Christ and his Church.
On so-called sexual minorities:
As one participant explained, “we think we are welcoming, but we know that there are people who feel ‘outside’ the Church”. Another suggested that this is because “we get caught up in the minutiae of evaluating the worth of people on the margins”. “There is a need to differentiate between the importance of teaching and the need to welcome those into the Church, especially as it relates to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters”.
The Church’s unchanging and unchangeable teaching on the grave immorality of sodomy is in no way minutia. It is supremely important for the salvation of souls and cannot be abolished to placate those who reject it.
I must also note that the acronym “LGBTQ+” has no proper place in the Church’s discourse. Church teaching does not recognize homosexuals or bisexuals as a constitutive category of persons created by God that is distinct from the category of heterosexuals. Rather, some people misuse their God-given sexual and reproductive faculty by engaging in homosexual acts. And no one can change into a member of the opposite sex. That is impossible.
On divorced and remarried Catholics:
Some participants in the synodal process reported on the profound sense of suffering of those prevented from receiving the Eucharist. While there are a variety of reasons for this reality, perhaps preeminent among them is Catholics who are divorced and remarried without an annulment, and others whose objective situation in life contradicts the beliefs and teachings of the Church.
Is not this “profound sense of suffering” a grace-filled reaction of our conscience to sinful behavior, a blessing from God who calls sinners to repentance? Adulterous unions cannot be whitewashed without repudiating Christ’s crystal-clear teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. As for others whose way of life contradicts the Church’s teachings, their desire to be united to Christ in the Eucharist necessarily must include a rejection of their wayward way of life. Christ sets the conditions for being united to him, not us.
The NAFD also contains reflections by bishops who participated in the discussions. This observation is noteworthy: “The bishops also noted that the great majority of our people had little or no direct contact with the synodal process and are unsure of their role in it. Likewise, many are unsure of the discerning role of the local bishop and the college of bishops in union with the Pope as the process unfolds.”
After a year and a half of the synodal process, the recognition that most Catholics are not involved, and that many bishops do not know what their role is, should make all involved pause for reflection about this whole endeavor. The NAFD earlier reports the same concern: “As a participant at one of the virtual assemblies noted, ‘People don’t know what the Synod on Synodality is for. They don’t understand the purpose, couldn’t grasp what was trying to be achieved.’”
The synodal process is an exercise in “platforming” the grievances of selected “Catholic” interest groups that unapologetically reject the Church’s teaching. The claim that this out-in-the-open subversion is the work of the Holy Spirit speaking to the Church today is a gambit to insulate this revolution from criticism. What is happening is an attempted power grab by those who want to change the Catholic Church’s teaching according to their worldly views about power, sex, and anything else they decide is important. That this is happening is a scandal and a disaster. We must pray that God spare us from this calamity.
The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is pastor of Holy Family Church in New York.
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