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A “Lambeth Moment” for the Synod

Senior Editors Note: Today marks the tenth interation of Robert Royal’s Synod Report from Rome. (Click here to read it.) [1] And this is The Catholic Things fourth day of fall fundraising. Yesterday I made a longish appeal; today I’ll be brief. Consider: Nowhere else can you read reports such as Bob’s, or articles such as Fr. Pilon’s, or daily (and I mean 365-times-a-year) columns by writers such as James V. Schall, S.J., Anthony Esolen, Francis Beckwith, Fr. C. John McCloskey, Hadley Arkes, and David Warren – just to name those in our regular “rotation.” If you want us to continue doing what we do (and, really, thats why youre here, right?), please donate today via the link at the end of todays column. Merci! – Brad Miner

In 1920, the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference solidly condemned the use of contraceptives for whatever motives. Ten years later, a new Lambeth Conference gave a restricted approval in Resolution 15 to the use of contraceptives – by married people only, and only for the most serious morally upright motives, not “from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”

That same year the Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Charles Gore, wrote a carefully argued pamphlet refuting the reasoning and the conclusions of Resolution 15. The 1930 Lambeth Conference was a moment of truth for the Church of England, and Dr. Gore was terribly worried that this conference had yielded to the spirit of the world in its half-hearted reversal of the Church’s constant tradition on contraception. His argument [2] is based upon Tradition more than natural law, and he is very appreciative of the Roman Catholic fidelity to the Tradition on this moral teaching.

Dr. Gore realistically read the context within which this acceptance of birth prevention by a major religious communion, no matter how limited in intent, has to be viewed. Already in that time, he and others clearly saw the threat of birth control to marriage itself and to the very existence of civilization. He refers to the threat of what he calls the unbridled “tide of sensualism” in western societies, which can only be made worse by this collapse of moral opposition to one of the key threats to our civilization.

Likewise he refers several times to the threat of national suicide or race-suicide, as he calls it, thus anticipating the demographic suicide that St. John Paul II would later recognize – and is underway in our time. He also anticipates the harm that all forms of contraception do to women, and this was long before the Pill and other intrusive means promoted today by pharmaceutical giants and the medical profession.

But most interesting is the fact that this same Lambeth Conference also dealt with allowing the divorced and remarried to receive Communion, and did so in much the same language we are now hearing from some bishops and theologians at the ongoing Extraordinary Synod on the Family. In Lambeth’s Resolution 11, the wording is interesting: “The Conference believes that it is with this ideal in view that the Church must deal with questions of divorce and with whatever threatens the security of women and the stability of the home.”

Note the word “ideal,” which is popping up today in some reports about the Synod, and the ideal is the indissolubility of marriage. In a second paragraph of Resolution 11, we read: “Where an innocent person has remarried under civil sanction and desires to receive the Holy Communion, it recommends that the case should be referred for consideration to the bishop, subject to provincial regulations.”

    Bishop Gore (1853-1932)

That is exactly what some participants at the Synod are suggesting today as an alternative to the annulment process, including a couple of very highly placed Cardinals. It should be a warning that we are in dangerous waters when Catholic bishops and cardinals in 2014 start speaking the exact words of Anglican clerics and laity at Lambeth in 1930. Those well-intentioned solutions ended in disaster for Anglicans.

But it also should be a warning that the Anglicans dealt with this latter problem of Communion for the divorced and remarried along side the problem of contraception. Something similar may well be underway at the present Synod. While one of the main subjects seems to be pastoral charity toward the divorced and remarried, there are clearly those who want to reopen the “pastoral” issue related to contraception as well. Cardinal Kasper, for all his dancing around the subject, clearly is of this mindset as is his former assistant, Bishop Bonny of Antwerp, along with members of the German and other European episcopates.

Just as the declaration of Lambeth in 1920 did not end the contraception issue for the dissenters who came back and won the day in 1930, so the dissenters from Humanae Vitae and the constant teaching of the Church on contraception have for years been strategically quiet. They are now coming back to try to change the teaching. They have never honestly accepted the constant teaching of the Church on “birth prevention” as irreformable and infallibly taught – and powerfully confirmed by Pius XI, Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis. Indeed, many of these dissenters think no moral teaching can be taught infallibly.

And now they’re back: very outspoken and very central in the Synod.

This has been abundantly clear in the writings of men like Bishop Bonny and now in an article by a German theologian, Eberhard Schockenhoff, who has supported the infamous and revolutionary declaration called Church 2011: A necessary departure. The departure is from Church doctrine and discipline, including, surprise, its teaching on divorce and same sex marriage.

In a recent article, Schockenhoff, after denigrating the Church’s reliance on natural law for the issue of contraception, summarily asserts, “the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control has prevented people from receiving the positive messages the Gospel has to give about every human being’s vocation to love.” He then concludes, “Failure to deal with problems that remain unresolved [emphasis added] on a doctrinal level, will simply lead to the Church’s teaching being seen as rigid and lacking in credibility.”

The “unresolved” doctrinal problem, make no mistake, is “the Church’s teaching” on things like artificial birth control, and divorce and remarriage. These dissenters are astoundingly blind to what Dr. Gore saw eighty-four years ago: that contraception profoundly undermines marriage and causes demographic suicide.

And it’s before their very eyes in Europe today!

This is a moment of truth for the Synod of 2014. Let’s hope it will not end for the participants as in that Bridge on the River Kwai moment when Colonel Nicholson despairingly asks, “What have I done?”

Fr. Mark A. Pilon, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He is a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary Seminary, a former contributing editor of Triumph magazine, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com [3]. 
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Fr. Mark A. Pilon, was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at littlemoretracts.wordpress.com.