A Moderate Façade and a Radical Interior?


This has been a nervous-making week for the body of the Church. The release of that interim relatio last Monday set off tremors, as it portended changes on the indissoluble character of marriage and a new acceptance, perhaps, of the homosexual life – an acceptance going beyond the care of the Church for any of us sinners in our various, broken states.

But the reactions were swift, precise, severe – and in an unsettling way, public and open. Cardinal Pell of Australia remarked, partly in report, partly in defiance, that “we’re not giving in to the secular agenda. . . .We’re not collapsing in a heap.” Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier of South Africa responded immediately that the notes put out in the relatio were not authoritative; they reflected the views only of a certain circle of bishops.

And yet, as he recognized, they had done their work, produced their effect. They relayed to the world that teachings long settled in the Church could now be unsettled. Professor Robert George of Princeton, in a summoning article in midweek, offered his own, clear reading that the teachings of the Church on marriage and sexuality were, today, what they had long been, and what they would continue to be, even after the final report of the Synod a year from now.

And yet, as Cardinal Napier instantly saw, the willingness to float these new drafts in public was itself a transforming move. The final relatio was released with a notable walking back from those earlier positions on marriage and sexuality.

But Pope Francis, in a gesture toward “transparency,” announced his own preference that the Synod make public the reports of the "language circles" and the proposed paragraphs that had been rejected by the bishops. (The more audacious and radical drafts could not gain the necessary vote of two-thirds of the bishops). The lingering question is just why the Holy Father should have thought it salutary or useful to include those earlier, rejected drafts.

But is the new state of affairs not evident already in these reports offered as news? If the count of votes is already a matter of public knowledge, how far are we from seeing this serious business of the Church reported as a box score? And the life of the Church assimilated now to a political brawl, with the outcome depending on the play of the vote, and the deposit of faith pushed subtly to the side as part of the scenery.


             Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke

This sense of things was hardly diminished; indeed, it was confirmed, with an unprecedented explicitness, in an interview given by Raymond Cardinal Burke. “The pope has never said openly what his position is on the matter,” said Burke. And that reticence itself, in this setting, could be suggestive and unsettling. The Cardinal went on:

[P]eople conjecture that because of the fact that he asked Cardinal Kasper – who  was well known to have these views for many, many years – to speak to the cardinals. . .and to travel around advancing his position on the matter, and then even recently to publicly claim that he’s speaking for the pope and there’s no correction of this. . . .I can’t speak for the pope and I can’t say what his position is on this, but the lack of clarity about the matter has certainly done a lot of harm.

It has been rumored for a while that Cardinal Burke would be removed from his position in the Vatican as the main jurist on Canon Law, chief of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. The Cardinal has confirmed now that he will be transferred, or removed to a notably lesser post, as patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Well of course, as readers have been quick to point out, these shifts may be occasioned by subtle differences in personal style, and they may mark no dramatic change in the teaching of the Church. But when we see such striking clashes of views on matters of no secondary importance, it would mark a trivialization of the men directing these affairs if we assumed that the shifts were made for reasons that were merely personal or superficial, or bore no relation to matters of consequence.

With his closing remarks to the Synod, Pope Francis offered a voice of steady assurance. The conversations and arguments had played out with candor, and yet, he said, “without ever putting into question the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of marriage: the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life (cf. Cann. 1055, 1056; and Gaudium et spes, 48).” 

And even better, he sounded his characteristic, pastoral voice:  “This is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and composed of sinners, needful of God’s mercy. …[This is the Church that] would welcome – with fatherly care and mercy, and without false fears – the lost sheep.”

These are words familiar, and ever sustaining. But the problem is that they would be the words ever to be spoken by a statesman bringing about “a new order of things,” even while the familiar forms are still in place.

From an earlier crisis, some words of Lincoln are called back: “[W]hen we see a lot of framed timbers, different portions of which we know have been gotten out at different times and places and by different workmen. . . and when we see these timbers joined together. . .the lengths and proportions of the different pieces exactly adapted to their respective places,”  we are left with the uneasy sense that something is being prepared for us.

 
Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.
 
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Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes

Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding. His most recent book is Constitutional Illusions & Anchoring Truths: The Touchstone of the Natural Law. Volume II of his audio lectures from The Modern Scholar, First Principles and Natural Law is now available for download.

  • BlockedMyshkin

    The structure of the final relatio — 1) intro paragraphs, 2) episcopal recognition of modern family woes (all the “we …” paragraphs), 3) narration of Roman Catholic family life (ending with the paragraph on the Eucharist), and 4) a final oratio — communicates the concerns of the synod fathers well. And yet, it never mentions Natural or Divine Law, and only mentions sin in passing, so its rootedness in Roman Catholic thought seems limp. The only source other than the Bible it quotes from is the non-magisterial pious exhortations of the present Pontifex Maximus. Indeed, aside from the one paragraph on the Eucharist, the document might have conceivable come from, let’s say, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Presbyterian Church in America.

    This lack of Roman Catholic theological and philosophical depth weakens the relatio. It seems like a thin, debile, tired document. For this reason, we do need to pray for next year’s synod, that it reach deeper into the sources of Roman Catholic thought, and produce a reaffirmation of the Church’s position, given as a challenge to the moral evil of the world. And we must pray that it do this whether the present Pontifex likes it or not.

  • Morton

    “If the count of votes is already a matter of public knowledge, how far are we from seeing this serious business of the Church reported as a box score.”

    I have been thinking of the matter of making the synod votes on all of the various paragraphs public. I don’t know if voting on synod documents paragraph by paragraph was previous common practice but certainly the publication of votes on matters relating to Catholic doctrine or matters of morals will only lend credence to the common but false idea that doctrine is changeable. It was a terrible decision to do this. If it was the pope’s idea as has been reported, someone should tell him it was a terrible idea.

    Ruminating further on the synod and its aftermath, as well as Mr. Arkes’s article, and perhaps this is merely coincidental, but Cardinal Pell hails from a country which has a parliamentary form of government which has the important concept of loyal opposition inculcated in its political culture. The concept of loyal opposition indicates that the non-governing parties may oppose the actions of the sitting cabinet while remaining loyal to the source of the government’s power. I appreciate that it debases and demeans the Church to think of it in political terms but given what’s brewing in Rome, like Francis, we have to start thinking outside of the box.

    If talk of tinkering with the deposit of the faith at the synod hadn’t created disharmony and stirred righteous opposition I’d have been discouraged beyond belief, that it created much disharmony and righteous opposition at the synod is itself a good sign.

    Thanks be to God for faithful bishops.

  • Walter

    This self-absorbed navel-gazing is exhausting to read.

    Orthdox Airlines, Flight #1, non-stop service now boarding for Malta. All aboard!

  • Chris in Maryland

    A someone who knows intimately about families struggling with children with special needs, and loved ones suffering from the devastation wrought by the “welcoming” lifestyle, I can say that those two Catholic constituents felt vinidicated by the loyal opposition of Pell, Burke, Napier, Mueller, and the majority of Bishops who stood up against the current regime and said: “We are standing with Christ,” and “We remain conformed to Christ.”

    My message for the editors at “America” mag, and Cardinals Kasper, Forte, Baldisseri and Maradiaga – is that you offer NOTHING to those thus suffering – your efforts simply tortured the soul.

  • Steve Golay

    As long as good and godly men keeping eye-balling the width and length of the timbers – and not the scaffolding used for their re-joining and rearranging – the faithful will be fooled. Fooled, because what is holding up the old faithful timbers is the scaffolding,itself. It is the scaffolding which is the material of the new builders. The timbers are faint, erasable passages on their blueprints, useful to distract attention from the bold plan: that the scaffolding is the frame of their New House.

    So it goes, the foolish being fooled; so pleased that the old timbers are still there one doesn’t notice their reconfiguration.

    But it is a false one, that rearranged configuration; it has no lawfulness about it. In fact, it has no honest-to-goodness builder – for He had already laid the foundations elsewhere and will not take kindly to the theft of his timbers.

    It is past time to pull down that scaffolding, to deconstruct it – if one is permitted to use their own weaponized tool! Their scaffolding is basically Queer Theory, piled disjointedly high in an airy sort of way. Sitting there bold as brass, defying any tempered iron sword to cut it off at its knees.

    Why not? Why not take up the challenge? There is nothing “essential” about it; it has no substance about it. Queer Theory is disordered language inter-text with disordered language, boringly inter=text with itself. Language referencing noting. Scaffolding bolted to nothing. As we said, the scaffolding of Queer Theory adheres – was cobbled together – with no lawfulness in mind. A huff and a puff from good and godly men would do the job. Bring the house of false builders crashing to the ground. We can toss the debris on a pile of faggots.

  • Fred

    I did not find the Pope’s remarks at the end of the Synod to being anything like steady or reassuring. He warmly expressed gratitude to Forte, Balaserri, and Erdo, and he viciously denounced Tradionalists, which is the new name for anyone who is orthodox in the Faith.

  • Manfred

    Some years ago Chris Ferrara co-authored a book called The Great Facade. It was an examination of neo-Catholicism and it drew quite a bit of fire.

    I would recommend that he reissue the book at this time. He could have a Swiss Guard pictured in front of the Casa Santa Marta saying : “Move along, folks. There is nothing to be seen here.”

  • Chris in Maryland

    Father Landry’s is the motto for the years ahead. His article, linked at left, is superb, “evaluating the Synod by Pope Francis’ own evangelical principles.”

    “Let Christ – Not Confusion – Reign!”

  • Chris in Maryland

    Wow.

    Russell Shaw over @ Catholic World Report really hits the nail on the head about the utter destruction wrought by the Pope’s hand-picked team “running” the Synod.”

    His subtitle sums it up: Culpable Naïveté or Shrewd Calculation?

    I can only answer in the best Catholic way: it was not either / or…but “BOTH / AND.”

    Some excerpts:

    “There are two possible ways of explaining all this.
    One is that what happened in Rome was the product of extreme—and, in the circumstances, culpable—naïveté on the part the small group of synod participants and Vatican staff who were responsible for it. The other is that it arose from calculation, shrewd—one might almost say cynical—but self-defeating in the end, intended to present the bishops who weren’t part of this inner circle of would-be reformers with a fait accompli. In charity, I favor the first explanation—culpable naïveté—but others will see it differently.”

    “In either case, the effects were the same: confusion, consternation, ill will, conflict, and lingering bitterness were seeded at every level of the Church, from the synod hall to the local parish, while scandal was given to a large number of loyal Catholics.”

    “The mistakes included a heavy-handed secrecy policy, the incompetence of spokespersons in direct encounters with the press, the release of a draft document that didn’t represent the views of a significant number of those it claimed to represent, and a blatant attempt to silence voices that objected.”

    “But the impression is strong that something much more troubling than ineptitude also was at work—a calculated intention to manipulate the process and control the result to suit the would-be liberal reformers.”

    “Against this background, what has lately happened in Rome may be a blessing in disguise. By their ineptitude as communicators and their overreaching, the would-be liberal reformers’ program stands exposed. It’s an ugly sight, vouchsafed us at a terrible price. But now at least the rest of the Church has been warned.”

  • Tadzio

    Our Papa should resign.

  • Carlos

    I don’t know about you but in some circles the White Hat Guys are beginning to get fed up. To even suggest that we are to see something special in those who have allowed the Church in the US to be fleeced by lawyers to cover the faults of the homosexual pedophiles … is cheeky to say the least. “Let the ones with ears hear…” as the knives are being sharpened. God will work His will even with an incompetent Peronist Pope but that does not mean that the lazy servants are not going to be thrown to the darkness outside. Let us work while there is light.

  • Carlos

    The “new math”

    2 + 2 = 4 (too traditionalist)
    2 + 2 = 6 (too progressive)
    2 + 2 = 5 ah! that’s perfect! And TRUTH be damned!

  • Manny

    I think this is a good analysis of the situation. I am very much troubled by the Holy Father. We are probably just a few Bishops away from accepting what the radicals want. And Pope Francis gets to appoint them. Until now I could never really envision a schism in the Catholic Church. But now I can.

  • myshkin

    The structure of the final relatio — 1) intro paragraphs, 2) episcopal recognition of modern family woes (all the “we …” paragraphs), 3) narration of Roman Catholic family life (ending with the paragraph on the Eucharist), and 4) a final oratio — communicates the concerns of the synod fathers well. And yet, it never mentions Natural or Divine Law, and only mentions sin in passing, so its rootedness in Roman Catholic thought seems limp. The only source other than the Bible it quotes from is the non-magisterial pious exhortations of the present Pontifex Maximus. Indeed, aside from the one paragraph on the Eucharist, the document might have conceivable come from, let’s say, Wisconsin Synod Lutherans or the Presbyterian Church in America.

    This lack of Roman Catholic theological and philosophical depth weakens the relatio. It seems like a thin, debile, tired document. For this reason, we do need to pray for next year’s synod, that it reach deeper into the sources of Roman Catholic thought, and produce a reaffirmation of the Church’s position, given as a challenge to the moral evil of the world. And we must pray that it do this whether the present Pontifex likes it or not.

  • Dan L Kennedy

    Well done, Hadley.

  • Dave

    A new order of things is indeed brewing. One wishes it were not so; one wishes that the hopeful cries that “valutando” was incorrectly translated from the Italian as “valuing” rather than “evaluating” might have been correct, but in the absence of a clarification from the Vatican, it was there for all to see. Some claim that the Pope called Kasper and Daneels out of retirement in order to flush them out and set the stage for a glorious reaffirmation of the Church’s constant teaching, but what evidence is there to lead one to advice the claim? And that sort of cynical move is more typical of those who advance the progressive agenda, not those who seek refuge from it.

    I think our only hope is that the Pope will like now-Blessed Paul VI have his own epiphany and despite the cries of those who urge him to change the unchangeable, instead affirms the constant truths of the Faith. I confess I do not know what to think of the Pope. This is consternating, because it was easy (for me) to rejoice in the pontificates of Pope St. John Paul II and of Benedict XVI.

    It would be foolish not to take into consideration that Pope Francis of the Cardinal Martini, revisionist, progressive school of theology and praxis; and it would be foolish to discount the action of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit is still the soul of the Church, actively guiding it. Jesus is still the Church’s Lord, and Mary and Joseph still protect the Church, who is the Body of Christ.

    For those considering the flight to Orthodoxy, or to conservative evangelicalism, I can only wish them well. Neither tradition has been able — constitutionally — to articulate the answers, the doctrine, and the dogma — that the Church has been able to preach and teach, because neither of them are in the fullness of the Truth. Orthodoxy comes close, it’s true: but the solution advanced by Kasper et. al. seems closer to Eastern Orthodoxy than it does to Catholic orthodoxy. Evangelicals grasp for answers when those answers are not found in Scripture alone — as they often are not — and their landscape is as difficult as any other church, without the benefit of authentic sacraments save for Holy Baptism and, in some cases, Holy Matrimony.

    We have to be patient, we have to be cautious, and we have to be prayerful. It could be that a simplification of the annulment process – eliminating the automatic appeal to the next-level court — might be a pastoral boon; but one has to think that the people who don’t take the tribunal seriously now won’t take it seriously, and might even take it less seriously, were its procedures simplified. Put another way, regarding the Francis Effect: I don’t see that the Masses are any better attended, or that lines for confession have lengthened, since Francis became Pope. And we have to acknowledge that that this is not just about annulments, or about recognition of gay civil unions; it’s about how the Church addresses the licentiousness and libertinage of the West and its outposts. So far, the address has not been good; and the Pope has shown himself willing to throw under the bus those who work hardest to advance the Church’s message of truth with mercy.

    Lord have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus.

  • Frank

    Amen, Dave.

  • Paul

    “this is not just about annulments, or about recognition of gay civil unions; it’s about how the Church addresses the licentiousness and libertinage of the West and its outposts. So far, the address has not been good; and the Pope has shown himself willing to throw under the bus those who work hardest to advance the Church’s message of truth with mercy. ”
    Right on Dave.

  • Noah Vaile

    It becomes painfully apparent that the current Pope has an agenda that he is augmenting not even piecemeal but in great chunks. The removal and transfer of “conservative”, more properly said “Catholic”, Bishops and what can only be described as a gestapo-like persecution of certain religious orders point towards a fore-planned sea change in The Church and putting it nicely and feigning doubt over intentions only serves to strengthen what I see as satan’s progress.
    Call things what they are. “Liberal” secularized communist-leaning social-justice prelates are replacing those who proclaim Christ’s word, using a strained and twisted sense of “mercy and justice” as their rationale. They claim to follow Christ even as they distort his Word and proclaim each other’s righteousness.
    Look at the people who currently surround Pope Francis (by his own choice I might add) in the Pope’s chosen full-service hotel/home and you see the agenda’s goal.
    Yes. I am cynical and skeptical about what is happening at the highest levels in our Church. And the scandal it causes re-echoes through he multitudes.

  • Chris in Maryland

    Well said Dave…



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