Before commenting on the substance of the Final Report, it is important to note that, soon after the release of the English translation of the Final Report which was officially written in Italian (not in Latin), suspicion arose as to the reliability and idiomatic accuracy of the translation. Indeed, as it seems, half sentences have been omitted altogether, and in different places. Therefore, all the following comments should be read on the basis of this observation. We properly have to await the detailed analysis of the translation by a knowledgeable person. The coalition Voice of the Family (see voiceofthefamily.info) intends to publish soon a more thorough analysis of this matter of the English translation.
Before going into more detail, I would also like to note the general tone of the final document which is in most parts permeated by vagueness and “shyness,” especially in speaking about sin, repentance and a reparatory conversion of life. The whole spirit of the document invites laxity and softness, instead of reviving the sense of firmness and urgency within the Church — in reminding the faithful of Holy Fear and the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell (which could come to us individually at any unforeseen moment of our lives). A wholesome sense of the danger of sin will lead many souls to the higher life of the Faith. Indeed, the Church should remind us that we all a called to become saints.
To give only one example of the vague and empty language of parts of the document, I quote a sentence: “Cultural tendencies in today’s world seem to set no limits on a person’s affectivity in which every aspect needs to be explored, even those which are highly complex.” (§10) Too many times does the document refer to words such as “seem,” “search,” “misunderstanding,” “difficulty,” “socio-cultural realities,” and such.
It also may be noted that the document, unfortunately, refers to words that have been introduced into the discourse by the revolutionary UN conferences on the Rights of the Child and the Rights of the Women. (The author of this comment remembers well how still in the 1990s, the Catholic Church was still very much aware of the revolutionary and feminist agenda of these UN conferences, and tried to resist it. The updated use of their terminology now, I fear, might be a sign that She gave up this resolute resistance.) The document reads: “The positive aspects are first to be highlighted, namely a greater freedom of expression and a better recognition of the rights of women and children, at least in some parts of the world.” (§5) (The document does not affirm at all what Ephesians 5 has taught to all Christian married couples, namely that the husband is, after all, the head of the family and exercises the supreme authority as well as his demanding ongoing responsibilities while also standing ready for the final accountability before God (coram Deo) that goes along with it.) At another place, the document speaks of the “global village” (§2), also an equivocal, if not irrational, expression stemming from the conferences of the United Nations.
In the following, I shall review the aspects that I earlier criticized in the analysis of the midterm report. The Synod Fathers had to have a two-thirds majority to be able to approve of any of the listed paragraphs, which means that, depending upon how many Synod Fathers abstained from voting altogether on a specific paragraph, approximately 60 “non placet” votes were sufficient to reject a particular paragraph.
1. Mixed Marriages
The language has been somewhat altered with respect to mixed marriages, by now placing on an equal plane a critical, as well as a “positive,” view of such marriages. After speaking of “inherent difficulties” in mixed marriages, including “the danger of relativism or indifference,” the report then states that “such marriages can exhibit great potential in favoring the spirit of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in a harmonious living together of diverse religions in the same place.” (§7) Therefore, the traditional cautionary teaching of the Catholic Church on mixed marriages has still not been reestablished. It might also be noted that the danger of relativism and of indifference does indeed also apply to any ecumenical and interreligious (i.e., “interfaith”) attempt on the part of the Catholic Church.
2. The Law of “Graduality”
The growing resistance against this concept of “graduality” seems to have been able to remove it from the final document, at least in its explicit form. The misleading reference to Moses and his allowance of divorce has now been put into the right context, showing that it is not any more valid under the New Law of Christ. (§13 and 14)
3. “Positive” Elements in Irregular Marriages and Forms of Cohabitation
Unfortunately, a “positive” evaluation of Irregular Marriages and of Cohabitation is still in the document. With only 39 Synod Fathers voting against it, and 140 Synod Fathers approving of the innovations, the document now actually states: “…the Church turns with love to those who participate in her life in an incomplete manner, recognizing that the grace of God works also in their lives by giving them the courage to do good, to care for one another in love and to be of service to the community in which they live and work.” (§25)
A lack of urgency becomes even clearer when one reads paragraph 27: “When a union reaches a particular stability, legally recognized, characterized by deep affection and responsibility for children and showing an ability to overcome trials, these unions can offer occasions for guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage.” “Occasion for guidance” and “eventual celebration” do not give the faithful a sense of urgency or moral earnestness in changing their risk-filled lives.
In paragraph 41, the purportedly “positive [and “constructive”] elements” of irregular unions are stressed: “A new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of the civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to it.” (125 Synod Fathers approved of the paragraph, only 54 Synod Fathers voted against it, which was thus insufficient to reject it. It would have needed only eight or so more Synod Fathers voting against it, for it to have been rejected altogether.)
4. The Nullity Process
Cardinal Kasper’s proposed attempts to accelerate and dilute and perhaps greatly to weaken the Canonical Process of nullity by, for example, removing the involvement of a second court in coming to a final sentence, still have a subtle place in the final document. While it states that some bishops had disagreed, it also says that a great number of Synod Fathers saw “the need to make the procedures in cases of nullity more accessible and less time-consuming. They proposed, among others, the dispensation of the requirement of second instance for confirming sentences, the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the jurisdiction of the diocesan bishop, and a simple process to be used in cases where nullity is clearly evident.” (§48) By “second instance” is meant an authoritative judicial review by a second ecclesiastical court confirming the judgment and conclusion of the first tribunal. The following paragraph, thus, still calls for “streamlining the procedure of marriage cases.”
5. Proposal Concerning Holy Communion for “Remarried Divorcees”
The paragraph 52 which openly discusses — in spite of the Sixth Commandment — the “possibility” for allowing “remarried divorcees” to receive Holy Communion (after an unspecified penitential practice) did not, however, receive the two-thirds majority of the Synod Fathers (74 rejected it), even though 104 Synod Fathers (the simple majority) still approved of it (a very troubling fact, indeed!). This paragraph received the strongest rejection by the Synod Fathers, indicating that many saw a clear breach of the Church’s doctrine and continuous teaching. Pope Francis decided to leave this paragraph in the final report, and thereby to keep this specific discussion alive, as it were.
6. On Spiritual Communion and Holy Communion
The following paragraph 53 which raises the question whether sinners who are not allowed to Holy Communion can somehow receive a Spiritual Communion — and therefore might come gradually to be allowed to Holy Communion after all — has been rejected by only 64 Synod Fathers, thus a very narrow margin disallowing its acceptance. 118 Synod Fathers approved of it. It would therefore have needed only three or four fewer “non placet” votes from the Synod Fathers to achieve the acceptance of that paragraph. Nonetheless, the rejected paragraph still remains in the final document due to the Pope’s dubious intervention. This paragraph seems to me to be an indirect approach to allowing “remarried divorcees” to receive Holy Communion after all (which would be a sacrilege, if not worse).
7. The “Positive” Contributions of “Homosexual Couples,” or Their “Duos,” Rather
The paragraph speaking about “positive” contributions of “homosexual couples” — male and female — has been largely altered. It does not mention any more that homosexuals “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” It merely speaks now of the importance of treating such “couples” (duos) with respect, and of avoiding any form of unjust discrimination (if the English translation is correct). However, these words still remain in the document: “Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity.” (§55) The paragraph itself was rejected by the 62 “non placet” votes stacking up against the 118 affirming votes of the Synod Fathers. (It was again a very narrow margin — just three “non placet” votes less, and the paragraph would have been accepted.) Last but not least, it is important to note that this paragraph does not make a clear moral assessment and critique of the intrinsic disorder of homoeroticism altogether. Nor does it repeat the Church Catechism’s restating the moral disorder and sinfulness of such behavior.
Additionally, I think it highly problematic to discuss at all this explosive (and aggressive) issue of homoeroticism in an ecclesiastical document dealing with the Catholic teaching on Marriage and the Family. It implies that homoeroticism is a topic intimately related to the family, which it is not. It is anti-life, anti-family and in its practice a grave sin against God’s Commandments. It should be omitted altogether and dealt with specifically and thoroughly in other Church documents. It also is not clear from some of the votes whether or not the Synod Fathers rejected this paragraph because it was too soft for them, or, rather, because it did not go far enough in their eyes in showing a lenient acceptance of this sinful habitual behavior (to include the matter of their even adopting of little children now).
Finally, I would like to note two problematic parts which I have not discussed before.
The first pertains to the question of contraception (or birth-prevention). The final document of the Synod merely states, and very weakly, that the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae “highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births.” (§58) This is quite shocking when we think that these methods could easily insinuate the forbidden forms of contraception, including even subtle abortifacient deceptions, since they are not herein explicitly excluded. And we must also face the fact that births in too many cases nowadays are not thereby regulated by these methods, but, rather, altogether prevented or willingly (and slyly) avoided! In the context of the actual practice of many forms of birth prevention by Catholics, the Synod should state in much clearer form the continuous teaching of the Church in this matter, mindful of human selfishness and self-deception.
Last but not least, the document (§60) is very weak in warning the parents not to allow their children unguided access to most of the promiscuous public secular media today. It only states that the parents have the freedom to choose the education of their children, while not at all showing how subversive and detrimental most of the public media are today for those resolutely desiring the greater fostering of the Christian Faith and Grace-filled way of life in the souls of the children. It is a grave omission on the part of the Synod, which should help to protect the souls of the vulnerable ones from the sneers, violence and ugliness of the modern world, and from its many (and often narcotic) allurements to impurity.
In summary, I would like to encourage the greater awareness of all Catholics about these matters of moment, so that we may become convinced that the manifold danger to the Faith (and therewith the salvation of souls) is far from being over, or even less insidious. We are still facing the danger of a specious altering of the irreformable teaching of Christ, also at the next Synod in 2015. The high numbers of Synod Fathers recently approving of some highly dangerous paragraphs — which put into ambiguous doubt some central elements of the Church’s moral teaching such as the condemnation of cohabitation and “remarriage” after a divorce — should alarm all of us. The troubling votes of the Synod Fathers must have given the modernist-progressivist reformers enough encouragement to hope for a more effective and radical change of the Church’s moral teaching in the year 2015.
But let us not forget the Little Ones who suffer so much from the divorce of their parents. They deserve a good defense. They are the most prominent purpose of marriage as God planned it. When we defend the Sacrament of Marriage in its entirety, we also defend them.
Therefore, we are called now to consider the various permissible forms of honest resistance (strategic and tactical), and the ways for the public expressions of our loyalty to Christ’s teaching on Marriage and the Family. Let us not sleep or drift in sloth while a seemingly indefatiguable enemy is energetically working. Let us generously and perseveringly respond when we are called to the great honor of being allowed to do something to defend Our Lord — Who did Himself so much for us. And Christ did it all so that we might also come to receive, both in Time and in Eternity, what He came to offer us: a Life More Abundant (“Abundantius” in Latin). Our faithful resistance is therefore also our affirmation.