“As the Rascals always say: ‘If you can’t pass the test, change the test!’
But it’s hard to pass the test when the test itself keeps changing (or evolving!).”
(The Famous Words of a Living Virginian)
On the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, October 13, the Synod of Bishops released a mid-term report of the Synod meeting in Rome which has incited the resistance of many Catholics against the unmistakably revolutionary changes of the traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church in matters of marriage and the family. This document constitutes a grave scandal to the faithful who might now be potentially misled into sin, or at least led to believe that they may remain in their state of sin without expecting any condign penalty from God.
Many Catholics, clergy and laymen alike, have already earnestly demanded that the Synod return to the fullness of the teaching of Christ on the nature and sacramentality of marriage. If this interim document were to influence (by means of insinuated ambiguity and equivocation) the official final document of the Synod – the Relatio Finalis – it would break many of the last levées that still hold out against the permeating decay of moral life in this world, and thus also do greater damage to many souls and their eternal salvation. In the following critique, important aspects of the document which are especially troubling will, therefore, be presented.
It should be made clear from the outset, however, that this interim report it is not a magisterial document. It is only a report that engages formally the responsibility of the persons that presented this document, and it was supposed to be a summary of the discussions of the first week of the Synod’s session. However, the grave effect upon the Faith of the Church is spread by this very document itself, quite independent of its formal legal status.
It should also be stressed from the beginning of this analysis that the whole document is permeated by a language – or a lingo – that is often amorphous, ambiguous, and equivocal and lacking clear definitions of its novel words and concepts such as “the law of graduality.”
Seven specific problems that appear in this text will be discussed here. (I will put the sequentially numbered parts of the promulgated report from which I quote in parentheses next to the titles):
1) Mixed Marriages (Part I); 2) The Law of Graduality (Part II); 3) Positive Elements in Irregular Marriages and Forms of Cohabitation (Part II); 4) The Nullity Process (Part III); 5) Proposal Concerning Holy Communion for Remarried Divorcees (Part III); 6) On Spiritual Communion and Holy Communion (Part III); and, finally 7) The Positive Contributions of Homosexual Couples (Part III).
1) Mixed Marriages
The mid-term interim report claims that mixed marriages, that is to say marriages between spouses of different faiths, have “the great potential that derives from the encounter between the differences in faith that these stories of family life present.” With it, the report claims that there is a good to be found in the very existence of diverse and often contradictory religions.
However, in regard to mixed marriages we should continue the constant practice of the Church which forbids these types of marriages, or allows them only with reluctance and under very strict conditions. (See canons 1124 and following.) We should ask ourselves a strictly logical question: how is it possible to celebrate a marriage between persons who do not share the same belief and understanding on the nature of marriage? This can have a grave effect on the Faith of the children of such marriages who are faced with the fact that their most beloved parents disagree about and in the most intimate matters of life.
2) The Law of Graduality
The Report states that “Through the law of gradualness (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 34), typical of divine pedagogy, this means interpreting the nuptial covenant in terms of continuity and novelty, in the order of creation and in that of redemption.” Most troublingly, it continues:
Jesus Himself, referring to the primordial plan for the human couple, reaffirms the indissoluble union between man and woman, while understanding that “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning” (Mt 19,8).
The report makes here two incorrect references to other sources, while using them to argue in favor of a laxer attitude toward couples living in cohabitation or as civilly remarried divorcees, thus accepting their irregular and sinful status, and even with the reference to the novel idea that one can gradually and (therefore) slowly grow out of a state of sin and participate in the Sacraments of the Church at the same time.
As the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, has recently stated: “Can you really treat cohabitation as gradual, [and] on the path to holiness?” If one reads the pertinent passage of Familiaris Consortio, it states:
They [married people] cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. “And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations. In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will.”(§34)
So, it is evident that what was expressed in the passage quoted above is not in accordance, after all, with Familiaris Consortio. That means that the mid-term report erroneously quotes Church documents out of context, in order to use it to foster a specious argument contradicting the very source which is quoted. This sophistry is a serious method of operation in this interim text and was already detected and rejected in the speech by Cardinal Kasper to the Consistory in February this year, where he repeatedly manipulated his sources or historical events so as to bolster his argument. (The book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, with authors such as Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller, and Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, has very effectively refuted this stealthy and dishonest method applied by Walter Cardinal Kasper.)
The same applies to the interim report’s reference to Moses and to his allowance of divorce due to the hardened hearts of the Jews. Jesus Christ declares, in exactly that same passage of the New Testament, that this old law is abolished under the new law and therefore divorce is now disallowed! This attempt at sophism is a serious violation of honor and any honest academic argumentation, let alone in an official, and desirably trustworthy document of the Synod of Bishops.
3) Positive Elements in Irregular Marriages and Forms of Cohabitation
Another passage of the report concerns those marriages of Catholics that have been contracted (or vowed) outside the Catholic Church, which have no sacramental validity in the eyes of the Church and, therefore, may be, or may soon become, morally weakened and even sinful. The report, however, insidiously says:
Some ask whether the sacramental fullness of marriage does not exclude the possibility of recognizing positive elements even the imperfect forms that may be found outside this nuptial situation, which are in any case ordered in relation to it. The doctrine of levels of communion, formulated by Vatican Council II, confirms the vision of a structured way of participating in the Mysterium Ecclesiae by baptized persons.
Between baptized Catholics the only possible valid marriage is the sacramental marriage. In the case that baptized Catholics engage in civil marriage, that marriage is invalid and, therefore, there is no way that we can see, in moral terms, positive elements in such unions. This lax view concerning marriages contracted outside the Church will lead to a further weakening of the importance of the Sacrament of Matrimony in the eyes of the faithful. It will certainly not strengthen it.
Later the document states:
Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1:9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.
It is a dangerous action to try to find good aspects in substantially evil situations. We run the risk that, in finding good aspects in fundamentally wrong relations, we might give to the persons that find themselves in those situations a reason to remain in them and avoid a true conversion.
The document furthermore adds:
In this respect, a new dimension of today’s family pastoral [sic] consists of accepting the reality of civil marriage and also cohabitation, taking into account the due differences. Indeed, when a union reaches a notable level of stability through a public bond, [and] is characterized by deep affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in development towards the sacrament of marriage.
If we are speaking about baptized Catholics, how can we be asked to accept situations that are clearly against the teachings of Christ? This statement of the mid-term interim report is a slap in the face of Jesus Christ Himself. It opens the gates to a fundamental destruction of the Sacrament of Matrimony and will thereby lead many Catholics into sin while leaving them to believe that they are not.
4) The Nullity Process
Concerning the case of nullity, where persons approach Canonical courts to evaluate whether their previous Catholic marriage was null and void from the outset due to a defective or missing, valid marriage vow, one has to be particularly prudent; because it is fundamental for the good of the souls of those involved that all the necessary procedural guarantees will be kept to assure that truth about their marriage will be found. One of those guarantees is the double conforming sentence, meaning that a second court has to confirm or reject the decision of the first court’s ruling in a marriage case. Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke has clearly pointed out the importance of a solid and thorough examination of each case in the recently published book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, published by Ignatius Press.
The mid-term report, however, states just the opposite and intends to loosen the standards of the process of nullity:
Various Fathers underlined the necessity to make the recognition of cases of nullity more accessible and flexible. Among the propositions were the abandonment of the need for the double conforming sentence; the possibility of establishing an administrative means under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop; a summary process to be used in cases of clear nullity….As regards matrimonial suits, the speeding-up of the procedure, requested by many, as well as the preparation of a sufficient number of operators, clerics and lay people, dedicating themselves to this, requires an increase in the responsibilities of the diocesan bishop, who in his diocese might charge a specially trained priest who would be able to offer the parties advice on the validity of their marriage.
This proposition will clearly lead to a laxer attitude toward the process of nullity, which might effectively turn these procedures into “Catholic divorces.” The standards for the canonical process will be lowered and perhaps even just handed down to a single priest. It shows a clear lack of concern for the salvation of the souls involved, because otherwise, one would seek the most careful way of ascertaining the truth about a marriage. This aspect of the report is clearly influenced by, or at least similar to, the views of Walter Cardinal Kasper.
5) Proposal Concerning Holy Communion for Remarried Divorcees
Cardinal Kasper also apparently influenced another proposal of the report, namely to allow those who are divorced and remarried outside the Church to receive Holy Communion. The document says:
As regards the possibility of partaking of the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist, some argued in favor of the present regulations because of their theological foundation, others were in favor of a greater opening on very precise conditions when dealing with situations that cannot be resolved without creating new injustices and suffering. For some, partaking of the sacraments might occur were it preceded by a penitential path – under the responsibility of the diocesan bishop – and with a clear undertaking in favor of the children. This would not be a general possibility, but the fruit of a discernment applied on a case-by-case basis, according to a law of gradualness, that takes into consideration the distinction between state of sin, state of grace and the attenuating circumstances.
It should be clear to anyone that knows the teachings of the Church on marriage that this proposal, as well as the insidious proposal of Cardinal Kasper, is not acceptable.
Particularly troubling is the idea that, because someone has already lived for a longer while in a marriage outside of the Church, it would cause only more injustices and suffering if one were to dissolve that irregular marriage. To take another example while applying the same purported principle, it would mean that a man who stole his friend’s car four years ago cannot (should not) now give it back, because he is already so accustomed to the car and is so habitually attached to it that it would only cause him suffering to make restitution and thus give it back to the real owner. Such way of argumentation limits itself to the subjective feelings of a selfish person who might be, objectively speaking, also in a state of grave sin.
The idea to admit remarried couples who are divorced to the Sacraments will remove any deterring tool of the Church to lead these couples out of their sinful state. It will make them believe that they are in the state of grace and therefore will feel no need and urge any more to change their lives. Yet, we remember that Christ Himself told the woman at the well that she was still married to her first husband. His words count. All in all, this approach will undermine the teaching and doctrine of the Sacrament of Penance, as well, following which we only can receive forgiveness from God if we truly, sincerely, repent for our sins and continue to strive to avoid the occasions of sin.
6) On Spiritual Communion and Holy Communion
The whole teaching about the importance of a person’s being in the state of grace is further undermined by the following part of the report:
Suggesting limiting themselves to only “spiritual communion” was questioned by more than a few Synodal Fathers: if spiritual communion is possible, why not allow them to partake in the sacrament? As a result a greater theological study was requested starting with the links between the sacrament of marriage and the Eucharist in relation to the Church-sacrament.
How could a person receive Jesus Christ in the form of a spiritual communion if that person is in the state of sin? This kind of argumentation undermines once more the complex and differentiated teaching of the Church in a serious doctrinal matter. If we deliberately reject Christ and His teaching by our acts, He will not enter and dwell in our souls in Sanctifying Grace, until we repent and mend our lives. (Our Lord’s generosity would, however, still offer Actual Graces.) Therefore, we have to be attentive to the false analogue that has been proposed here.
7) The Positive Contributions of Homosexual Couples
With regard to homosexual persons, the document notes:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
Here we should respond, that the homosexual person has gifts as human person, but not as a homosexual, because homosexuality is in itself a pathology. It is not morally possible to accept and value their disordered sexual “orientation” without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony. Homosexuality is an intrinsic evil that has been clearly condemned by Scripture, Old and New Testament. To declare the opposite is to put oneself outside of the teaching of God Himself and His Law. It is a dangerous path, dangerous because it will lead to the loss of many souls.
To make a final remark on the mid-term interim report, one should forthrightly state that the Church, realizing how deeply her flock has sunk into the mire and swamp of sin, now seems to declare that sin is not so dirty after all. It is as if I as a mother, realizing that my children are badly behaving and are lacking any form of good manners or courtesy, declare that courtesy and good behavior are no longer really important for a family nor for society, and thereby I would surrender my duties to raise the children that they may become good Christians and good members of society. Facing my own negligence and the lack of a moral-cultural formation of my children, I would then, rather, turn away entirely from my own responsibility and give up forming my children altogether. Any parent with honesty and self-respect would likely declare me to be a slothful and even deeply inhuman mother, because I was leaving my offspring so bereft of any gracious dignity and true love. The same applies to this interim document. Instead of cleaning up the mess (or chaos) that a lack of deep Catholic formation and instruction have caused among the faithful; and instead of more fully enlivening the Faith of the flock, the Synod Fathers prefer to declare, as it seems, that the flock may, rather, often stay where they are. And they thereby let the flock sink even deeper.
Because of the beguiling dangers emanating from this interim document, insofar as it concerns (or obstructs) the salvation of souls, many Catholics have already sharply criticized it. Among these individuals and organizations are: the Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller; the Prefect of the Signatura, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke; South African Wilfried Cardinal Napier; Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki; Archbishop Zbignev Stankevics; Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.; the coalition called The Voice of the Family (among whose main members are Human Life International and LifeSiteNews); Brother Andre Marie, M.I.C.M., the Prior of Saint Benedict Center, and C.J. Doyle, Executive Director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.
Brother Andre Marie made the following, and incisively important observations on the mid-term report of the Synod, especially as it concerns the fathers and mothers of families:
A quick glance at the Relatio reveals, not only some very troubling commissions by the compilers of the document (e.g., on the subject of homosexuality), but also some stunning omissions. The word ‘mother’ is mentioned but once, and only refers to the Church. The word ‘father’ appears seven times: once in reference to the First Person of the Trinity, and six times when mentioning the ‘Synod Fathers’ themselves. In other words, the mothers and fathers of families are not even mentioned by a synod on the family. Instead, the synod refers to ‘couple[s]’ in the singular or plural — once in reference to homosexuals! Implicit in this shocking omission is the error that the family is headed, or merely produced, by a sort of diarchy. The father and mother have distinct roles in the family, willed by God and taught in Holy Scripture. Numerous pastoral problems — some highlighted by the bishops in the Synod, such as absent fathers in Africa — involve grave social phenomena that have impeded the proper living of these roles. Also, it is not surprising that, in a document favorable to unions built on unnatural lust, mention of the father as head of the family is completely absent. Yet, so many of the problems we are seeing in society result from the ‘decapitation’ of the family. A rapid return to the lucid doctrine of Pope Leo XIII’s Arcanum is in order.
C.J. Doyle makes some additional observations on the larger problem of homoeroticism, especially about the strategic networks and gathering effects of very well-organized homosexuals:
Organized homosexualism is an aggressive, neo-totalitarian movement which seeks to censor, silence, and punish anyone opposed to it, drive out of political life and public employment all those who support traditional morality, demonize as bigots, haters, and homophobes anyone who expresses the slightest reservation towards homosexual behavior, and use state power to coerce, oppress and penalize individuals and businesses who refuse to service so-called same gender marriages. We need to organize a resistance to this growing thuggery, rather than make pandering banalities about their so-called gifts.
A modest and magnanimous friend of ours, who is very well educated in the Faith, and who is also a long-standing counselor to more than one Vatican dicastery in Rome, has recently said the following, and from his heart:
The “relatio” from the “out-of-the-ordinary” synod which has no doctrinal standing whatsoever is the least pastoral document that one can imagine. It will sow the seeds of confusion and lead people into making perhaps death-dealing decisions (both physically and spiritually).
We Catholics certainly have the moral duty to defend Christ’s Truth even more fully now, and to put moral pressure on the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church to resist, refute, and repudiate these pernicious (often stealthy) revolutionary attempts to remake our historic Catholic Faith and to turn it into a sentimentalizing, pandering, “politically correct” institution that will have much less moral relevance or important influence anymore for the purified and abundantly good life of mankind, here and hereafter.
Therefore, some of us might be even now inspired to contact the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States (H.E. Most Rev. Archbishop Carlo Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio, Apostolic Nuntiature of the Holy See, 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20008, e-mail: [email protected]).
May it be so that many individual Catholic institutions and even individual Catholic parishes come also generously to the help of Christ Himself, defending His full teaching before the world and within His Church! The more that voices of moral resistance and reasoned protest will be attentively heard, the more will be the chances for us to have an affirmative and salutary influence upon the Synod Fathers, directly or indirectly. We are now, I think, especially called to defend the Catholic Faith, and many of us do feel honored to do so, out of loyal love for Him who died for us and loved us to the end.
As a final thought, we may also want to remind ourselves of the stern but merciful warning from the heart of Our Lady of Fatima: “So many souls will go to hell because of the sins of the flesh.” May this warning awaken us and lead us, even more deeply, to the loyal and intellectually differentiated defense of the Faith.