What is the purpose of the Extraordinary Synod?

Why, to make communion available for unrepentant adulterers (but only those who also abandon their spouses), of course!  “But, Bonald, that’s not fair.  That’s not what the Vatican says it’s for.  They say it’s to brainstorm ways to better instruct Catholics on the Church’s teachings on marriage and family.  Given that you think the Church is doing such a crappy job of this, how can you not be pleased?”  I say in reply that it doesn’t matter what the bishops plan to do; the more important social reality is what the public expects them to do.  The word has gotten out that the situation of the divorced and “remarried” is now up for debate, and the hierarchy has done little to convince people that this is not true.  No doubt there are many among them who would love to silently retire Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage, just as the doctrines of male headship and the duty to render the marriage debt have been unofficially retired.  Such truths are not explicitly denied; they are just not mentioned at all, while positions incompatible with them are taken on related issues.  Yes, our shepherds would like to do the same with the indissolubility of marriage–that shocking idea that the marriage vows mean exactly what they say–but the pastoral care of the remarried keeps forcing the issue.  There must be some way to get around what the Gospel teaches.  If only we could find it!

As I said, though, we don’t need to assume that most bishops are really thinking these things.  Suppose they are all courageous and orthodox men.  Stop laughing.  Just suppose.  It’s still the case that we’re on course for disaster; hopes are being allowed to build up among the laity that cannot (or at least should not) be satisfied.  The best-case scenario is another post-Humanae Vitae debacle.  Remember what happened then.  For years, the laity and lower clergy had been allowed to build up hopes that the pope’s birth control commission was going to overturn perennial Catholic teaching so that we too could get in on all the consequence-free sex.  No doubt many married couples, told that the “rule” was on its way out, jumped the gun, and who could blame them?  Years with little or no sex is a pretty big price to pay for formal compliance to a rule about to be revoked and still on the books only because of bureaucratic inertia.  Sure enough, the wretches on the commission agreed that their job was to gut Catholic sexual ethics.  Then at the last minute the Holy Spirit personally intervened and prompted Pope Paul’s magnificent encyclical.  The Catholic world, seeing its hopes betrayed, was outraged and openly defiant.  This was to be expected.  It was predictable.  By the time the pope deigned to speak, he was already in an unwinnable situation.

We are recreating this same situation.

12 Responses

  1. The whole situation does very much rhyme with Humanae Vitae.

  2. The trouble with the Humanae Vitae analogy (and my main grounds for hope in this case) is that I’d never heard of this burningly urgent pastoral need to admit adulterers to Communion until sometime last year. With contraception, we were up against a magic pill that promised to liberate one of the most primal and universal human urges, but this? I just don’t see any groundswell or emotional urgency from ordinary Catholics, even liberal ones. For single, annulled, widowed, and happily married Catholics this is really a non-issue. It’s only a real live issue to a few parties:

    1. Lay Catholics who are dating, cohabiting, or civilly remarried while validly married to someone else, who are a) just Catholic enough to wish to receive Communion but b) are not Catholic enough to acknowledge or accept the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage.

    2. A bunch of German bishops who have a clear pecuniary interest in clearing away all obstacles to church membership.

    3. The “Cathedral” (Polygon, what have you), which will grasp at any stick with which to beat the Church, in order to weaken it.

    Now, there are a non-negligible number of people in the first group, but it seems likely to me that they either leave the Church altogether, or (if apostasy or Protestantism is too great a leap) they stay in the pews and receive Communion whenever they feel like it. The German bishops are a wretched lot, but hardly the stuff of a grassroots campaign for change. And our ruling elite will make a lot of noise about this, but where’s the fire in the belly among the proles?

    In a way, it’s a mirror-image of the mania for “curial reform” we saw prior to the last Conclave. Talking heads would nod gravely at each other while expounding on the urgent necessity of “reform of the curia”, without ever really defining the problems that reform would address. Whatever mysterious actions it entailed, curial reform seems to have lost all its urgency ever since Benedict XVI handed the big white box of documents over to Francis.

  3. Am I alone in finding an eerie similarity between the “Truce of 1968,” as George Weigal calls it, when the Congregation for the Clergy decreed that Cardinal O’Boyle of Washington should lift canonical penalties against those priests whom he had disciplined for their public dissent from Humanae Vitæ and the “Peace of Clement IX” during the Jansenist controversy?

    In both cases, after the Church had been riven by a decade-long dispute, a papal document was issued that was intended to be definitive.

    In both cases, the original quarrel was immediately forgotten and argument raged over the scope of papal authority to decide the question. In the Jansenist case, peace, of a sort, was achieved, when Pope Clement IX brokered an agreement that neither side would argue the question, at least, from the pulpit.

    The “Peace of Clement IX” lasted for about 35 years and ended in 1705 when Clement XI declared the clergy could no longer hide behind “respectful silence.” Eventually, in 1713, he issued Unigenitus and demanded the subscription of the clergy to it. There was enormous resistance, with bishops and priests appealing to a future Council (and being excommunicated for their pains, in 1718). As late as 1756, dissenters were still being denied the Last Rites.

    Will the “Truce of 1968” end in a similar fashion?

  4. This sort of issue *couldn’t* even have become possible until fairly recently. Prior to Pius X daily reception of communion was rare at best (and in earlier times even weekly reception of communion was unusual); Pius XII reduced the fast to three hours, which Paul VI reduced to one, and instituted vigil Masses; and the Johannine-Pauline code of canon law, in practice if not intention, has made it more difficult for clerics to withhold communion even for objectively good reasons.

    The net effect of all this has been to make communion (a) a status symbol (X didn’t receive communion today? What’d he do?) and (b) an entitlement. The chickens of our poisonous some-is-good-more-is-better gestalt are come homing to roost.

  5. You are making it too complicated. American Catholics either forget or don’t know how different the American annulment regime is from the rest of the world’s. In the US, annulment is Catholic divorce. Of the 58K annulments granted in the world in 2007, 35K were granted in the US. For reference, there are about 160K Catholic marriages in the US per year. It’s Catholic divorce, plain and simple.

    All HH wants to do is bring the scandalous American annulment regime to the rest of the world. No heresy: just enthusiastic, public embrace of unrepented, grave sin with lots and lots of overt lying for good measure. I mean, seriously, why should Americans have all the fun?

    Perhaps in the near future, we can have insta-annulments. Just log into your Diocesan website, check a few boxes on a web form, and presto, annulment for you. Of course, this presents the problem of how all those American canon lawyers are going to feed their families, but you’ve got to break some eggs . . .

    HH does not need to embrace actual heresy to get what he wants. He just needs to get the Americans and the Germans together so that the Germans can learn how to be doinitrite.

  6. The Rhine flows into the Tiber… but what flows into the Rhine?

  7. The Potomac apparently.

  8. A moment’s reflect that there must always be a considerable number of people who could not say off-hand whether they were married or not. It is only when the question has been decided by a tribunal that their doubts can be removed. But although they do not know if they are married, and no one could tell them with certainty till the proof has been led, it is nevertheless true that they must be either one or the other

  9. I should have said, “A moment’s reflection will show that there must always be…”

  10. That would be a nice resolution. The Jansenists seem to me to have been a sympathetic bunch, and it’s too bad more accommodation wasn’t made for them. I certainly wouldn’t mind the hammer falling on the sexual revolutionaries.

  11. Yeah, or maybe Styx.

  12. Sure, but a moment’s further reflection suffices to understand that the number who are, in fact, not married is tiny. None of the objective grounds for nullity are often relevant (how many cousin marriages and shotgun marriages is the Church tricked into performing?). So, you are left with absurd claims that the married parties were psychologically incapable of consent or that they did not know what they were doing. Ten annulments a year is a plausible number for the US. 35,000 is absurd.

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