Misfiring Neurons
The People Speak

So what do you think about this Synod document?

I agree with most of it. Who could be against a message of welcome and love for people in difficult situations, often ones for which they are not even at fault in any serious way? Who would object to this?:

Imitating Jesus’ merciful gaze, the Church must accompany her most fragile sons and daughters, marked by wounded and lost love, with attention and care, restoring trust and hope to them like the light of a beacon in a port, or a torch carried among the people to light the way for those who are lost or find themselves in the midst of the storm.

But on the basis of one quick reading alone, I can see that there are huge problems with many of its details. Setting that aside--too big a subject for a quick blog post--I'm disheartened by what people on both sides are saying about it.  It looks as if we are embarking on a smaller-scale repeat of the war that followed Vatican II, when the party within the Church which is effectively of the liberal Protestant persuasion thought victory was within its grasp. As I said to a friend yesterday,  the promulgation of this interim document "stinks of the kind of progressive skill at manipulating 'the narrative' that created the VII mess." Already they have the public relations victory: yesterday I saw one news story after another suggesting that this is clearly a first step toward a wholesale revision of Church teaching on sex and marriage--with, of course, the obsessions of our press being what they are, emphasis on homosexuality.

In something I posted here a few years ago, or perhaps more than a few, I expressed the hope that the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict would have settled the internal disputes that had torn the Church for the better part of twenty years, and that we would be able to turn outward, toward evangelization and generally bearing witness to the world. I was hoping that under Francis that would happen. But it doesn't look that way now. Pope Francis says many wonderful things, but he also has demonstrated an ability to sow confusion and division with occasional questionable remarks. Looks like he's done the same thing on a bigger scale here. He is a loving shepherd, but not always a wise one.


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What I think about it is that it is not a final document, and that I'm going to wait to the end of things before I let myself think about it much. I've been trying not to read too many people's opinions, but Facebook is a minefield. ;-)

I am very disheartened by the current discourse, but then, that's a very old heartache.


That was my original plan, too, but then I kept seeing all this stuff.... I wonder why they even needed to release an interim version in the first place. It seems like an effort by the manipulators to get PR momentum. Wish the all-to-human Church didn't work like that.

Police officers have been known to exercise discretion and make prudential judgments when they confront individual offenders of the law. I myself have been let off without a traffic ticket more than once.

But imagine the confusion that would reign if the police chief called a press conference to discuss "mercy and compassion" toward those who exceed the speed limit, park illegally, or even drive under the influence. After all, most people have their reasons. Imagine if he started talking about a "gradualist" approach to getting citizens to comply with the law. The general result, I expect, would be a widening non-compliance with the law, motivated by a tacit understanding that it's not really going to be enforced, or even that there is no law per se. In fact, it would make it much harder for an individual police officer, confronting an individual offender, to enforce the law.

The analogy is inexact, but it gets at my main reservations.

Wish the all-to-human Church didn't work like that.

Well, it's the reason we're all still here probably. Or at least, it will be that way as long as we're here.

See Craig, you tried to spare me from this, but here I am.


It's the confusion that's so very bad, as Benedict, when he was still Ratzinger, clearly saw:

...increasing numbers of people today, even within the Church, are bringing enormous pressure to bear on the Church to accept the homosexual condition as though it were not disordered and to condone homosexual activity. Those within the Church who argue in this fashion often have close ties with those with similar views outside it. These latter groups are guided by a vision opposed to the truth about the human person, which is fully disclosed in the mystery of Christ. They reflect, even if not entirely consciously, a materialistic ideology which denies the transcendent nature of the human person as well as the supernatural vocation of every individual.

The Church's ministers must ensure that homosexual persons in their care will not be misled by this point of view, so profoundly opposed to the teaching of the Church. But the risk is great and there are many who seek to create confusion regarding the Church's position, and then to use that confusion to their own advantage.

That's from Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, written in 1986. The full text is here.

As you probably remember, that letter of Ratzinger's provoked anger because of its use of the term "disordered."

"The general result, I expect, would be a widening non-compliance with the law, motivated by a tacit understanding that it's not really going to be enforced, or even that there is no law per se." Which of course is exactly what's happened in liberal Protestantism on these matters.

That "law of gradualism" stuff in the document is quite weird. Granted, I am not well-read in theology, but I'm pretty sure I've never run across such a "law" before. It's a weird way of making the valid point that you shouldn't expect people to go from non-belief to full embrace of the entire faith and all it entails in one quick leap. A very questionable bit of rhetorical over-reach.

For what it's worth.



I've been trying to ignore the synod, which has proven impossible!

I think the "law of gradualism" is nonsense, although anyone with commonsense knows that most people do only change their ideas gradually.

"Wish the all-to-human Church didn't work like that."


And there was some nonsense last week from an Australian married couple who told the "heart-warming" story of a couple accepting the "gay partner" of their son "into the family."

Nup. Sorry. I'm not going to do that kind of thing in the name of "mercy." I've already made myself very unpopular in my family in simply not budging on the question of recognising adulterous "partnerships." If anyone is in need of mercy, it's the stalwart Catholics who cop endless bullying on all sides merely for having our beliefs (even when we don't actually "shove them down other people's throats"). My FB page and former blog are not anything to go by, btw! IRL I hardly ever mention morality etc. Indeed, Australians have so little patience with religion that I hardly ever mention God. The mere fact that I *am* religious causes my irreligious countrymen to have conniptions. It's very tedious.

Actually, I'm just really angry that this synod was called. I believe much good can come out of it b/c I have seen with my own eyes the amazing power of Divine Providence, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a profoundly dumb idea. At this stage, that is my opinion. I guess it might change... gradually. :)

Im lovin it

Im rollin my eyes and havin my memory refreshed about why I don't like to follow Church doings all that closely.

From Janet's link, I think this sums up the position of the synod as of today very well:

"“We’re now working from a position that’s virtually irredeemable,” said South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, referring to the media coverage. “The message has gone out that this is what synod is saying, that this is what the Catholic Church is saying,” he said. “Whatever we say hereafter will seem like we’re doing damage control.”"

Actually it will seem worse than damage control. Any attempt to pull back from the suggestions and implications of this interim document will be seen as a cowardly retreat after a bold step forward, and a victory of repressive forces over liberating ones.

Yes, that's about my own view of it.

John L. Allen Jr. does a pretty good job of presenting some background on gradualism and on its emergence at the synod: The synod's key twist: The sudden return of gradualism

About that return:

Ferment over gradualism, and what its implications may be, tends to arise whenever the Catholic Church ponders sexual morality.

The last time the Vatican staged a Synod of Bishops on the family, which was almost 35 years ago in 1980, talk about gradualism was in the air, too. Pope John Paul II was sufficiently concerned about where it might lead that he included a warning in a homily he gave for the closing Mass of the synod, a line he then also dropped into the meeting’s concluding document, Familiaris Consortio.

“What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’,” John Paul said, “cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’.” The gist was there’s just one set of rules for everybody, and they’re not going to change.

I'm slightly relieved to find out that "the law of gradualism" wasn't an invention by someone at the synod. Still seems like a somewhat ridiculous phrase to me. "Gradualism"--fine. "Law of gradualism"--??? In what way is it a "law"?

I think perhaps that use of "law" was the doing of John Paul II. At least that's what I get from what a professor of theology at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. wrote:

According to an official Vatican press briefing on Tuesday, Oct. 7, the discussion at the Synod over proposals for communion for divorced and remarried persons has shifted to “gradualness.” It seems that some are now arguing from the principle of gradualness that those who are not yet able to live according to the Church’s teachings could still receive Holy Communion as a step on the way towards a more perfect conversion. ...

What John Paul called “the law of gradualness” does not refer to a “gradual” turning away from sin, but to the perennial Christian doctrine that we are not yet perfect in the first moment of our conversion. When we receive a grace of conversion, we break definitively from evil and then gradually advance in holiness. We may even fall back into grave sin, but, helped by grace, we repent and start anew. Here, the sacrament of Penance has an important role to play: it calls us to renounce our sins definitively with a firm purpose of amendment. In effect, he who will not yet repent, will not yet accept God’s mercy, and so is not forgiven.

More on gradualness here, from Msgr. Pope.

One problem is that a lot of people who get their information from the press think that current Church teaching is that homosexuals are icky and shouldn't be allowed through the doors. All the synod needs to do is repeat actual Church teaching in a way that people hear and they'll think the teaching has changed.

I think that's true, Paul.

Much as they thought Francis had discovered the concept of love, unknown to his immediate predecessors.

For the gay rights etc. movement, however, with its demand for active approval, actual Church teaching is not significantly different from "homosexuals are icky and shouldn't be allowed through the doors."

Regarding that "law of gradualism"--I never did think real highly of John Paul's prose. I guess I can forgive this, though.

I've just seen the third reference today to a "fresh wind" blowing in the Church. This is going to make a cynic of me. Or more of one.

Puts me in mind of this song.

Did you note that that song was uploaded by "thepopesmokesdope94's channel"?

They each have their own imaginary planet. They tell stories about them. They have lists of kings and wars and different cities and countries. Some of the planets are close enough to each other that they interact.

My two youngest spent the entire dinner tonight regaling us with stories about their planets.

If you meet any of my children and want to give them a start, say, "Tell me about your imaginary planet."

That's great, Robert. Very nice exercise for their imaginations.

No, I didn't notice that, Marianne. I guess it would be wrong of me to call it providential...:-)

When I've said to people, "The Church instructs me to treat homosexuals with love and respect", they look at me plainly thinking I'm the one who doesn't know what the Church actually teaches. By doing it this way, the synod has made people hear it. Now to explain that this isn't an "earthquake" ...

I hate to be so negative (seriously, I do). But finding out that it isn't an earthquake will only increase the anger and disdain. Either they believe the false version, and think "Well, those lunatics are finally coming around," or they don't believe it, and think "So what if the trains bound for Auschwitz are marginally more comfortable."

I spent a while yesterday reading the comments on a story about this at NPR (American liberal radio network), and that's pretty much the way they ran: either this is a first tiny step on the way toward completely dropping our absurd and evil morality, or it's just window dressing and no one should be taken in.

Mac, do you read NPR comments as a penance? Maybe you should try the discipline: it might be more pleasant.

No. As you suggest, that would be a more severe penance than I feel able to undertake. This was purely for investigative purposes.

Btw, if anyone wants to see what I'm talking about, the story is here.

Several months ago, the movie Angels & Demons (which followed on The Da Vinci Code), was on TV here in NZ, and I watched a few scenes. The way the Catholics were portrayed actually shocked me -- they were simply monsters.

Scary to think about how many people have been schooled in that kind of thing. Add that to the cultural push to present sexual activity as central to a good life, and it's easy to see where those NPR commenters are coming from.

Yep, there's a genuine hatred out there, and it's not just a few cranks, it's fairly widespread. We have to do our best not to respond in kind, but it's important to see the situation for what it is.

My gut reaction on the document. It doesn't really state anything new, just restate some common sense stuff. For example, it claims that homo couples have something positive to contribute. I'm fine with saying that, as long as you add the mental reservation "when they are not committing unnatural acts."

In the age of Pope Francis, you can never forget that he is a Jesuit and messages are delivered with many mental reservations.

"For the gay rights etc. movement, however, with its demand for active approval, actual Church teaching is not significantly different from "homosexuals are icky and shouldn't be allowed through the doors.""


"But finding out that it isn't an earthquake will only increase the anger and disdain."

I agree.

"Mac, do you read NPR comments as a penance? Maybe you should try the discipline: it might be more pleasant."


Pauli's comment was stuck in the spam catcher for several hours. Nice to hear from you again, Pauli.

My hypothesis about Francis is not so much that he uses mental reservations etc. as that he's just sort of, to use my wife's description, loosey-goosey. But then one can't disregard the way he apparently stacked the committee working on that document with Kaspar-ites.

Okay, so here's something about the Synod that we don't hear much about.



And the Martins' relics are coming to Memphis on Nov. 1.


Sometimes I'd rather not be right. Now that the synod is approving a document that doesn't include the questionable stuff, headlines are, e.g., "Catholic leaders at synod backtrack on welcoming gays to the church."

What I said a couple of days ago: "Any attempt to pull back from the suggestions and implications of this interim document will be seen as a cowardly retreat after a bold step forward, and a victory of repressive forces over liberating ones."

What the LA Times said today: "A gathering of bishops and cardinals at the Vatican on Saturday backtracked on an interim document released early last week that showed greater openness to homosexuals, suggesting that Pope Francis’ effort to move toward a more inclusive Roman Catholic Church had been blocked for now by conservative prelates."

I imagine it's pretty close to what the press said after Humanae Vitae. This is exactly what the scripture tells us to expect.


I mean, the Church has to do what She has to do without reference to secular opinion. Of course the Culture of Death is going to twist opinion, and obfuscate, and whatever.


Right. What's frustrating is the way the synod set itself up for that. I wonder if it was engineered that way: to be either a victory for progressives, or, if that failed, a flogging in the press for the opposition.

Somebody said to me six months or so ago that this was going to be a repeat of the Humanae Vitae moment.

Well yes. It's what the Pharisees did to Jesus, and what Nero did to the early Christians. It happens over and over. It's what we should expect. The enemy plays this game very well, and if we look at it from his point of view we sink under it.

Don't play the game.


From that LA Times article:

In a speech to prelates at the end of the synod, Francis drew a line between a temptation by prelates to reject change because of “hostile rigidity” and a temptation to be overly “progressive and liberal.”

The debate seen at the synod was positive, and there is another year to reach conclusions before the next synod, he said. But though his speech received a four-minute ovation from prelates, the synod may yet come to be seen as the moment Francis’ papacy faltered.

The moment his papacy faltered sounds like something written about a president's term in office.

The article also says that two Germans, Cardinal Walter Kasper and Cardinal Reinhard Marx, are both allies of the pope. I read that after I read Damian Thompson's post on the synod in which he says the liberal faction in the Church is dominated by Germans. Why is that?

"What's frustrating is the way the synod set itself up for that. I wonder if it was engineered that way: to be either a victory for progressives, or, if that failed, a flogging in the press for the opposition."

It was a very bad job, IMO and arguably the synod should never have been called.

Here is one view, Marianne.


I'm not playing the game, just watching. It's the hierarchy who are playing. Maybe it's good that so many of them don't play it very well.

"...the moment Francis’ papacy faltered."

[snort] That political paradigm is the only one they know. Along the same lines, I'm always amused and irritated by journalists referring to Church teachings as "Vatican policy".

Thanks for the link, Louise. What a large number of Catholics are leaving the Church in Germany each year. I started looking for some comparative numbers and stumbled onto an article that talks about the compulsory church tax there for those who register themselves as practicing members, which apparently explains why many are leaving.

This I find startling:

Last year, Germany’s Catholic Bishops’ issued an uncompromising edict. A member who refuses to pay taxes will no longer be allowed to receive communion or make confession, to serve as godparents or to hold any office in the church, it read. Those who leave can also be refused a Christian burial, unless they “give some sign of repentance.”

More on this in a Telegraph article.

That sounds very like simony.

It does indeed, Paul. I don't believe in a complete separation of Church and State at all, and I can see how the state could end up collecting a tax for the Church in those states which are Catholic, but at no time should people have to buy the sacraments!

"What a large number of Catholics are leaving the Church in Germany each year."

Indeed and it's very sad. No doubt many leave b/c they are not interested in living a Christian life, either b/c they have never really been evangelised, or because they have fallen away from the Faith. But I'm sure this hefty sounding Church tax makes leaving even more appealing. A terrible thing when we consider the lost souls.

It does sound like simony. And it's especially shocking to the American sensibility, brought up on strict church-state separation.

I saw some speculation the other day that this is part of the reason why the German bishops are so keen on relaxing the divorced-and-remarried discipline: too many people in that situation saying "If I can't receive communion, why should I put myself in the position of being taxed?" That would be understandable in people who weren't deeply committed to the faith.

So they're in favor of extending the sacraments to remarried divorced persons. But not to those who refuse to pay the tax. Must be some painful theological jujitsu they're experiencing.

Amy Welborn makes a good point about the tax thing:

In this age of 24-7, can’t escape information-mongering, it is amazing (or perhaps not) that actually reporting continues to suck.

Take this whole Synod on the Family thing.

Obviously, there is a lot of discussion regarding the Synod, much of that discussion being driven by Cardinal Kasper of Germany, who is just going on and on and on about compassion and mercy and such.

Plenty of people are talking about all of that. What hardly anyone is doing, however is even trying to move beyond the ideological narratives, and raising questions about the German church tax.

For that is really the most pressing issue facing the German Catholic Church. And I really wonder why any of our highly-praised religion journalists are completely ignoring this issue and don’t even seem interested in connecting the dots or even asking Cardinal Kasper directly about how the Catholic Church in Germany understands and practices issues related to Church membership and the sacraments. And taxes.

Her full piece is here.

Interest. As Paul said, that really does seem to come close to simony.

I don't suppose anyone has seen the full document in English?


Why didn't you include a link? :-)

Yes, I had seen it, and one thing I thought bears a lot of emphasis is "we have reflected on how to accompany those who have been divorced and remarried". I think maybe the effort to accompany the people in these problematic situations (I'm thinking of homosexuality here as well) ought to be a very high priority, higher than the doctrinal discussions.

I didn't include a link because I think that what I link to in that post is just an introduction. I have seen it in Italian and it looks much longer. I was really asking if anyone had seen it in English.

I think you are right about the accompanying.


Oh, I thought that was the whole thing. Anyway, that's a very good post. (Note to others: the link is to Janet's blog--you should go read it.)

I don't think it's available in English yet. The full text in Italian is here.

I like this bit, The love of man and woman teaches us that each needs the other in order to be truly self. Each remains different from the other that opens self and is revealed in the reciprocal gift. because I think it hints at the necessity of the complimentarity of the sexes. Just hints. I started to write more about that, but I didn't have time to get that involved.


"So they're in favor of extending the sacraments to remarried divorced persons. But not to those who refuse to pay the tax. Must be some painful theological jujitsu they're experiencing."

They seem to be in favour of offering the sacraments to anyone who will cough up $$.

But even without an actual Church tax, there could be an incentive to get more bums on seats (pews) in any Church b/c in general that will translate to more funds. I think this is a driving factor in some of the more dodgy practices around from priests who perhaps are not very spiritually minded.

One would like to think that this is not a huge factor. Still, you can't help noticing that rich people tend to get treated very well by the Church, and by Church-affiliated institutions.

There is an interview here. that I think clears up at least part of what people have been worrying about with regards to the synod.

One quote:

“Resistance is now evident,” he said.

“That is a good sign for me, getting the resistance out into the open, no stealthy mumbling when there is disagreement. It’s healthy to get things out into the open, it’s very healthy,” the pope said.

The pope spoke at length about issues related to the synod, as well, including communion for divorced and remarried Catholics and the pastoral care of gay Catholics.

“Nobody mentioned homosexual marriage at the synod, it did not cross our minds,” the pope said. Rather, “the synod addressed the family and the homosexual persons in relation to their families, because we come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation.”

He said that this “happened to me several times in Buenos Aires. We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter.”


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