From Catholic Culture
By Phil Lawler
As an editor, a writer, and a reader, I cherish clarity of expression. As a Catholic, I am appalled by the abuses of language—the pretense, the confusion, the obfuscation, and even the outright deceit—that I see in many recent pronouncements from our Church leadership.
Last week the Vatican announced that a meeting Synod of Bishops, which scheduled for October 2022, will be postponed for a year, to allow for broader discussions of the chosen topic: synodality. The Vatican has suggested a full program of consultations: in parishes, then at the level of dioceses, then episcopal conferences, and finally at the “continental” level, leading to the bishops’ session in Rome.
The topic of all these consultations, again, will be synodality. The quest for synodality is a key theme in the teaching of Pope Francis. But the truth is that no one has a very clear understanding what “synodality” means. And maybe that’s the point. Will a year of consultations clarify things, or will it simply allow for more general confusion?
Or—a more likely possibility, in my view—will that general confusion allow for a cadre of activists to seize control of the process, and turn “synodality” into a handy cover for their own preferred plans?
This week, in a similar development, the Vatican unveiled a a seven-year “action platform” to implement the teaching of the encyclical on the environment. Pope Francis explained the ambitious goal of this program, saying that “we need a new ecological approach, that can transform our way of dwelling in the world.”
So how does the Vatican propose to transform human life? The plan suggests that the first year of the effort should focus on “the three fundamental tasks of community building, resource sharing, and drawing up of concrete action plans.” Thus after calling for seven years of concrete action, the Vatican proposes to begin by making plans for concrete action. So this isn’t really an “action platform,” so much as a call for some action(s) which have not yet been identified. The Vatican’s plan, as described, is not for specific actions but for a lengthy and malleable process.
In both cases—the synod consultation and the environmental “action platform”—the Vatican calls for the recruitment of activists who will work with parishes, dioceses, and episcopal conferences to pursue the desired goals. So a fresh layer will be added to the ecclesiastical bureaucracy, with new operatives holding meetings, attending conferences, issuing statements, and promoting what they see as the top priorities for their Catholic communities.
The great conservative theorist Russell Kirk attended the “Call to Action” conference in Detroit in 1976, and saw how a cadre of such activists—whom he described as “the church mice”—could and did drive the agenda, producing a pastoral disaster from which the Church in America has not yet fully recovered. The bishops who should have controlled the meeting were unprepared; the activists were oh-so-very prepared, and ready to seize the day.
Is this the meaning of “synodality”—a process that would allow a determined, organized minority to dictate pastoral practice? Is this the way the Vatican under Pope Francis proposes to transform human activity, ushering in an environmentalist utopia? And if that is the immediate future of our Church, what will the cost be, in terms of the integrity of Catholic doctrine, the vigor of sacramental life, and the mission to make disciples of all nations?
Yesterday I wrote about “the abuses of language…that I see in many recent pronouncements from our Church leadership,” with my focus on two recent Vatican announcements. Now let me turn to a few noteworthy American examples.
Sometimes the misuse of language is downright Orwellian. When Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich announced that unvaccinated Catholics must not be allowed inside churches without masks, he stipulated that each parish should have officials at the doors to check every individual for proof of vaccination. These people—who will block the doors to those who are unmasked and undocumented—are identified as “the parish’s greeter/hospitality team.” Some greeting; some hospitality.
Unless I’m much mistaken, these “greeters” will not be asking parishioners to show the results of their latest tuberculosis tests. They won’t quiz people about other legitimate public-health concerns (“Do you smoke? Take intravenous drugs? Engage in sexual practices known to spread disease?”). They will have one, and only one, medical concern: the single test ordered by Cardinal Cupich in his capacity as a public-health official. But the cardinal is not a public-health official. He is a bishop of the Catholic Church, who should have other concerns.
So if the parish guards (let’s use honest language) are deciding which people should be allowed into the church, aren’t there more important questions that they might ask? For instance: “Are you party to an invalid marriage?” Or: “Have you voted to support legal abortion?”
Ah, there’s the rub! Because Cardinal Cupich has also recently been leading the charge to block a discussion of Eucharistic coherence, currently scheduled to take place at the US bishops’ meeting in June. He and other bishops have argued that the discussion should not take place, because the American bishops lack the “high standard of consensus” that would be required for a strong statement on the issue.
Now explain to me, please, how the US bishops’ conference can develop that “high standard of consensus,” if there is to be no discussion of the question. Clearly Cardinal Cupich and his allies are not being entirely forthright about their reasons for wanting to avoid the topic.
There are other signs of dissimulation here, too. Although in theory Cardinal Cupich strongly supports Pope Francis in his call for decentralized decision-making, in practice he lobbied energetically for Vatican intervention to curtail an open discussion among the American bishops. Although he complains that the discussion might cause divisions, he and his allies deepened the fractures within the episcopal conference by urging a late change to the agenda—the elimination of a topic that had already been approved by the usual process.
Above all, Cardinal Cupich and his allies do not want “dialogue” on this issue. For all their insistence on open discussion, it is an open discussion that they are doing their utmost to thwart. The incessant calls for “dialogue” are a smokescreen: an attempt to ensure that the issue will remain unresolved indefinitely.
The proponents of this inauthentic “dialogue” argue that instead of upholding the perennial teaching of the Church, instead of fulfilling the clear demands of canon law, pastors should engage in quiet, personal conversations with those prominent Catholics who support the slaughter of the unborn. There is, of course, no reason why a pastor cannot undertake that dialogue and fulfill his canonical duties. But again there is a deeper point at issue.
In nearly 50 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, some of this country’s most prominent Catholic politicians have grown steadily more forthright in their support for unrestricted legal abortion on demand. While bishops trumpet the need for ever more “dialogue,” politicians scoff at the Church’s moral law, and denigrate those who uphold it. Show me one case of an active Catholic politician who has repented of his support for abortion, and embraced the pro-life cause, after a quiet conversation with his bishop. Just one case, and I’ll take the argument for “dialogue” a bit more seriously.
"...he stipulated that each parish should have officials at the doors to check every individual for proof of vaccination. These people—who will block the doors to those who are unmasked and undocumented..."ReplyDelete
I will not show proof of receiving a vaccine to any parish hall monitor (though I have been vaccinated). I am a real stickler on considering my word as sufficient on any matter.