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Beautiful words, but then…

by Christopher A. Ferrara
October 5, 2015

During the Mass at the commencement of the second session of the Synod of Doom, Pope Francis delivered a homily that contained many beautiful words about the indissolubility of marriage. Quoting the Gospel reading for the first day of the Synod — a divine irony if there ever was one — Francis recalled Jesus’ teaching that “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mk 10:6-8; cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24).

Francis even went so far as to recite Our Lord’s divine admonition to the Pharisees: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:9), describing this as “an exhortation to believers to overcome every form of individualism and legalism which conceals a narrow self-centredness and a fear of accepting the true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan. Indeed, only in the light of the folly of the gratuitousness of Jesus’ paschal love will the folly of the gratuitousness of an exclusive and life-long conjugal love make sense.”

Even better, Francis declared:  “The Church is called to carry out her mission in truth [emphasis in original], which is not changed by passing fads or popular opinions. The truth which protects individuals and humanity as a whole from the temptation of self-centredness and from turning fruitful love into sterile selfishness, faithful union into temporary bonds.”

All well and good — indeed, quite splendid.  Yet, sad to say, after two-and-a-half years of this strange pontificate, astute observers had only one thought as they read these fine words: go to the very end.  And, sure enough, at the very end of the homily there it was — a collection of telltale phrases buried in closing paragraphs of pious tenor:

And the Church is called to carry out her mission in charitynot pointing a finger in judgment of others… conscious of her duty to seek out and care for hurting couples with the balm of acceptance and mercy… A Church which teaches and defends fundamental values, while not forgetting that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27)…
A Church which teaches authentic love, which is capable of taking loneliness away, without neglecting her mission to be a good Samaritan to wounded humanity.
I remember when Saint John Paul II said: “Error and evil must always be condemned and opposed; but the man who falls or who errs must be understood and loved… we must love our time and help the man of our time”… The Church must search out these persons, welcome and accompany them, for a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock

            Let us look at the key phrases and what they portend for the Synod of Doom:

  • “And the Church is called to carry out her mission in charity, not pointing a finger in judgment of others…”

The Church does not “point a finger in judgment of others.” Following Our Lord and the Apostles, she has forever condemned sin and warned of the eternal consequences of grave sin for the unrepentant. The accusation is demagoguery. And we know where it is leading.

  • “seek out and care for hurting couples …with the balm of acceptance and mercy…”

Who are these imaginary “hurting couples” the Church has failed to “seek out” in order to administer “the balm of acceptance and mercy”?  The Church does not reject “hurting couples” nor does she fail to show mercy to those who seek it in repentance and sincere contrition. Thus the divorced and “remarried” have always been able to receive “acceptance and mercy” if they abandon their adulterous relations.  But this is clearly not what Francis has in mind. He wants these “hurting couples” to be given “acceptance and mercy” just as they are — which would destroy in practice the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage expounded in the very same homily.

  • “‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mk 2:27)…”

The keeping of the Sabbath is a divine precept, not a matter of natural law divinely engraved in human nature, as is the indissolubility of marriage.  The aim here is transparent: to equate the Pharisees’ hyper-legalism regarding the precept of Sabbath observance with the Church’s bimillenial teaching and discipline, rooted in the very words of Christ, which precludes the admission of public adulterers to Holy Communion and Confession while they continue to engage in adulterous sexual relations.  To equate the Church’s teaching and discipline safeguarding the integrity of the sacraments of Matrimony, Holy Communion and Confession with the Pharisees’ absurd abuses of the Sabbath rest precept is, well, Pharisaical.

And the audacity of quoting John Paul II in this context is infuriating, for it was he who, in Familiaris consortio, affirmed the very teaching and discipline Francis has been undermining in word and deed throughout his pontificate, including the suggestion that people living in adultery should be allowed to serve as godparents, religious education teachers and readers of Holy Scripture during Mass. On the opening day of the Synod, Francis is still at it.

  • “welcome and accompany them”

Welcome and accompany whom?  Who is it that the Church has failed to welcome and accompany?  Could it be divorced and “remarried” people who would like to receive Holy Communion, go to Confession, be godparents, teach religion and read Holy Scripture at Mass while continuing to engage in adulterous sexual relations with a second or even a third “spouse”?  If not them, then who? Who?  The question is rhetorical.  We know the answer.

  • “A Church which teaches with authentic love… taking loneliness away”

So, the Church does not really love unless she takes away loneliness.  And who are all these lonely people?   No doubt those “hurting couples” living in adultery, who find they cannot be fully “integrated” into parish life while continuing sexual relations with people to whom they are not married.  No? Then whom is Francis talking about?  I am open to suggestions. I doubt there will be any.

  • “love our time and help the man of our time…”

Love our time?  What is that supposed to mean? Probably this: accept these times of moral corruption, including rampant divorce, contraception, abortion, and militant homosexualism, without “pointing a finger in judgment of others.”  As for “help[ing] the man of our time,” the Church has always helped man without distinction between temporal periods.  For the Church, there is no peculiar man of “our time” when it comes to sin, repentance, and restoration in grace.  There is nothing new under the sun concerning sin or the remedy for sin.

  • “a Church with closed doors … becomes a roadblock…”

What “closed doors”?  What “roadblock”?  Why does Francis never explain precisely what he means by these coy locutions?  Of course we know the answer: He does not explain because what he means is the Church’s constant teaching that public adulterers cannot receive Holy Communion or be validly absolved of their sins without renouncing their adultery, from which it follows that people living in adultery cannot be godparents or teachers of the Faith to children or readers of Holy Scripture to the faithful without utter scandal and the destruction in practice of what the Church maintains in principle. 

Now, if that is not what Francis means, then what else could he possibly have in mind when he refers to closed doors and roadblocks in the Church?  I challenge the reader to provide alternative answers. I guarantee the search will quickly produce a null result. Let us not delude ourselves: only one reasonable inference is possible.

In sum, I agree with another commentator on this homily, a fellow lawyer as it turns out.  Like any good lawyer, he knows how to get to the heart of the matter, and he states it quite succinctly:  “The venom is in the tail. The end of the speech is what Pope Francis wanted to say.”  Likewise, at the tail end of the Synod we will find out what Francis wants to say about marriage and family.  For after all, the Synod of Doom, including its doubtless already substantially written final report, is merely an apparatus designed to present what Francis would like to say — as if anyone didn’t know that by now.