by David Pence
Pope Francis in October 2013 called for a world-gathering of bishops in what was labeled an Extraordinary Synod (held in Rome October 5-19, 2014) to prepare reflections for a larger Ordinary Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2015. The synod included bishops, fraternal delegates (observers from the Orthodox Church and Protestant communities), and auditors (including lay couples).
There were 191 bishops representing five continents, including the heads of 114 Episcopal Conferences (national bishop groups), 13 heads of Eastern Catholic Churches, and 25 Roman Curia heads of dicasteries. Synods of Bishops are an ongoing instrument of governance and consultation uniting the Pope with the unique Catholic fraternity of local bishops across the world. If you want to find a social organism that thinks cosmically and acts locally, then observe the eucharistic and episcopal structure of the Catholic Church. The Pope meets with his fellow bishops as another local bishop (of Rome) but he is also Peter, the first among the apostles. As Pope Francis put it in his closing remarks to the bishops: "…I told you from the beginning of the Synod, it was necessary to live through all this with tranquility, and with interior peace, so that the Synod would take place cum Petro and sub Petro (with Peter and under Peter), and the presence of the Pope is the guarantee of it all.”
Meeting with bishops of Ethiopia & Eritrea
This renewed collegial tradition of synods grew out of the worldwide Ecumenical Council of Bishops called by Pope John XXIII -- known as Vatican II -- from 1962 to 1965. The fraternal spirit of mutual recognition, formative dialogue and shared mission of the Fathers of that Council was a palpable spiritual experience. While it is the case that many have abused the “spirit of Vatican II,” it is also certain that there was a true Spirit of Vatican II that linked the world’s 2000 bishops in communion with each other and the first Apostles under Peter in service to Christ. To maintain that international spirit of apostolic fraternity, Pope Paul VI instituted synods so bishops could come together at the call of the pope, to pray and reflect on problems of the Universal Church. There have been 13 Ordinary Synods and two Extraordinary Synods in the last fifty years. Extraordinary synods are called when a matter needs immediate attention or there is a special urgency. This extraordinary session was called to prepare and initiate worldwide discussion for the ordinary Synod of Bishops on the family and evangelization scheduled for October 2015.
In this synod the apostolic brotherhood took up their duty to provide a protected space for the Holy Family. The apostles have always honored that workingman hero Joseph, and the virgin mother Mary, who raised Jesus in the familial form of human community, which the Church dares propose for every culture and nation. Joseph and Mary by example, and Christ through the sacramental order, have brought man and woman back to the garden where the perfected union of the first couple can be lived again. The Catholic ideal of marriage -- faithful, forever, and fruitful -- is not one thing in Africa and another in Germany. God imprinted this form of communion in our mutual parents. It is part of the shared human nature of Asians, Africans, Australians, and Americans. Jesus granted that Moses had allowed divorce because of the hardness of hearts but he reminded his questioners that “it was not so in the beginning.” The Church under the priestly brotherhood protects and honors the countless couples who have shown us the beauty and sacrifice in this communion. Their witness points to the deep social union in which all humans will be reunited in the Body of Christ. Their lived out fidelity bequeaths their children the gift of stability in a mother and father to guide them in life. When the marriage of men and women of every land and class is treated as sacred, the Divine purpose of humanity is elevated. It is an ideal that is not easy, but it links the poor and the rich under a common discipline that lends the poor a high sacramental status and demands of the rich the leveling of sexual discipline. Ask Henry the Eighth, the patron saint of the divorced and remarried.
Marriage is first a gift of sacramental grace -- but then guarding our eyes, purifying our thoughts, and avoiding intimacy (where intimacy is forbidden) must protect it. Such a particular communion binding such a volcanic force can only be sustained if there are commandments, prohibitions, and taboos.
Catholic culture protects the indissolubility of this bond with a sacral brotherhood of celibate fathers. The same church with such a high view of "the marriage act" honors the virgin as the Church’s most fragrant blossom. It is a beautiful and serious teaching set against the brutality of some lands and the adolescent frivolity of others.
Before the bishops ever got to tell the Church’s symphonic tale of sexual love and duty, a mid-synod report was released to the world press with sentences treating homosexual relationships as worthy of esteem. Several European bishops engineered the report that besmirched marital love with an association that once “dared not speak its name.” For many it seemed a category error that bespoke a fundamental misconception of married spousality and an obsession with homosexuality. Why would anyone even bring up homosexuality in a synod on marriage? Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte (who authored the phrase) dared "speak its name" and sing its praises. From 'America' (the magazine and the country) came a hosanna from media star Father James Martin, S.J. From Vienna came an alleluia from Cardinal Christoph Schonborn.
It is good that this has happened. The purpose of the Synod was to deepen concord among brothers through honest discussion. It was to be a continuation of the lived-out collegiality expressed among the fathers at the Vatican Council. Pope Francis has often said that collegiality was spoken of, more than practiced, since the Council. He decided to give brotherhood a chance.
Many conservatives were highly critical of the Pope for allowing the chaos of such publicized and confusing messages. But sharp debate does not trouble brothers. The Pope told the bishops in his opening remarks to act like brothers and “speak fearlessly and listen humbly.” In his closing homily he affirmed: “Personally I would be very worried and saddened if it were not for these temptations and these animated discussions; this movement of the spirits, as Saint Ignatius called it.” We should remember that the temptations he refers to here are false arguments. But the arguments MUST BE HEARD, as Christ allowed himself to be tempted by the words of the devil. The Pope was quiet and listened. He wanted a movement of spirits. He wanted fathers to correct errant sons when education was needed, and shepherds to refute hirelings when discipline was required. Wasn't it better that the scarlet-robed carriers of intrigue were confronted by the giants of the South -- Cardinals Pell and Napier -- rather than be allowed to magnify their import through secular press conferences and their NGO affiliates? Isn't it better that, for once, a 'rainbow bishop' was not the only authority in the room and was forced to confront a fellow bishop in an open forum? Isn't it refreshing that bishops finally were angry at deceit instead of sad about abuse? The synod corrected the intramural publishing duels of the pre-synod media campaign. The international fraternity of bishops particularly sifted out the figure of Cardinal Kasper, who in the run-up cast a large shadow in the secular press, but was considerably less formidable in the actual face-to-face. An honest Catholic journalist (Edward Pentin) played his important role, as well, during an interview showing the well-heeled prelate to be unfamiliar with the role of sexual taboos in protecting the sacred. The Kasper media bubble finally burst when he lied about what he had said about the African bishops, and was exposed by a tape recording in his own accent. The lesson for the evangelization portion of the Synod is that it is hard to preach a gospel dependent on the credibility of the witnesses when you are shown up as a public liar.
There is a great divide in the apostolic fraternity of the bishops. It is the central problem impeding the Church as a credible evangelical witness to the gospel. It is the major impediment of clerical witness to the heroic purity which protects the sacrality of married love and family life. It is the central problem which allowed a minority of sexual wolves to bypass the majority of emasculated shepherds to ravage the young teenage males of the flock. The divide is between those bishops who are deepening the fraternal love of fathers and sons which Christ willed for his apostles, and those bishops who would defend spiritual incest as a form of fraternity. This has nothing to with marriage between man and woman, and everything to do with fraternity among men. If we can clear the satanic smoke and look patriarchal fraternity in the face, there will be many fruits. Ordered masculine relationships strengthen the citizen bonds of male protectors for the cities and nations. Ordered fraternity cements in Christ the living stones of the pope and his bishops, an abbot and his monks, and the local bishops and their priests for the Church. What father with sons does not appreciate this?
We fathers must clarify what temptation has entered the garden. Throughout the modern West, bishops, priests and seminaries of the Catholic Church have absorbed the sexual inversion ritual. The demonization of patriarchy and fraternity was an assault on Christ’s apostolic church, as well as the monarchical and republican forms of Christian nations. We have just lived through an unprecedented era of “welcoming ‘gays’" in our schools, chanceries, single-sex religious orders, and most disastrously the seminaries of our priesthood and episcopacy. Never have so many proudly-identified homosexuals been promoted to so many high offices in the richer precincts of the institutional Church. Precisely because the Catholic Church has built its clergy and religious orders on single-sex institutions and communal love relationships – this has been a disaster. The Lutherans have no sisterhood of virgins witnessing to Christ’s Second Coming. The Unitarians have no male celibate brotherhoods forgiving sins and casting out demons. Homosexuality does not strike at the heart of their organized love relations.
The homosexual subculture is so deceitfully entrenched in the priesthood that the despisers of brotherly solidarity often masquerade as straitlaced traditionalists or free-market libertarians. Open fraternity is the light that exposes them. They use the bread of the gospel as a stone against the poor and are especially disdainful in dismissing Latin models of solidarity as discredited Marxism, and poor countries' protests against global finance as organized envy. Their words seem right -- “rigidly right” -- but they know not brotherhood. And while they can be media stars to selected constituencies, they cannot be spiritual fathers to men or loving pastors to a parish. They continually pit the dispute in the clergy as one of fidelity or doctrinal adherence. They can never organize a cleansing brotherhood among their fellow priests because that is not how they relate to men. The debate is intellectual: the orthodox against the dissenters, the Nat'l Catholic Register against the Nat'l Catholic Reporter. They are media stars with circles of private companions. They know not public brotherhood. Tradition certainly requires that the creed have a formula, but to transmit the Creed it must be spoken in a father’s voice. Christ is the Logos: the Word made flesh. But it is also true the word can be made brittle -- a stone to crush the sinner. Pope Francis described a “hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter).” Let those who have ears, hear.
It was not the "traditionalists," though, who disrupted the bishops' Synod on the Family. It was those who Francis said want to “pull Jesus down from the cross” to “please the people and serve a worldly spirit rather than the will of the Father.” The disrupters were men who felt they could “disregard the deposit of the faith rather than safeguard it.” They took the hard stone of sexual autonomy and tried to mingle it with the bread of life. They tried to bind the wounds “without first curing and treating them.”
In 2005 the Vatican issued a statement ordering that men with homosexual orientation not be allowed in seminaries. Ad limina visits to the seminaries were ordered; and significant reform followed. Many religious orders and diocesan seminaries, however, pushed back against the notion that seminarians who did not have the psychological integrity to be spiritually affective fathers should be barred from the priesthood. That hit too close to home. Pope Francis, on the day before the synod, emphasized the same truth in speaking of candidates for the priesthood: "Examine closely whether he belongs to the Lord, if that man is healthy, is balanced, if that man is capable of giving life, of evangelizing, if he is capable of forming a family and turning that down in order to follow Jesus."
The very few bishops who used the transmitting tower of the synod to send a false signal to the world in the engineered mid-term report were not ministering to laypeople in second marriages. The divorced/remarried laypeople issue was, as Cardinal Pell said, "a stalking horse." The real fight was about the homosexual revolution of much greater interest ("obsessive" as the Pope has said ) to so many clerics of our time. Their rhapsody to the disoriented was stark evidence of shepherds caring for their own interests instead of their flock. Their quest was as transparent as James and John, and the brothers' status-conscious mother. They were trying to secure their place at the table. This was not about being kind to a confused adolescent, but about keeping life comfortable for well connected middle-aged homosexual clerics. The pedophiles are being run out of the priesthood. But homosexuals are not interested in children. They are interested in adult homosexuals and teenage males. The pedophiles are exiled while the "chicken hawks" abide.
The bishops have never faced the obvious corollary of the 2005 seminary reform by separating out the disordered priests already in the priesthood. What would be the consequences for the homosexual cabals in so many of our local dioceses and throughout the Vatican? The failure to deal with this huge network of deceit reared its head at the synod. It is the primary cause of an abuse culture in which 80 percent of the victims were not pre-puberty children, but teenage males. Let us thank God that Pope Francis has allowed the wolves to emerge. Let us discern the spirits. Let us hope that the bishops and priests, who are clearly being allowed to talk now, speak the truth about the wolves in their midst. Even if it is one's bishop -- the priest must speak up. Speak directly to your bishop "like a man," said Pope Francis, even if there might be a consequence. For bishops the duty is even more pressing. The soft forms of evil do not look like wolves. They almost always present themselves as champions of someone else’s cause. The Psalmist warned: "His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords."
We should be quite confident that the final document which will come from the October 2015 Synod on the Family and Evangelization will be scripturally and sacramentally sound. But the family cannot be protected by a document. The domicile needs a strong bond of men in public protective formation to safeguard its natural vulnerability in a dangerous world. This is true in the temple and true in the city.
The family needs the res publica. Just as marriage is based on the sacralized intimacy of the male/female couple, the res publica is based on the public communio of a duty-bound male group.There are two sacraments dependent on the sexual identity of the recipient. They both initiate a person into a deep communion. The male/female union of marriage joins spouses till death, while the sacral brotherhood and Divine filiation of the priesthood imprints a communal mark that conforms men to Christ and the original Twelve. Even death cannot wash it away. These communions are based on the anthropological truths of male-female original unity, and male group patriarchal fraternity that Jesus consecrated in His apostolic church.
We don’t speak enough of true public brotherhood in the Catholic Church. Our vision of the papacy and episcopacy has often been more monarchical than fraternal. Fraternity in the 1800's was a very dirty word evoking bloody memories of the severed heads of royalty and priests alike. But guillotines aside, the Church is a fraternity meant to establish the patriarchy of a Kingdom. That fraternity was experienced in the citizen militias of the American Revolution as well as the Grande Armee of the French. Brotherhood was evoked at the Second Vatican Council as an authentic part of its true spirit.
The initial failure of the bishops' synod to defend marriage was caused by men deeply confused about masculinity, fatherhood, fraternity, and the priesthood. This confusion emitting from a desacralized West is particularly disastrous for Christians of the global South. Hopefully, the African and Asian bishops will remind the modern northern intellectuals that male incest is always better treated with prohibition and taboo than dialogue and welcome mats. The social prescriptions known as taboos are not primitive practices from which we must evolve. Quite the contrary, they often represent social wisdom which is transmitted in a praxis -- not a principle. What good is it to have an international church, if we decide from the beginning that whole cultures "have nothing to say to us"?
Christians of the Mideast and Africa have a particular interest that the men of established Christian nations regain spiritual sensibility and moral courage. Much more than marriage counseling, Christians of the global South need the protective presence that only ordered brotherhoods provide. They face a brotherhood armed. They wonder where are the Christian nations who might come to their aid. They look to the atheist West, and they see fraternal protection dissipated by the spirit of incest among males and careerism among females. Marriage and family cannot be protected unless there is a strong fraternal bond guarding the domiciles and integrating young fathers into communal protection and production. The rupture of the priestly Eucharistic bond, no less than the fratricide of Cain and Abel, has separated men who should be brothers. May we restore that deep spiritual communion of male fraternity and build the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis has allowed his first synod to be a real Synod. Now, the bishops of the world can imitate Saint John Paul II and call their own synods in each diocese. The priests and bishop of every diocese have a lot of honest soul-searching and cleansing to do. Restoring the credibility and purity of the priestly fraternity would be the greatest gift our priests could give every family in the Church -- especially Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
"Holy Family of Nazareth, may the approaching Synod of Bishops
Make us once more mindful
of the sacredness and inviolability of the family, and its beauty in God’s plan.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, graciously hear our prayer."
(Pope Francis prayer to Holy Family for the Synod)