Synod of Doom

when ‘No idols worshipped at St Peter’s at Sunday Mass’ is a good-news story.  #Underwhelmed

Over at Gloria TV, the redoubtable Don Reto Nay has been explaining why the talk of a possible schism after the Amazon synod is unrealistic.  Nothing so decisive is at all likely.  What is on the cards, rather, is  continuing ‘decomposition’.

I remarked recently that it seems hard to fudge a married priesthood, since a man is either married or he isn’t.  It has since occurred to me that it is quite possible that some bishop in a minor diocese in Germany may simply start ordaining married men.  Then Cardinal Marx might deplore this as premature, but go on in other respects treating the bishop as persona grata, speaking with him at meetings of the Bishops’ Conference, concelebrating with him, and so on. This would be a way to introduce a married priesthood de facto. If this happens, then the orthodox bishops should refuse to concelebrate not only with the ordaining bishops, but also with those who concelebrate with them.

Today is the first of October.  It seems like a good idea to add to a daily rosary the prayer to St Joseph which Leo XIII ordained to be said, along with the rosary, before the Blessed Sacrament exposed, every day in this month of the year:

To thee, O blessed Joseph, we have recourse in our affliction, and having implored the help of thy thrice holy Spouse, we now, with hearts filled with confidence, earnestly beg thee also to take us under thy protection.

By that charity wherewith thou wert united to the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and by that fatherly love with which thou didst cherish the Child Jesus, we beseech thee and we humbly pray that thou wilt look down with gracious eye upon that inheritance which Jesus Christ purchased by His blood, and wilt succour us in our need by thy power and strength.

Defend, O most watchful guardian of the Holy Family, the chosen off-spring of Jesus Christ. Keep from us, O most loving Father, all blight of error and corruption. Aid us from on high, most valiant defender, in this conflict with the powers of darkness. And even as of old thou didst rescue the Child Jesus from the peril of His life, so now defend God’s Holy Church from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity. Shield us ever under thy patronage, that, following thine example and strengthened by thy help, we may live a holy life, die a happy death, and attain to everlasting bliss in Heaven. Amen.

What we can fairly call the synod from hell is soon to infest the holy Church of Rome.  If we take the two meetings on the family as one synod, and pass over the damp squib of the synod on youthful collegiality, or collegial youth, or whatever it was, we might also call this one the synod of doom bis.  Cardinal Pell famously struck his fist on the table during the first synod, and, pointing at Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, shouted: “You must stop manipulating this synod!” Baldisseri, however, is still the General-Secretary for the Synod of Bishops.  Will he try to manipulate this next one? At time of writing, His Most Reverend and Eminent Lordship Cardinal Pell was not available for comment.

What are the most likely outcomes?  Ambiguity was the chosen method last time.  It will be rather hard to destroy clerical celibacy in this way, since a man is either married or he isn’t, and either ordained or not.  However, the matter of female deacons is more susceptible of this method.  It is easy to imagine a final document which recommends some kind of new ‘female ministry’, described in such a way that it will be easy, and perhaps most natural, to present it as a woman’s diaconate, but which will not straightforwardly say that women are to receive diaconal orders (an ontological impossibility), and which will therefore leave scope for ‘conservative’ commentators to say, ‘Relax, nothing essential has changed’.

We already see women as well as lay-men distributing Holy Communion at Mass.  If one allows that, it is hard to see on what grounds women and lay-man could be prevented from reading the gospels sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, for example if the priest is elderly and finds it hard to stand, or his voice is weak, or if the gospel passage seems particularly relevant to women, or if it is the local custom, or if it is a Tuesday etc.  And if they were going to do that, it would seem fitting for them to wear some garb that would mark them out from the rest of the faithful, perhaps a white full-length garment with a silken sash worn diagonally from shoulder to waist.  And they could be permitted after the gospel not to preach a sermon of course, since canon law very strictly reserves that to priests and ordained male deacons, but to offer some personal reflections about how the gospel speaks to their own lives or the lives of those whom they know.  Given the importance of all these roles, it would only be fitting if a bishop were brought in to pray over them before they assumed them, and if he felt moved to lay his hands on their heads as he did so, well, there is no law against that, is there?

I expect it could all be made to sound very edifying in the final document: “Long history of women’s involvement in the life of the people of God … Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron …. Deborah the prophetess… Many holy women ministered to Christ and the apostles (διηκόνουν αὐτοῖς, Lk. 8:3) … Mary Magdalen, first ‘preacher’ of the Resurrection… Despite regrettable prejudices in the past, witness of religious women… Healthy Christian feminism … Movement of the Spirit … Backbone of so many parishes … Consecrated women carrying the word of God to the most marginalized…”  I declare that I am almost minded to draft the final document myself, except that it is probably already written and translated into everything from Latin to Tagalog.

So, good readers of this blog, clerks and lay-folk, if a sort of not-really-but-also-certainly-looks-like-it female diaconate is introduced, what will you do? Swallow it, or spit it out?  What would the holy fathers have done?

I was musing yesterday on the fact that a time, times and half a time, more or less, had passed since the election of the present pope, and wondering whether this might be the basis for a blog-post, when I received an e-mail not dissimilar in theme, but more precise and more heartening:

Lightning again struck St. Peter’s Basilica today, October 7th, in a massive storm around 9:20 a.m., on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary:
The first time in recent history that lightning struck there, as you’ll remember, was February 11, 2013, which was another Feast of Our Lady, and the very day Pope Benedict announced his imminent abdication.
Today is the 1335th day following the first lightning strike. That is a prophetic biblical number. It symbolizes relief or victory after a period of patience and perseverance: “Blessed is the man who has patience and perseveres unto one thousand, three hundred and thirty-five days” (Daniel 12: 12). Could this strike from the heavens at the Vatican Basilica on this Feast-Day be a symbolic indication that the great weapon of the Holy Rosary will be Our Lady’s ‘sword’ to combat and vanquish the subtle doctrinal evil and confusion that has increasingly afflicted the Church from the very top down, following Benedict’s fateful decision to relinquish his God-given office?
As at Lepanto, 445 years ago today, this number 1335 could also symbolize another victory eventually to be won by Our Lady of the Rosary over the new Islamic threat to Europe – the tattered remains of Christendom! – presented by the unassimilable Muslim masses now invading that continent as “refugees”. For the great year of Our Lady of the Rosary, 1917, when she appeared under that title at Fatima (a name with strong Muslim resonance), was the 1335th year on the Muslim calendar, which begins with 622 A.D., the year of the Hegira, the ‘Flight of the Prophet’ to Medina. (The traditional Muslim lunar calendar has only 354 days.) So the coins of the Ottoman Empire of 1917 bear the date “1335”. That was also the year in which the Muslims lost control of the Holy City of Jerusalem for the first time since the Crusades. The conquering Christian British forces under General Edmund Allenby marched into the Old City through the ancient Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917.


The really sad thing is that I was quite undecided whether I should post this translation of parts of a speech given by Cardinal Marx last Wednesday at the Synod. A while ago, such an explicit argument for cohabitation, contraception and second* “marriages” might have been shocking, but now? One is only rather astonished that there is no mentioning of homosexuals.

Accentuations by me.

Church marriage preparation and support must not be determined by a moral perfectionism. Neither must there be a pastoral ministry of “all or nothing”. It rather matters to take a differentiated view of people’s various situations in life and experiences in love. We should look less at that in life which does (not yet) succeed or maybe even thoroughly fails. It is generally not the raised finger but the extended hand that motivates people to progress on the path of holiness. […]

[…] We have to give more room in our pastoral ministry to the decisions of conscience of engaged and married couples. It is certainly the task of the Church to educate the conscience of the faithful, but the judgement of conscience of each person cannot be replaced. This is particularly true for situations in which the partners have to make a decision in a conflict of values, for example when openness for the conception of children and protection of marital and family life get into conflict with each other.

Regarding civilly divorced and remarried faithful who actively participate in parish life, many faithful ask why the Church, without exception, refuses them participation in sacramental communion. Many people in our parishes cannot understand, how it is possible to belong to the full communion of the Church and, at the same time, be excluded from the sacrament of Penance and of the Eucharist. The reason given is that civilly divorced and remarried faithful objectively continuously live in adultery that constitutes a contradiction to that which is signified by the Eucharist, the faithfulness of Christ to his Church. But does this answer do justice to the situation of the persons concerned? And is it imperative from a theology of the sacraments? Can people who are seen to be in a state of grave sin really feel that the fully belong to us?

Someone who, after a failure of their marriage, has contracted a new civil marriage, from which often children have sprung, has contracted a new moral duty  that he or she cannot break without becoming guilty again. Even if a resumption of the relationship was possible – generally it is impossible – this person is in an objective moral dilemma, from which there is no clear moral theological escape. The advice to refrain from sexual acts in the new relationship seems not only unrealistic [O_o  Notburga] to many. It is also questionable if sexual acts can be judged isolated from the circumstances of life. Can we, without exception, assess sexual acts in a second civil marriage as adultery? Independently from the specific situation?


On the theological groundwork laid by the Second Vatican Council, we should therefore seriously consider the possibility – always for the specific case, and not in a generalizing way [Of course not, perish the thought! Notbuga] – to admit the civilly divorced and remarried faithful to the sacrament of Penance and Communion, if the life together in the canonically valid marriage has definitely failed and the marriage cannot be annulled, if the duties stemming from this marriage have been resolved, the guilt in the failure of the marital union has been repented and the honest will exists to live the second civil marriage in faith and to bring up the children in the faith.

* Actually, I have been quite concerned about the lack of inclusion in all these discussions. What about those in a third, or a forth “civil marriage”?