Friday, October 17, 2014

Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II, the Krazies, and the Synod

Cardinal Donald Wuerl
As mentioned in my most recent posting, the mid-term relatio has caused quite a stir, especially among the neo-trads who can’t see how the Church could ever move away from their pre-conceived ideas about marriage and family life.  On the Synod floor, several prelates such as the resolute Cardinal Burke, the somewhat less steadfast Cardinal Pell,  the less known South African Cardinal Napier, and Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki who heads the Polish Bishops’ Conference have raised serious challenges to the relatio.  On the other hand, the American Cardinal Wuerl, German Cardinal Reinhardt Marx, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Shönoborn, and Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri have lined up solidly behind Cardinal Kasper and Archbishop Forte in pushing for the agenda advanced in the relatio.  Meanwhile, out in Saint Peter’s Square and in the world beyond—especially in the blogosphere—each side is claiming the tide is turning in their favor.  Who knows?  In a certain way, the relatio is bound to be the high-water mark of the Synod—or at least of this Synod which is only phase I of a two-Synod process.  The final document of this Synod is bound to reflect to some degree the objections of the Burke/Pell faction to the proposed relatio.  The extent to which the conservative reaction will alter the final product is yet to be seen. 
And, as I pointed out several entries back, it gives Pope Francis and his frontmen, Cardinal Kasper and others, a year to answer the objections of the conservative wing as well as to shuffle the deck to a certain degree.  I say “to a certain degree” because the Holy Father does not get to appoint the heads of the various bishops’ conferences who come as delegates, though he may appoint others of his choice to be voting members of the Synod and he appoints the officers of the Synod as well.  And too, in the end the Synod is advisory to the Holy Father and not deliberative.  The final recommendations of the 2015 Synod will probably mark out how far Francis will go in pushing for change in the Church, but it won’t deter him from going to those limits.  It will be very interesting to watch the Holy Father’s homilies and especially his Sunday Angelus messages to see how he tries over the course of the year to shape the direction.  Of course, he has already lost the confidence of the Katholic Krazies who will watch every move and yell bloody murder whenever they hear him say something that tries to push his progressive agenda.  It is just so much fun to see the buskin on the other foot.  But let’s go back to the proposed relatio and in particular to continue on the current subject of argument, paragraphs 50-52 on “welcoming homosexual Catholics.”  Paragraph 52 reads:

Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to [...] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.         

Several of the Krazy bloggers have gone after Cardinal Shönborn for his defense of the love that exists between partners in same-sex relationships, questioning how this love could be “holy” when it is so gravely sinful.  The Cardinal had related that he has friends who live in a registered same-sex partnership in Vienna where he, Shönbron, is Archbishop.  As one of the partners became ill, the Cardinal said the other “has not left is side,” Shöbron went on to say “It was wonderful, human, and Christian, as the one took care of the other.”  Why is the Cardinal so surprised about the depth of commitment and why are the bloggers questioning how this love can be considered to be holy.  All love between or among people is holy.  There may—or may not—be a legitimate question about the sanctity of a sexual relationship between two people but the love between the partners can be just as holy—or, in some cases even more holy—than the love between two people in a sacramental marriage.  Ideally, of course, the most perfect human love would be between two people joined in Christ in the Sacrament of Matrimony, but as objectively holy as this love should be, in the reality of the mystery of sin and grace there is no reason that the marital love in a particular sacramental marriage might not be surpassed in sanctity  by other human bonds, including that of two men or two women whose sexual relationship falls outside the Christian ideal but whose love is nevertheless real and extraordinary in its self-gift. 
Ironically the shift in understanding of human love that we are seeing at the Synod can be attributed to the emphasis on personalism which characterized the writing of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II.  In Philosophy and Theology we are never to lose sight of the uniqueness of the individual person as a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, an object of the Creator’s love, and a collaborator in the Creator’s design.   As a consequence the individual must always be accorded human respect and given the opportunity for self-realization in the context of the larger society.  He or she can never be subordinated to the good of that larger society, though Christian faith makes the willing self-surrender of the individual for the common good an act of virtue (and in the extreme of heroic virtue) in imitation of Christ’s free self-surrender both in the kenosis of the Incarnation and in the Sacrifice of the Cross.  Indeed, for the Christian, because we are called to conform ourselves to Christ, it is precisely in this self-gift that we find ourselves most perfectly “realized.”   To the extent that we not merely love but love in such a way as ourselves to incarnate that Love which is the Divine Nature in whose image and likeness we have been created, we truly self-realize.  But pardon me, other than saying that such self-emptying love is not limited to marriage, nor is it always found in marriage (even Sacramental marriage), let me admit that I am crossing the line here from history into philosophy and so let me retreat to a historical perspective. 
For centuries people in the Church, including some at the uppermost levels of the hierarchy have—and at times purportedly in the Church’s name have—overlooked the intrinsic value of each human person and sanctioned biases and bigotries that have ignored the value and dignity of the human person.  I could go through the usual list of atrocities that the Church’s detractors drag out—the base slaughters that accompanied the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders in 1099, The Albigensian Crusades, the persecution of Muslims and Jews in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella, the long and ugly history of anti-Semitism in Catholic Europe, the sanctioning of slavery, the linking of colonialism and evangelization, the persecution of the Huguenots,  the betrayal of the Jesuit missions to the Guarani—the list goes on and on but despite the polemics the facts are there.  We, as a Church, have too often been on the wrong side of racial and religious bigotry.  We have too often totally ignored the fact that each and every human person has an intrinsic and inalienable right not only to life, not only to basic human dignity, but live in such a way as to realize the potential God has created in him or her and to make the contribution to the human family for which God has created him or her.  This is not contingent on one’s sexual orientation anymore than it is dependent on one’s race or religious beliefs. 
I have lived a considerable portion of my life below the Mason Dixon Line.  I have seen the Catholic Churches in Maryland and Virginia and Louisiana and other places and I have seen their balconies where non-white Catholics were relegated to sit at Mass.  I have heard the stories from men and women who remember that they had to come to Holy Communion after the “white folk,” that they could not be altar-boys because they were “colored,” that they were told that they could not join a particular religious order because of their race.  This has only changed in living memory.  I know priests who told me that they were, as young priests, forbidden by law to marry couples of mixed race.  They never questioned those laws.  When the Civil Rights movement began to work for change in American society, many of these priests were told by their bishops that they were not to speak out in favor of racial equality.   I know of bishops who insisted, when they visited an African-American parish for confirmation, that the altar servers who handled their miter and crosier wear gloves.  The Personalist philosophy of Pope John Paul runs contrary to this sort of bigotry but there is still plenty of bigotry in the Church today.  We may not see it when it is directed to the LGBT community but then we didn’t see it either when it was directed to non-whites. 
This Synod threatens to pull the rug out of those who justify their bigotry on “moral” grounds.  The Synod is not changing any moral doctrine.  It points out very bluntly that there are moral quandaries associated with same-sex relationships.  It makes it very clear that same-sex unions, while they may achieve an equality before the civil law with “traditional marriage,” cannot be reconciled with our Christian faith as presented in the Catholic Tradition.   But the relatio does seem to be calling us to treat all God’s children with that inalienable respect to which they are entitled as human persons.  It does seem to be admonishing us not to discriminate against people—or against the children entrusted to them—in name of “Christian morality.”  It can hardly do less and be faithful to Christ and to his Gospel. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a very interesting blog, and I look forward to reading more of what you write.