The most important topic(s) for the Synod

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Aug 13, 2015

What will be the single most important topic on the agenda when the Synod of Bishops meets in October?

If you follow the news headlines, you’re likely to respond that the top priority will be the question of Communion for Catholics who are divorced and remarried. Or possibly you’ll say the pastoral care of homosexuals.

Father Mark Pilon disagrees. Writing for Homiletic and Pastoral Review, he argues that the great question—oddly, overlooked in the working documents for the Synod—is contraception. And he makes a powerful case. If you understand how the acceptance of routine contraception has damaged family life and subverted the understanding of Christian marriage, you should recognize the critical importance of the subject in any serious discussion of marriage and family.

Father Regis Scanlon, however, has a different topic in mind. In Crisis, he suggests that “the Synod’s first order of business should be to emphasize our core belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” The demand that people in irregular marital situations should be allowed to receive the Eucharist suggests an impoverished understanding of the Blessed Sacrament—and there is plenty of evidence of that problem in the life of the Church. Father Scanlon writes:

But the most radical degrading of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is occurring today when churchmen turn the Sacrament into a political game. They do this by linking political movements such as abortion rights and “alternative” marriages (for example, invalid marriages involving divorce and same-sex unions) with a bogus, so-called “right” to receive Christ in the Eucharist.

Unfortunately these questions—which really should be addressed—are not likely to command much attention at the October Synod meeting. The steady, insistent drumbeat of publicity points to those hot-button topics: divorce/remarriage and homosexuality. In Catholic World Report, Mary Jo Anderson reports on another conference dedicated largely to those issues. Unlike the earlier conference hosted by German-speaking bishops, this meeting was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family. But the list of speakers was similar, as was the prevailing outlook, Anderson writes.

The problem, alas, is not confined to the German-speaking Catholic world—although there is little doubt that the German bishops are pressing the offensive. Consider this quote from the Jesuit Humberto Miguel Yanez, keeping in mind that he heads the department of moral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University:

We gave Communion to the genocides that have never made public recantation, the capitalists who exploited the workers to grow their profit without limits, the mobsters who have exploited the Church to legitimize their business and their crime, war criminals who never repented, but is not allowed to remarried divorcees.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: feedback - Aug. 14, 2015 10:30 AM ET USA

    What a painfully flawed argument from the head of Gregorianum's dept of moral theology! Unworthy reception of Holy Communion does not create precedent allowing further unworthy reception by anyone else. I can't imagine this happening under St. John Paul II or Benedict XVI. Pray for Pope Francis - for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially for courage and wisdom.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 13, 2015 6:49 PM ET USA

    Father Pilon is rather candid in that article as well. This type of candor has been something avoided by many for a long time. Recently, more are throwing caution to the wind. How so? Because Christ advised Pilate that He had come to bear witness to the truth. Christians are called to do the same. Mental gymnastics go only so far. The progressive spirit is not static. It advances. The Good Lordl: "I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."