The Synod's liberal cabal in damage-control mode

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 23, 2015

With the Synod moving toward a conclusion, and the “Kasper proposal” clearly lacking support among the bishops, the cabal that tried so hard to write the script for this Synod is now engaged in damage-control.

“Kasper does not have the votes in the Synod for his solution,” conceded Father Tom Reese in the National Catholic Reporter, even before the small-group reports made that result apparent to all. Now he and his Jesuit confreres (Father Anthony Spadaro of Civilta Cattolica, Father James Martin of America) are taking a new line in their (many) public statements. Since the Synod will not yield the result they had hoped for, they’re advancing the line that the Synod isn’t really aimed at results after all.

What’s important (according to this new narrative) is that the Synod raised questions. Now it’s up to the Pope, who will deliver the final product of the Synod, to give the answers.

But will the Pope ignore the Synod fathers’ disapproval of the Kasper proposal—a disapproval which became so clear as the discussion progressed?

Pope Francis, in his address to the bishops marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod--which was clearly one of the most important talks of his pontificate to date--stressed his “commitment to build a synodal-mission Church.” He explained: “A synodal Church is a Church of listening.” Having stressed so strongly that he would be listening to his bishops the Pope cannot blithely override their conclusion on the subject that generated the most attention during the Synod, without violating his own prescription for a healthy Church.

But the liberal cabal will prod the Pope to do exactly that: to approve the Kasper proposal on his own, regardless of the Synod’s advice. Already they are promoting their own new narrative, in which the Synod fathers are benighted enemies of progress and the Pontiff is the only hope.

There’s considerable irony in this approach. For years, liberal Catholic commentators complained that the Pope—John Paul II or Benedict XVI—was thwarting the will of more “pastoral” bishops. Now the bishops are holding back the impulses of a “pastoral” Pope. The new narrative requires these commentators to become born-again ultramontanists, with an unwonted concern for the dignity of the papacy. “Never in my lifetime have I heard of bishops and cardinals being so disrespectful of a pope,” huffs Father Reese—who, just a few years back, was demanding that the Pope should allow more open debate.

These past few weeks we’ve seen a wide-open debate. But the result was not what we had been told to expect. Given every encouragement to take a dramatic new approach, the bishops chose instead to reaffirm the Church’s teaching. So now we’re told that the bishops, not the Pope, are the problem.

“The bishops appear oblivious,” wrote Father Reese in National Catholic Reporter analysis. “Most of the synodal bishops realize that their teaching is not convincing.” “The bishops are currently trapped in the old theology they learned in the seminary. They are afraid of new ideas and are not consulting with theological experts who could show them other options.”

In case you have any difficulty discerning the message here, Father Reese spelled it out for the Washington Post :

“Francis has the same problem that Obama had,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. “He promised the world, but Congress wouldn’t let him deliver. If nothing much comes of this synod, I think people will give the pope a pass and blame the bishops for stopping change.”

But unlike President Obama, the Pope can take action by himself. The Synod is an advisory body; the Pontiff can accept or reject its suggestions. If Pope Francis decides not to embrace the Kasper proposal, it will not be because the bishops “wouldn’t let him.” It will be because when the Synod spoke, the Pope listened.

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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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: ILM - Oct. 25, 2015 5:37 PM ET USA

    Still, it is sad that a year has been wasted trying to overturn Church doctrine when the stated goal of the Synod was to seek to strengthen the family. The family is the engine for civilization and the headwaters of spiritual life in the world and it needs much help today. It is besieged by materialism, media violence, immorality, and pornography. The result has been a tremendous loss of stability in the family with very negative impact on our children.

  • Posted by: rik92vin8086 - Oct. 25, 2015 10:14 AM ET USA

    what "new ideas" are involved in something Jesus unambiguously defined for us? As a chemistry professor, I have yet to change what defines a proton and electron simply because my students struggle with comprehending electrostatic interactions. Its my job to teach it more thoroughly and their job to study the concept harder.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 23, 2015 11:17 PM ET USA

    "Most of the synodal bishops... are afraid of new ideas." Father Reese seems to be firmly stuck in the 1960's.

  • Posted by: 51yrs&counting - Oct. 23, 2015 7:13 PM ET USA

    Married 51 years! Thank you Fathers of the Synod! With the help of prayer and the Sacraments we did it and with a positive attitude of our Holy Catholic Church and more emphasis on a STRONG CATECHESIS as recommended in St. John Paul II,s "Catechesis In Our Time", (Catechesi Tradendae), we will all have a better opportunity to follow the True Teachings of The Church.

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Oct. 23, 2015 4:55 PM ET USA

    The Synod has already delivered much less than I feared and more than I hoped. Sorry, Fr. Tom. Most Catholics still want the Catholic Church to be Catholic.