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Synod Gamesmanship: Raising Expectations to Create Pressure

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 06, 2014

As Phil Lawler reminded us yesterday, during and after the Second Vatican Council there was a deliberate effort on the part of many theologians and bishops to use the press to encourage Catholics to expect Church teaching to change. Phil also noted that the same process is beginning again. It is the new popular narrative of the pontificate of Pope Francis, and of the upcoming Synod on the Family.

A case in point is found in the recent remarks of the German moral theologian Fr. Eberhard Schockenhoff, who quickly came to the defense of Bishop Stephan Ackermann when he insisted that Church teaching on marriage and sexuality had to change. Fr. Schockenhoff uses a time-honored three-step process.

First, he establishes what has often been called the (non-existent) Magisterium of the Theologians which, unlike the hierarchy of the Church, is always on the side of “the people”. It seems that he and 19 other theologians filled out the exploratory questionnaire, and that their results were “congruent with the responses of the majority of the faithful in Germany.” Nice touch.

Second, he points out that Pope Francis has consulted widely in preparing for the Synod, and that the Pope hopes for a productive discussion on these problems of marriage, family and sexuality which afflict Catholics so broadly today. Hey, including the obvious lends verisimilitude.

Third, Fr. Schockenhoff makes the leap from what is to what he wants:

I now expect a clear signal from the Pope that the bishops will be able to discuss these concerns freely and openly at the Synod. Up to now, Episcopal Synods have always been centrally steered. Francis must make it clear that he wants the bishops to help him formulate the Church’s teaching on the family, marriage and sexuality in such a way that the faithful will find it helpful.

Yet Pope Francis has insisted repeatedly that there is no question of changing Church teaching, but only of exploring what changes in pastoral practice might be made to provide spiritual assistance to those who are suffering in bad situations.

So why would anyone continually frame the question in terms of expected changes to Church teaching? And why would anyone insinuate that Church teaching is rightly formed through a democratic process? Perhaps the same reasons as before: To create pressure on the Magisterium and, failing that, to justify further rebellion against—wait for it—the teachings of the Church.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Baseballbuddy - Mar. 07, 2014 8:24 PM ET USA

    Would we have been having this discussion two years ago? Why are we having it now? Why did the media never expect the Church to change her moral teachings back then? Why are the liberals who skulked about at the margins now given center stage? Why is this being rationalized and explained away?

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 06, 2014 10:20 PM ET USA

    "...congruent with the responses of the majority of the faithful in Germany.” The "faithful" in Germany (???) And what does that mean?? Talk about mutilating language to advance your agenda! "So why would anyone continually frame the question in terms of expected changes to Church teaching?" Obviously... if you want a "god" who accommodates self rather than a self that accommodates God... "Satanism" fits the bill just fine, if you don't concern yourself too much with the final destination.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 06, 2014 5:54 PM ET USA

    But for me, the meta-question is this: why does Francis set the stage in this way? It is baffling. As Phil states, Francis must "put on the brakes", or, I would say "slam the door." But either way, it only further angers and confuses people, and what is the point in that? In the end, there is only Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Along the way, only the grace of repentance, not accommodation, will give deliverance and understanding.

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