Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pope Francis and "family meetings" about our teachings

Will Pope Francis try to change the teachings of the church, allowing Communion after divorce and remarriage (separating doctrine from pastoral practice), and thus depose himself as Pope? After talking to a Catholic friend about it, I don't think so. He knows that as Pope he can't.

As soon as I learned about him after he became Pope I realized he'd be another Paul VI, a disaster. What's happening is just like the run-up to Humanae Vitae; it's hurting the church's standing the same way.

You can have a debate as a teaching tool, with a hypothesis (rhetorical question) and discussion. The way of the university, part of whose purpose for Catholics is to discuss every point in the catechism in order to better understand it.

The trouble with this approach outside of academe is the non-Catholic world thinks the church is like a Protestant denomination that can change its teachings by decree or vote. It thinks all this hubbub preparing for the Synod on the Family, with dissenting bishops mouthing off against church teaching (yes, we need another Pius XII to shut them up), is like the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. "Finally those fishsticks are stopping being hypocritical about this and getting with the program. Marriage is only about how the couple feel about each other so of course gay marriage; let's be nice to those downtrodden homosexuals and excuse our own behavior by so doing."

The blogger at Face to Face has made this point about being parents. It's like the rule against fraternization between officers and enlisted men in the military. Nice parents might play games with their children or have family conferences so their kids better understand their rules. The trouble with things like that is it confuses the kids when the parents have to use their authority on them; the false idea that they're equals. He points out that when he was growing up, parents might show the kids how to play a game but not actually play with them like equals. Might be cold and harsh but point taken.

In the 1960s and again now, here's the Pope calling for a family meeting acting like a vote. "Let's have discussion groups and tell me how you feel in various countries about this teaching."

Pope Francis will end up defending the teaching of the church on divorce and remarriage just like Paul VI did against contraception but this run-up will have done its harm: a big backlash just like after Humanae Vitae. A few more people will lose their faith and leave the church.

Maybe he really wants to drop this teaching and, knowing he can't as Pope, is resorting to this tactic.

In a way we're better off than under Paul VI. The church under him still had the huge infrastructure, social clout, and funds it had earned before Vatican II (and thought the "renewal" would make it even bigger and better); we don't anymore. But we don't have the ICEL paraphrase of the English Mass anymore, thanks to Pope Benedict the Great. Just like 50 years ago, I can go to a Catholic church anywhere in the U.S. and hear Catholicism in the Mass text. St. Liberal's is orthodox in spite of itself. So when this synod is done, we won't have to take cover; the official church will still be fine.

If Pope Francis did become an antipope, who would make that call for us?

Walking through downtown Philadelphia this week I saw lamppost banners with Pope Francis' picture and innocuous politically correct quotations from him such as "be happy" and "do good." I realized the hoopla about his visit is NOT celebrating the teachings of the church.


  1. If communion for divorced and remarried were the only thing on the table, that would be one thing. This issue is being propelled by same camp in the Roman hierarchy that wants to open the flood gates to a number of other propositions that turn natural law on its ear, and they have been encouraged and put into positions of influence by this pontiff. The probable result is a resolution so muddled with ambiguity that a) every side reads what the want from it and claims a victory and b) the doctrine will be rendered irrelevant, practically speaking. Which would keep this Synod in continuity with the last 50 or so years.

  2. John, I do know that you firmly believe that the Pope, alone, cannot change doctrine and that even changing doctrine is impossible, but that problem has been circumvented by the novel concept, popularized by John Newman, the "Development of doctrine" idea so popular amongst Catholic liberals. And the popes in the past have changed doctrine without the full consent of the Church (which is permissible by the documents of Vatican I, which does state infallible decrees of the Pope do not need the consent of the Church). The Immaculate Conception was a personal decree, and was proclaimed in opposition to the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas who wrote against the doctrine (S Thomas's work in opposition to the doctrine is very, very solid [well everything by S Thomas is solid], and I personally think that any Catholic who would bother today to read it, would indeed question the dogma).

    1. That's an entertaining argument but the church in the West is obviously the Latin Church (as Louis Bouyer wrote), not the splinters of the independent sacramental movement (the Old Catholics have always been a splinter group and are now Central European Episcopalians, hardly the true Catholic Church in the West) or Continuing Anglicanism (Anglicanism's foundation is the Reformed faith, not Catholicism). Development and all, and I'm fine with Newman's theory (it amplifies and can't contradict, the thing Catholic liberals don't understand about it or lie about), the Popes have only defended the faith, even not caving in on contraception. St. Thomas Aquinas' opinion was just that, not church teaching.

      Don't get me wrong: I think we Catholics have a lot to learn from the proposed alterna-Catholicisms of other conservative liturgical churches: for example, the Orthodox' grassroots traditionalism in which radical liturgical change is virtually impossible. (How I talked myself into Orthodoxy 20 years ago.) Ditto the conservative versions of the independent sacramentalists, of course the Continuum, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's Christ-centeredness and insistence on sound doctrine. I've met some fine Continuers and am honored to still say the same creed by heart that they do. I'm not Novus Ordo thanks to growing up in Episcopal semi-congregationalism. So my ecumenism would put everything that's not doctrine on the table. But there's still only one church, and thanks to a very patient God, I'm in it.

  3. Oh, I am afraid of new things. Any German with any thinking faculties who was not afraid of new things in 1933 was an idiot. Unfortunately, most of them embraced change.

    1. Down the memory hole: Nazism was actually a kind of progressivism, an alternative and bitter rival to Communism but sprung from the same modern roots. Religious liberals go along with whatever the current secular powers are.


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