A synod for care, not conflict
Pope Francis preached a blistering homily in the chapel of his residence last Friday. His subject was, on the face of it, the quarrels that rocked the early Church. But with the second, decisive family synod just five months away he also seemed to be addressing today’s Catholics. “A Church where its people are always arguing, and there are lobbies and people are betraying their brothers and sisters,” he said, “is a Church where there is no Holy Spirit.”
The Pope is not the only one implicitly concerned about the explosion of politicking at the first family synod last October. Cardinal Péter Erdő, who is serving as relator, or chairman, of both synods, told reporters last week that participants needed to address hard questions with a sense of “responsibility towards the unity of the Church”. He went further: ruling out changes to Catholic teaching, but allowing that “radical” solutions might still emerge “that already exist, rooted in the faith”.
Cardinal George Pell echoed Cardinal Erdő in a speech at the weekend. The Vatican cardinal, who is widely believed to have led a “rebellion” over the last synod’s startingly liberal midterm report, said he expected this year’s synod to “massively endorse the tradition” of the Church. “We defend through the law that which we value,” he said, “and to deny that will increase the decline and the slide in the wrong direction.”
Meanwhile, in America more than 900 priests and five bishops have signed a statement supporting the almost 500 British clergy who wrote a letter to this
The Pope was concerned by the explosion of politicking at the first family synod magazine urging the synod to uphold the Church’s time-honoured teaching on marriage and the family.
Taken together, the interventions of Pope Francis, Cardinal Erdő, Cardinal Pell and the American clergy suggest a shift in the synod debate. The conversation is moving away from a dramatic rethinking of Communion for the remarried and the status of “irregular” relationships. The discussion is now focused on unity and finding solutions to pressing 21st-century problems buried within the Church’s 2,000-year tradition.
The secular media will, no doubt, portray this as a loss of nerve. But that will be because they misunderstood the synod’s purpose from the beginning. The aim was not to conform Catholic teaching to the prevailing Western mindset, but rather – as Francis has tirelessly pointed out – to provide better pastoral care for families around the world.
It is not the case that, if the synod limits itself to working within Catholic tradition, it will fail to respond creatively to pressing family difficulties. Church teaching, in fact, provides the necessary boundaries within which creative ideas can safely flourish.
Pope Francis has entrusted the synod to the Holy Spirit. That is surely the source of his tranquillity amid the jostling and lobbying. He believes that the Spirit will, in the end, ensure unity while opening up surprising new paths that relieve the suffering of families.
So much may change at this October’s synod. The changes may not be those that many are expecting. But they will be those that so many of us need.
Raúl Castro has blood on his hands
Raúl Castro, the 83-year-old brother of Fidel and president of Cuba since 2008, has announced that after meeting Pope Francis on Sunday he is thinking of returning to the Catholic Church. “I will resume praying and turn to the Church again if the Pope continues in this vein,” he said, adding that he was “not joking”.
The media have treated this as a heartwarming story and a diplomatic triumph for the Holy Father. And we are reminded by St Luke’s Gospel that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who do not need to repent. But there is no sign that Raúl Castro has repented – for his own private sins or for the decades of persecution of the Church following the communist revolution in 1959 that established his brother’s dictatorship. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the regime discriminated against Catholics in the workplace and in public life. Its aim was to wipe out the faith in Cuba, and in this evil project it achieved remarkable success.
Only six per cent of Cuban Catholics practise their faith – the result of unending harassment of their families that continued in milder form after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Any believer who protested or drew attention to the regime’s vicious abuse of human rights faced the prospect of years in a filthy jail. Even today the Church is snooped on and regulated by the government.
Raúl Castro has been Second Secretary of the Cuban Politburo since 1965; as Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces from 1959 until 2008, he was deeply implicated in the suppression of Christianity. He may be more amiable and pragmatic than his brother, but like him he is an unelected dictator with Christian blood on his hands. It is a disgrace that he holds the office of president. Heaven may rejoice at his “conversion”, but we owe it to his victims to treat his latest publicity stunt with extreme suspicion.
CATHOLIC HERALD, MAY 15 2015 3