Normally a synod of Catholic bishops does not provide fireworks rivaling the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley's boys in blue ran up the score on the radicals in Grant Park.
But, on Oct. 13, there emanated from the Synod on the Family in Rome a 12-page report from a committee picked by Pope Francis himself—and the secondary explosions have not ceased.
The report recognized the "positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation" and said "homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community." As for Catholics who divorce and remarry without an annulment, we must avoid "any language or behavior that might make them feel discriminated against."
Hailed by gay rights groups, the document stunned traditionalists.
"Undignified. Shameful. Completely Wrong," said Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and guardian of Catholic orthodoxy.
He was echoed by Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. "The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium," said Cardinal Burke. "It gives the impression of inventing ... what one Synod Father called 'revolutionary' teaching on marriage and the family."
Cardinal Burke called on the pope for a restatement of Catholic teaching on marriage and morality, saying, "It is long overdue." The pope has relieved Cardinal Burke of his post.
Voice of the Family, a coalition of international pro-life groups, calls the document a "betrayal."
Irish representative Patrick Buckley said it "represents an attack on marriage and the family" by "in effect giving tacit approval of adulterous relationships." The report, he adds, "fails to recognize that homosexual inclination is objectively disordered."
Cardinal Walter Kasper has been the prime mover of the liberalization of Catholic teaching on sexual morality. When an African bishop objected to the report, Kasper retorted, "You can't speak about this with Africans. ... It's not possible. ... It's a taboo."
Hearing this insult, Burke went upside the head of his brother cardinal:
"It is profoundly sad and scandalous that such remarks were made by a cardinal of the church. They are a further indication of the determination ... to advance Cardinal Kasper's false positions, even by means of racist remarks about a significant and highly respected part of the Synod membership."
In the report voted on by the full synod and released this weekend, the language most offensive to orthodox Catholics was gone. But the synod meets again next year, and the stakes could scarcely be higher for the church and pope.
In his remarks at the synod's close, Pope Francis mocked "so-called traditionalists" for their "hostile rigidity."
That is one way of putting it. Another is that traditionalists believe moral truth does not change, nor can Catholic doctrines be altered.
Even a pope cannot do that.
Should such be attempted, the pope would be speaking heresy. And as it is Catholic doctrine that the pope is infallible, that he cannot err when speaking ex cathedra on faith and morals, this would imply that Francis was not a valid pope and the chair of Peter is empty.
We would then be reading about schismatics and sedevacantists.
The Catholic Church is not the Democratic Party of Obama, Hillary and Joe, where principled positions on abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage "evolve." And when did flexibility in matters of moral principle become a virtue for Catholics?
Indeed, it was in defense of the indissolubility of marriage that Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry VIII who held the title "Defender of the Faith" for refuting the heresies of Luther.
When Henry wished to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, Pope Clement said this was not possible. His stand for marriage caused the Catholic Church to lose England.
One wonders what this pope thinks of Pope Clement's "rigidity."
While Francis I has nether denied not sought to change any doctrine, Cardinal Burke is correct. The pope has "done a lot of harm." He has created confusion among the faithful and is soon going to have to speak with clarity on the unchanging truths of Catholicism.
In his beatification of Paul VI on Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated change. "God is not afraid of new things," he said, "we are making every effort to adapt ways and methods ... to the changing conditions of society."
But among the social changes since Vatican II and Paul VI have been the West's embrace of no-fault divorce, limitless promiscuity, abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.
Should the church "adapt" to these changes in society?
Should the church accommodate itself to a culture as decadent as ours? Or should the church stand against it and speak moral truth to cultural and political power, as the early martyrs did to Rome?
Pope Francis is hugely popular. But his worldly popularity has not come without cost to the church he leads and the truths he is sworn to uphold.
"Who am I to judge?" says the pope. But wasn't that always part of the job description? And if not thee, Your Holiness, who?
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority. To find out more about Patrick Buchanan and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
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