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Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner – and Feel a Bit Ambivalent About the Synod

30 October, 2014 0 Comments

by Lyle Dunne

…it struck me that this proposal to wink at widespread sacrilegious communion could not have been made, let alone widely accepted, without fifty years of bad liturgy

So the Synod is over – for this year – and the forces of darkness have apparently been put to rout.

I have enough faith not to feel relief at avoiding the apparent dangers of the Church reversing its ancestral teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, or declaring homosexual acts to be not sinful after all. But I was relieved that we didn’t adopt “language” indicating that we didn’t really mean those teachings – or not as much as we used to.

For this, I believe, we have (from the human perspective) Cardinal Kasper to thank.

Mugged by Reality? (Photo: Tony Gentile/Reuters)

Had he not let the cat out of the bag early, with his ill-judged “theorem” about re-admitting divorced Catholics to Communion, it is possible that the “liberal” agenda, re-defining “pastoral” on terms not of the salvation of the flock but of its short-term psychological comfort, would have met with much greater success.

The role of Pope Francis is less clear. It has been compared to the “100 flowers” movement, whereby Mao Tse-Tung announced a period of openness and tolerance, encouraging people to come forward and speak criticisms of the regime, and heterodox views, openly (“let a hundred flowers bloom”) – only to have these naïve dissidents rounded up and imprisoned or killed shortly afterward. I don’t believe this was the strategy here, but it will be interesting to see if any of the participants – and from which side – are punished (or rewarded).

His closing remarks seemed to be quite even-handed on the questions of tradition vs novelty, clarity vs obfuscation, and the importance or otherwise of truth.

For which I suppose we should be grateful.

Meanwhile the secular press seemed quite clear on the process and its outcome: according to the Financial Times, for example, “Pope Francis had hoped the synod would mark the beginning of a shift away from the Vatican’s rigidity” on marriage, divorce and homosexuality, but had instead ended up with a stalemate.

Synods seem to be like war, in (at least) that truth is the first casualty. In this case, however, the issue is not simply that people start to lie; rather, the concept of truth is downgraded, depicted as “cold” and uncaring – a category mistake which many seem to have fallen for.

For me, a point that emerges clearly from the debate on this episode, and particularly the contributions of Cardinal Burke, is that there can be no conflict between truth and pastoral practice, since any practice that is not based on the truth is not pastoral.

Someone came up with a good analogy in after-Mass chat recently: it’s like telling someone who has cancer that he shouldn’t worry, doesn’t need treatment, it’s only a cold – in order to make him feel better, at least in the short term. In fact I think it’s like such a statement when the cancer could be cured by a simple operation – and would otherwise spread throughout the patient’s system, and prove fatal.

At the same time, the suggestion that there is a cancer which needs treatment is derided as uncaring. In fact, in classic Orwellian newspeak, words equivalent to “Cancer” and “Surgery” are disappearing from the vocabulary of doctors and patients alike.

Thus we no longer speak of Adultery, Mortal Sin, Sacrilegious Communion. Those concepts are not denied; rather, the terms are deleted from the discourse.

It sometimes strikes me that, while Satan would prefer for strategic reasons that important truths be rejected outright, he might in the short term deride more satisfaction from the situation where they become merely unfashionable, and provoke a snigger, an eye-roll or a knowing wink whenever uttered.

I was never really a thoroughgoing traditionalist – until now

On a personal level, I’d also like to express my thanks to the Pope for convening this Synod – and to Cardinal Kasper for his contribution.

Thanks to the Synod, I’ve realised that I was never really a thoroughgoing traditionalist – until now.

An embarrassing position for the Editor of a Traditionalist magazine to find himself in, I know. I accepted the key traditionalist motto lex orandi, lex credendi, with its optional lex vivendi (“the law of prayer [is] the law of belief [and] the law of life”) – at least in the “handsome is as handsome does” or “by their fruits” sense of recognising that bad liturgy went with bad theology. But if I’m honest with myself, I suppose I recognised but did not fully share the deeper sense of the line: that belief – and actions – didn’t just go with liturgy: they followed it. Liturgy was the driver.

Suddenly, though, it struck me that this proposal to wink at widespread sacrilegious communion could not have been made, let alone widely accepted, without fifty years of bad liturgy. Fifty years of minimalist Eucharistic Prayers; no altar rails; versus populi; Special Ministers; Communion in the hand; doing away with striking one’s breast and ringing bells; fast rules that amount to ‘no eating in Church or the carpark’; and guitar hymns about breaking bread, holding hands and walking forward together into the sunset with a song on our lips and hope in our hearts, tra la la.

After, if it’s just a hand-holding party, why not let the divorced and remarried come to Communion? Why not admit active and unrepentant homosexuals, brothel owners, drug dealers, and abortionists, for that matter?

If you think that’s extreme, incidentally, consider this piece on Fr Zuhlsdorf’s blog, wherein hequotes Fr Hunwicke testing the “new casuistries”, including the Kasperite “Tolerated But Not Accepted” approach, to murderers and paedophiles.

This ties in with an earlier Fr Z post, and especially the combox discussion about whether we face formal schism.

In the lead-up to next year’s synod, then, I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Be afraid;
  2. Pray.

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