A Closing Comment on the Synod

The glib optimism flowing from ostensibly conservative Catholics concerning the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family is a thing of wonder. Only in a Church where abuse, dissent, and outright heresy are so commonplace could a document like the final Relatio be held up as a banner of orthodoxy. Some conservatives are now laying into traditional Catholics, noting that their worries about schism and collapse were not just overblown, but thoroughly ridiculous. As a friend of mine observed, however, just because a stroke is a more dramatic way to die doesn’t mean a nice quiet bout of cancer won’t do the same job.

Now all eyes are on Pope Francis. The Synod, as most realize by now, was little more than ecclesiastical performance art. Although some brave bishops stood up and challenged the Church to speak clear on marriage, family, and sexuality, it’s become clear that the fix is in. Francis, who has already unilaterally revolutionized the Church’s annulment process, clearly did not get the synod he desired. His petulant rant after the Synod, coupled with his desire to create a “synodal church” with devolved doctrinal authority (see more here), confirms this. What will he do in the interim, though? People are expecting a post-synodal exhortation, one which may or may not follow the rickety Relatio. It’s all up to the Pope, and there is no reason to take comfort in that brutal fact.

Over the past year Catholics have mused about what they might do if the Pope, with or without a majority of the bishops, openly taught heresy with respect to marriage and the sacraments. Even before this year’s Synod I had suggested that any change to the annulment process which further waters-down the sacramental integrity of marriage poses serious problems for those who wish to defend the indefectibility of the Church. At this point there is no meaningful distinction between the de facto Catholic divorce instituted by Francis and the Eastern Orthodox Church’s longstanding practice of dissolving sacramental marriages. And yet Catholics will continue to chirp on about the “error of the East” without confronting the enormity of the error the Pope has introduced into their own communion. So much for self-critical Catholicism.

The truth is that most Catholics scandalized by the Synod and the Pope won’t leave. The sunk costs are too high. Instead, they will close their eyes to their surroundings while singing “Everything is Awesome” just loud enough to drown out all the voices—clerical and lay—calling for a sexual revolution in the Church. Some Catholics, like the Society of St. Pius X and the faithful who remain attached to tradition, will continue to resist the institutional Church, including the Pope if necessary. God bless them. There will be no heavenly reward for obedience to those who betray the clear teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church.


    1. That would work, too. I was thinking more in terms of what one foregoes being attached to a mainline religion in the West like Catholicism as opposed to say a marginal communion like Eastern Orthodoxy.

  1. “There will be no heavenly reward for obedience to those who betray the clear teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church,” is an odd thing for someone who is (presumably still?) Orthodox.

    1. “The authorities of some European countries and America, in spite of numerous protests, including those by Catholics, continue to advocate policies aimed at the destruction of the very concept of the family. They not only on the legislative level equate of the status of the same-sex unions to that of marriage but also criminally persecute those who out of their Christian convictions refuse to register such unions. Immediately after the departure of Pope Francis from the USA, President Barack Obama openly declared that gay rights are more important than religious freedom. This clearly testifies to the intention of the secular authorities to continue their assault on those healthy forces in society which defend traditional family values. Catholics here are found at the forefront of the struggle, and it is against the Catholic Church that a campaign of discrediting and lies is waged. Therefore courage in vindicating Christian beliefs and fidelity to Church tradition are particularly necessary in our times.

      Today, when the world ever more resembles that foolish man ‘which built his house on the sand’ (Matt. 7: 26) it is the Church’s duty to remind the society of its firm foundation of the family as a union between a man and woman created with the purpose of giving birth to and bringing up children. Only this type of family, as ordained by the Lord when he created the world, can forestall or at least halt temporarily modern-day society’s further descent into the abyss of moral relativism.

      The Orthodox Church, like the Catholic Church, has always in her teaching followed Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition in asserting the principle of the sanctity of marriage founded on the Saviour’s own words (Matt. 19: 6; Mk. 10: 9). In our time this position should be ever more strengthened and unanimous. We should defend it jointly both within the framework of dialogue with the legislative and executive branches of power of various countries, as well as in the forums of international organizations such as the UN and the Council of Europe. We ought not to confine ourselves to well-intentioned appeals but should by all means possible ensure that the family is legally protected.”

      – Metropolitan Hilarion

      Of course, I don’t see around twisting my mustache and speculating who is going to go to hell myself. I leave that to more luminous souls. I just see what is the clear teaching of both Catholic and Orthodox churches, despite breakdowns in praxis, and go from there. The Orthodox allowance for divorce and remarriage is a late accretion with a limited doctrinal foundation that was in large part reverse engineered. It can be dispensed with.

      1. Not too long ago someone (forgive for forgetting who) declared that the same people and groups who now so readily demand gay marriage, were the same forces who not too long ago wished to do away with the institution of marriage altogether. Regardless of the means, the final result will be the same.

  2. Gabriel, thank you for this honest appraisal of the issues. I also appreciate your distinction between conservative and traditional Catholics, not at all the same thing. But it once again points to the very deep pit that was originally dug in Vatican I; the Pope’s teachings, through his infallibility, are not dependent upon a consensus of the Church (and one would suspect that this means the received Tradition as well).

    I also agree with you that the present ease of annulments does not make the annulment process much else other than a dishonest Orthodox dissolution of the Sacrament of Marriage.

    But where I will draw the line, and many Catholics are unaware of this reality is that the Orthodox, at least in the person of their Ecumenical Patriarch, also do not have a problem with abortion either; which tends to put the whole question of Dissolution of Marriage far, far into the background as far as moral ambiguity is concerned.

    1. Starting with the abortion issue, I really don’t know where most Orthodox come down on the matter. I have long believed that most of the Patriarchs and bishops of the Orthodox communion do oppose abortion, though the Ecumenical Patriarch has made some rather…unsettling…remarks on the matter — remarks which seem to be shared by at least some of the bishops and priests under his watch. However, the Moscow Patriarchate has, to the best of my knowledge, been fairly outspoken on the abortion issue even if it’s not reflected in Russian society. Some of the smaller Orthodox churches, such as the Georgian Church, have been vigilant on both abortion and declining birthrates, which is good to see. Again, though, I don’t have complete knowledge where the other local churches come down on the matter.

      With regard to Vatican I, I see the definition as placing limits, not opening doors, for the exercise of infallibility. However, I think more could have been — and indeed needs to be said — about the purpose and use of infallibility. It certainly didn’t help matters that Popes Pius IX and XII defined Marian dogmas right off the bat which, arguably, didn’t need to be defined. Now, had there been a major controversy in the Church involving the Mother of God which resulted in a split among the bishops and no consensus could be reached, perhaps the pope should step in to safeguard the deposit of faith. It seems to me that the definition of both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption alienated the Orthodox and left a wider impression among non-Catholics that the Pope can just “make it up” as he goes along. That’s troubling.

      And now we’re living with the after effects. I suppose the one “saving grace” here is that synods are typically followed by an Apostolic exhortation which doesn’t have much doctrinal heft.

      1. Gabriel, but even recently when the Russian New Rite Patriarch of Moscow finally spoke about abortion it was not within the realm of a Christian moral imperative, but only because of the declining numbers of real Russians within the population of Russia. Hardly encouraging.

      2. As to your opinions regarding Vatican I, which I consider to be the main problem of modern Roman Catholicism and not Vatican II, I tend to be in full agreement. The actual text of the proclamation of infallibility is truly troublesome.

    2. I have heard some Catholics make the ridiculous claim that If Pope Francis tries to change the teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics not being permitted Communion, the Holy Spirit will strike him dead before he declares a change. They believe God will directly intervene to prevent a pope from declaring erroneous doctrine. As I said it is ridiculous as well as superstitious.

  3. Gabriel, you sound very much like how I felt about 3-6 months before I decided to leave the RCC and become Orthodox. I know the pain you’re feeling, and I’ll say a prayer for you. Please drop me a line if you want to chat.

  4. “The truth is that most Catholics scandalized by the Synod and the Pope won’t leave. The sunk costs are too high. Instead, they will close their eyes to their surroundings while singing “Everything is Awesome” just loud enough to drown out all the voices—clerical and lay—calling for a sexual revolution in the Church.”

    Now, now, one can deplore the ambiguities of the synod’s final document, and indeed the thrust of Pope Francis’s actions with regard to marriage et al., and yet be convinced that it is the See of Rome which our Lord intended to be the center of unity in his Church. It’s true that today, and really in some ways since the Council, Rome has not always proclaimed her teachings with confidence. But that does not mean that Rome is no longer the center of unity. Surely not everyone who refuses to leave the Church is “singing `Everything is Awesome'”. Some may be singing “Parce nobis, Domine” or something of that sort.

    1. Very much like so many Anglo-Catholics who are still within the not even Christian denomination of the Episcopal Church. Many will indeed prefer the furniture over the faith. But there is also the reality that one is left asking “where to go?” Orthodox is only interested in exotica and will not appeal to normal pew sitting Catholics, regardless of their piety and will consider their western heritage only so much crap that needs to jettisoned. So in some ways, staying and trying the best to live a Catholic life is the only possibility for millions.

  5. Regardless of how the Pope responds to the final relatio- regardless of how the Church moves on from this second manipulated synod- the Church will continue its decline in both spiritual influence and physical numbers. The post conciliar, neo-gnostic, demonic “Spirit of Vatican II” dominates the church, and it has caused the spectacular collapse of Catholicism since 1965. This Synod will be abused in the same manner that Vatican II documents were.

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