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.