We continue publishing the addresses given at the Rome Life Forum, an international meeting of pro-life leaders who gathered to discuss the most pressing issues facing the pro-life, pro-family movement.
In the address below Matthew McCusker, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children/Voice of the Family, analysed the gravely problematic approach adopted by the authors of the relatio synodi. Our full analysis can be found here.
The grave problems remaining in the final report of the Extraordinary Synod
The two synods, the second of which will be held this October, were called to address “The Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation” yet very many Catholics, at every level of the Church, have expressed their grave concern that what took place at the Extraordinary Synod held last year, and the documents it produced, are in fact themselves a threat both to families and to the work of evangelisation.
The interim report of the synod, the relatio post disceptationem, was greeted by the world’s media as a “revolution” within the Church, and that judgement of the media was correct.
Cardinal Pell has spoken of “radical elements” in the hierarchy who are using the issue of Holy Communion for the divorced and “remarried” as a “stalking horse” for more radical changes. What they really want, Cardinal Pell says, is acceptance of cohabitation and homosexual unions.
The relatio post disceptationem caused serious concern to many synod fathers and a pushback resulted in certain amendments being made to the final document, therelatio synodi.
Many of these changes were indeed positive; the document restates many aspects of Catholic teaching and reverses some of the problematic elements in the original draft. However, Voice of the Family maintains that the document is still gravely flawed and pervaded by the same ideological approach as the interim document.
Paragraphs voted down, but retained anyway
The relatio synodi professes to be a record of the discussions of the cardinals and bishops who attended the Extraordinary Synod last October.
The majority of the paragraphs of the document were indeed supported by a two-thirds majority of the synod fathers. The only exceptions are the paragraph opening the way for the acceptance of the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and “remarried” and two paragraphs about homosexuality. The latter may well have failed to receive a two-thirds majority because dissenting bishops, disappointed by the removal of radical language, refused to vote for them.
For example Vincent Cardinal Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, who has publicly stated that he thinks the Church may one day accept homosexual unions, objected to the changes made to the final document because, in his words, “I didn’t think it went far enough, there were three key words as far as I was concerned.” These were “respect,” “welcome,” and “value.” He continued, “I was looking for those words and they weren’t there and so I didn’t think that was a good paragraph.”
According to the rules of the synod the paragraphs that failed to get the two-thirds majority should have been removed from the report. However, as Cardinal Nichols explains, the pope told the synod “no, no we are releasing the lot.” The document, the pope said, in Nichols’ retelling, “is the starting point for the next synod, please go and reflect on these things, talk to people, talk about where we are at this point because this document is part of a process of dialogue and discernment for the future of the Church.”
In December 2014, the General Secretariat of the Synod produced a lineamenta, a preparatory document for the next synod. The lineamenta consists of the relatio synodi along with a lengthy questionnaire to be responded to at a local level. The rejected paragraphs not only appear in the lineamenta but form the basis for many of the questions. The answers to these questions will, in theory, form the basis of theinstrumentum laboris, which is the agenda for the next synod.
The relatio synodi then, including those paragraphs rejected by the synod fathers, is the basis for discussion at the Ordinary Synod in October 2015.
Morality made subject to “history”?
In our published analysis of the relatio synodi we identify an “interpretative key” through which the document can be understood. In paragraph 3 of the relatio we read that the principle that can be described as “describing the synodal experience and indicating the task at hand” is “to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves.”
This statement identifies two different sources of authority – the “signs of God” and “the signs of human history.”
In our published analysis we argue that it is in fact impossible to view “human history” as an object of fidelity unless one believes that there is an intrinsic necessity to the processes of historical change which are leading mankind to an ever greater state of perfection.
If one has to be faithful both to God and to “human history” it follows that whenever there is a clash between their mutual demands a compromise must be found. Man must be faithful to God and yet faithful to the ever-changing flow of history and human development. This approach results in the conception of an immutable moral law being replaced by a view of the moral law as something subject to flux and change over the course of time.
This lies at the heart of the approach adopted by the authors of the relatio synodi.
For example – one tries to remain faithful to God by asserting that marriage is indissoluble, but faithful to human history by finding a “pastoral solution,” which will permit the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and “remarried” as required by modern sensibilities.
Or again – one attempts to remain faithful to God by continuing to assert the traditional understanding of marriage, but faithful to human history by finding so called “positive aspects” of sinful unions, and choosing no longer to speak about sin and its consequences because modern society no longer regards certain practices as morally objectionable.
Of course such solutions cannot ultimately be faithful to God.
In our analysis we provide the wider historical context for this approach but here I wish simply to give one example. Back in 1967 a young priest named Walter Kasper wrote the following in an essay entitled God and History: “The God who is enthroned over the world and history as a changeless being is an offence to man. One must deny Him for man’s sake, because he claims for himself the dignity and honour that belong by right to man.”
He continued: “We must resist this God, however, not only for man’s sake, but also for God’s sake. He is not the true God at all, but rather a wretched idol. For a God who is only alongside of history, who is not himself history, is a finite God. If we call such a being God, then for the sake of the Absolute we must become absolute atheists. Such a God springs from a rigid worldview; he is the guarantor of the status quo and the enemy of the new.”
In this passage Kasper explicitly identifies the immutable nature of God as “the guarantor of the status quo.” In other words it is necessary for God to be mutable in order that the natural and social order can itself be considered open to change. If God Himself is subject to change then everything else must also be mutable. By enchaining God to history and to change Kasper is subordinating Him to human ideas of “progress.”
In his 2013 book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to the Christian Life, which was praised by Pope Francis during his first Angelus address, Kasper repeated this denial of the immutability of God, albeit in more apparently moderate form, contrasting the traditional understanding of the divine nature with what he calls the “biblical understanding of God.” “Pastorally” Kasper states, the traditional understanding of God “is a catastrophe. For a so abstractly conceived God appears to most people to be very distant from their personal situations.”
Many of the leading prelates pushing the radical agenda at the synod share the same approach to historical change. For example, both Cardinal Marx, the Chairman of the German Bishops Conference and a member of the pope’s inner council of nine cardinals, and Cardinal Baldisseri, who is responsible for the organisation of the synod, have spoke about the evolution of dogmas.
In an interview with Antonio Spadaro, editor of Civilta Cattolica, Pope Francis has also expressed troubling views about the relationship between God and history. He said:
“Time initiates processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in history, in the processes.
“We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. God manifests himself in time and is present in the processes of history. This gives priority to actions that give birth to new historical dynamics.”
“Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.”
Again he said:
“St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens.”
“After all, in every age of history, humans try to understand and express themselves better. So human beings in time change the way they perceive themselves.”
“When” the Holy Father asks “does a formulation of thought cease to be valid?” He answers: “When it loses sight of the human or even when it is afraid of the human or deluded about itself… The thinking of the church must recover genius and better understand how human beings understand themselves today, in order to develop and deepen the church’s teaching.”
The Church’s teaching is here made subject to man’s current understanding of himself, and the immutable God is made subject to historical processes.
Sin, contraception, and abortion
This approach to history is reflected throughout the relatio synodi. Essentially, therelatio synodi is an attempt to bring Catholic teaching further into line with the moral norms of the secular world. For this reason the emphasis is on finding positive aspects of objectively sinful unions such as marriages invalid due to lack of canonical form, cohabitation without civil marriage, and civil marriages entered into by divorced persons.
For example, the document states in paragraph 41: “a new element in today’s pastoral activity is a sensitivity to the positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation. While clearly presenting the Christian message, the Church also needs to indicate the constructive elements in these situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to it.”
In fact the relatio itself does not clearly present the Christian message. While positive aspects are stressed, the consequences of sin are ignored both in relationship to one’s relationship with God and their effect on society.
Another gravely problematic aspect of the relatio is the treatment of contraception.
On the very first day of the Synod Cardinal Kasper said that Paul VI: “Was concerned to remain in the truth and not give up something, but I think it’s also a question of the interpretation of this encyclical Humanae Vitae.” He continued: “we have to interpret what he said about contraception, and I think what he said is true” However: “it’s an ideal and we have to tell people, but then we have also to respect the conscience of the couple.”
In other words, just as, in Kasper’s view, marriage really is indissoluble but not everyone is actually expected to live in accordance with that truth, so too the Church’s teaching on contraception is also an ideal but not something that all are expected to follow in practice.
This approach of Kasper seems to have been adopted in the section of the relatioentitled “The Transmission of Life and the Challenges of the Declining Birthrate.” Nowhere in this section is the Church’s teaching on birth control actually explained or upheld. Rather the only reference to Humanae Vitae is the following: “… we should return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of persons in morally assessing the methods of birth control.”
The implication, especially given that restatement of the Church’s teaching about the immorality of contraceptive acts is noticeably absent, is that assessment of “methods of birth control” is a matter of individual conscience.
This points us towards perhaps an even graver defect in the document. There is no mention at all of abortion, much less the abortifacient potential of many contraceptives.
Let us be clear: the greatest threat to the family today, the deliberate destruction of its most vulnerable member, is not mentioned in a document purporting to address the pastoral challenges to the family.
Not only does the document omit all mention of the victims of abortion but it adopts the language of the pro-abortion population control lobby, speaking merely of a “decline in population” partly due to “a mentality against having children promoted by the world politics of reproductive health.”
“Reproductive health” is of course a euphemism for the killing of unborn children in the womb and the prevention of their conception; the authors of this document however pass no comment on this; more than one billion victims of abortion seem to have escaped their attention.
I should also point out that discussion of euthanasia and “assisted suicide” are also completely omitted from the document, despite the fact that both practices are now legal in many jurisdictions and great pressure is being applied across the world for its further legalisation.
Once again, a document purporting to deal with the challenges facing the family refuses to address threats to the very lives of its most vulnerable members.
“The real work is about to begin”
The reluctance to emphasise threats faced at the beginning and end of life is, according to Cardinal Kasper, a central aspect of the pontificate of Pope Francis.
In his latest book, Pope Francis’ Revolution of Tenderness and Love, Kasper writes: “The holistic, social-ethics approach of the pope is misunderstood by some pro-life individuals. They opine that the pope does not fight hard enough for the protection of life of unborn children”
However, Kasper tells us:
“The protection of life pertains to the entire course of life from conception to natural death; it encompasses engagement on behalf of those born and thus for social justice; it includes humane care of poor, sick and suffering human beings. Therefore, one may not restrict the church’s moral teaching to only a few facets of life, as important and fundamental as they are. A new culture of life includes a new attitude toward creation and gives rise to ecological questions.”
And this is why, just last week, leading architects of international population control strategies, including Ban Ki Moon UN Secretary General and Jeffrey Sachs, a chief drafter of proposed pro-abortion Sustainable Development Goals, were invited into the Vatican to discuss how they could work with the Holy See to combat climate change.
The famous statement of Pope Francis “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods” was made in the same interview, with Antonio Spadaro, as the quotes on history quoted above.
This is not a coincidence.
It is precisely because truth is now made subject to human history that emphasis is placed on those issues, such as climate change, which have captured the spirit of the age, while the mass slaughter of unborn children can be ignored – it is not one of the signs of “human history” that progressive clerics must eagerly follow and thus can be safely ignored by the new “ecological” culture of life.
Shortly after the synod concluded Cardinal Marx made a bold claim about the immediate future of the Church: “The doors are open,” he said, “wider than they have ever been since the Second Vatican Council. The synod debates were just the starting point. Francis wants to get things moving, to push processes forward. The real work is about to begin.”
In the face of this unprecedented crisis in the life of the Church, the pro-life and pro-family movement must also be ready to get to work anew to defend the most vulnerable among us, who are being readily sacrificed for the attainment of political ends.
It is now more essential than ever before that pro-life pro-family organisations work together to defend and propagate the truth of the Church’s teaching on life, marriage and the family.