In an earlier essay, I dealt with the heart of A Pastoral Revolution: Six Talismanic Words In the Ecclesial Debate on the Family, by Italian scholar Guido Vignelli. He concludes his work by considering “Integration: The New Pastoral Policy’s Ultimate Goal.”
Prima facie, the word “integration”sounds good. It means excluding all forms of discrimination, so that something or someone become an integral part of a larger reality. However, this presumes two sine-qua-non conditions: (1) “the integrating whole must be able to assimilate the elements it welcomes organically”; (2) “those elements must be susceptible to assimilation by the whole so as to become an integral part thereof and be rid of any lingering foreign elements that may cause rejection, as in organ transplants.”
Vignelli then notes how we as Christians become integrated into the Church in the following essential ways, none of which can be isolated from the others or set in contradiction to each other: (1) believing in the truths the Church transmits through her authentic Magisterium; (2) obeying just ecclesiastical laws; (3) receiving the sacraments of faith and salvation; (4) allowing ourselves to be guided by the Church’s “legitimate shepherds.”
Vignelli adds: “Those outside the Church can only be integrated through a conversion that requires abjuring their errors and repenting for their sins.” A serious problem arises, however, when the “new pastoral policy” at play in the recent Synods of Bishops uses the word “integration” to mean merely “insertion.”
“In short,” he says, “what is being sought is a paradoxical disintegrating integration.”
Vignelli is careful to distinguish the idea of the Church’s shepherds demonstrating mercy by curing the spiritually sick “outside the Church” and seeking “to fully integrate them into the ecclesial body at the risk of infecting the healthy.” Concretely, then, what is Vignelli talking about? He is referring to the re-integration of “public sinners,” like people living in concubinage or same-sex relationships, who must first repent of living in a state of mortal sin and then commit to following a “penitential path” toward full reconciliation with God and the Church, lest the Church run the risk that the readmission of “unrepentant public sinners” would cause “scandal” and be rejected by “the still healthy parts of the ecclesial body.” From Vignelli’s perspective, artificially forcing a re-integration of “public unrepentant sinners” into the Church would lead not to the edification of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, but to the disintegration of the community of true believers.
Consequently, we need to be on guard against the “multiple slogans” being utilized in the “new pastoral policy” to force integration at all costs, even to the detriment of those who have never strayed from the Church. One slogan that stands out is “Embrace Diversity” because the Church is likened to a “big umbrella,” under which there is room for faithful Catholics and dissidents alike. According to this mentality, there is room in the Church even for atheists and non-believers. Their inclusion, so the Liberals hope, will help to form a “new Church,” an all-inclusive Church that “should be willing to divest herself of everything, not just by giving up prejudice towards the different and renouncing all certainties and self-assurance, but also by marginalizing those faithful who dissent from that permissive stance.”
Another slogan is: “Tear Down Walls and Build Bridges.” This is a slogan for which Pope Francis has a special predilection. When Jesuit Father James Martin speaks of “building bridges” with homosexuals, he means that the Church needs to tear down her traditional doctrine about the intrinsic disorder of a homosexual orientation and the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts so that homosexuals, or what he terms “The LGBT Community,” may feel at home in the Catholic Church just the way they are (presumably, continuing in their sinful actions). From Father Martin’s perspective (and Lady Gaga’s!), they were “born that way,” meaning that God created certain people to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered and that this diversity needs to be welcomed and celebrated in the Catholic Church, not preached at or shunned. As a matter of fact, Father Martin advocates that LGBT persons should be able to engage in public displays of affection like a hug or a kiss during the Sign of Peace at Mass.
Many in the Church, including Cardinal Napier and Archbishop Chaput, both Synod Fathers, have deemed this “building a bridge too far.” Furthermore, Archbishop Chaput has denounced in no uncertain terms the use of the expression “LGBT Catholics,” inserted by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri (Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops) into the “Instrumentum Laboris” (paragraph 197) for the 2018 Synod on “Young People, Faith and Vocational Discernment” because he considers such language divisive (a form of “identity politics” associated with the radical Left) and theologically erroneous.
For our purposes, it is sufficient to cite here the final two paragraphs of Archbishop Chaput’s intervention at the Synod on October 4, 2018. Thus, Chaput exercised magisterial synodality and collegiality when he taught:
Finally, what the Church holds to be true about human sexuality is not a stumbling block. It is the only real path to joy and wholeness. There is no such thing as an “LGBTQ Catholic” or a “transgender Catholic” or a “heterosexual Catholic,” as if these designations described discreet communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the Body of Jesus Christ. This has never been true in the life of the Church, and is not true now. It follows that “LGBTQ” and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn’t categorize people that way. Explaining why Catholic teaching about human sexuality is true, and why it’s ennobling and merciful, seems crucial to any discussion of anthropological issues. Yet it’s regrettably missing from this chapter and this document. I hope revisions by the Synod Fathers can address that.
Vignelli concludes Chapter Six of his book by debunking the liberal notion of “overcoming discrimination through inclusion,” according to which discrimination becomes taboo in all instances, when he writes:
To discriminate means to judge things and people for what they are and according to their real worth, for example, by distinguishing right from wrong, or normal from abnormal, so as to “give everyone his due,” which, as is well known, is the motto of distributive justice. Conversely, advocates of the new pastoral policy tend to argue that all discrimination that causes inequalities and exclusion must be condemned and overcome through inclusion. What was once discriminated as irregular or abnormal must now be included on an equal footing and without conditions not only in society but also in the Church. Obviously, this can also apply to irregular situations concerning marriage and the family. Not surprisingly, many governments have legalized divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia on the pretext that social inclusion is now the revolutionary way to decide and govern, as some political authorities have recently admitted.
Vignelli cites Pius XI’s Encyclical Casti Connubii (nn. 51 and 52) against the notion that ecclesial integration can overcome “discrimination” via the “inclusion” of “Marriage through Intermediate Stages.” The Pontiff writes:
Some men go so far as to concoct new species of unions, suited, as they say, to the present temper of men and the times, which various new forms of matrimony they presume to label “temporary,” “experimental,” and “companionate.” These offer all the indulgence of matrimony and its rights without, however, the indissoluble bond … Indeed, there are some who desire and insist that such abominations be legitimized by the law, or, at least, excused by their general acceptance among the people.
It is interesting that we can go all the way back to the first quarter of the 20th century and find arguments in favor of “alternate lifestyles.”
Then Vignelli highlights Pope Benedict XVI’s address to members of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (May 11, 2006), in which he rejects the new pastoral policy’s attempt to level the playing field by placing cohabitation (living “more uxorio,” “like husband and wife”), same-sex unions and so-called “gay marriage” with the Sacrament of Matrimony, stating:
Today, the need to avoid confusing marriages with other types of unions based on weak love is especially urgent. It is only the rock of total, irrevocable love between a man and a woman that can serve as the foundation on which to build a society that will become a home for all mankind.
It should be clear by now how Vignelli demonstrates that a simple change in vocabulary need not change in any official way the doctrine of the Church but can, drastically and radically, change her praxis. Clearly, words matter. In fact, we have a commonplace expression in English: “It doesn’t make an iota of a difference.” Precious few Anglophones know the origins of that adage. It goes all the way back to the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The little clerical heretic Arius argued that Jesus was “homOIousios” to the Father (of a substance similar to the Father), while Athanasius (and eventually the whole Council) maintained that Jesus was “homOousios” to the Father (of the same substance as the Father). The little Greek “iota” made all the difference in the world. If a simple letter caused an ecumenical council, how much more should true believers be concerned about “six talismanic words.”
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