For those Catholics who still take seriously matters such as truth, clarity, doctrine, Scripture, Tradition, and so forth, the past month has been a perplexing combination of frustrating, maddening, and surreal. The recent Synod, which I think will likely go down as a watershed event (for several reasons, almost none of them good) in this pontificate, has further highlighted the many significant fissures and tensions in the Church. There is, put simply, much at stake.
George Weigel, who was in Rome for the last month, has written a lengthy essay (“There’s a Pony in Here Somewhere: A Post-Synodal Reflection”) in which he helpfully details many of the essential point of conflict. “Amid the detritus of Synod-2019,” he writes, “which included everything from blatant heterodoxy to guerrilla theater to a senior churchman denouncing responsible critics of the synod as hired guns of oil companies, there is, in fact, a pony to be found. For whatever else it may or may not have accomplished, Synod-2019 was an unmistakable moment of clarification and a stern summons to responsibility. That’s the pony amid the muck.”
“Most importantly,” he then writes,
Synod-2019 served the very useful purpose of casting in sharp relief the grave doctrinal and theological issues facing the Church, today and in the immediate future. During the synod, positions were taken; the theological orientations and pastoral stances of various personalities were identified; and as of October 28, 2019, it is impossible for anyone in a position of ecclesiastical responsibility to deny what is at stake, save for reasons of inattention, indifference, or fear.
And what, precisely, is at stake, after this synod and its predecessors during the current pontificate? Conversations with both elders of the Church and knowledgeable observers suggest that we have reached several bottom lines.
At stake is the reality and binding authority of divine revelation as conveyed to us by Scripture and Tradition. Does revelation judge history—including this historical moment and its legitimate concerns about the environment—or does history judge revelation (and thus demand, for example, that 21st-century Catholicism jettison the biblical view of humanity’s unique, and uniquely responsible, position in the natural world)?
At stake is the magisterium of Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI as the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council—an interpretation that underwrites the vitality of the New Evangelization in the living parts of the world Church.
At stake is the teaching of the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor on the reality of intrinsically evil acts—actions that can never be justified by any calculus of intentions and consequences.
At stake is the teaching of the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on whom the Church is authorized to admit to Holy Orders.
At stake is the teaching of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in the declaration Dominus Iesus, on the unique role of Jesus Christ as Savior, a declaration that was personally affirmed by St. John Paul II during the Great Jubilee of 2000.
At stake is the relationship of the universal Church to the local churches: Is Catholicism a federation of national or regional churches, or is Catholicism a universal Church with distinctive local expressions?
At stake is the very nature of the Church: Is the Catholic Church a communion of disciples in mission, sacramentally constituted and hierarchically ordered, or is the Church to understand itself primarily by analogy to the world, as a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to good works in aid of the poor, the environment, migrants, etc.?
At stake is the realization of the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”
That is what is at stake. Those with primary responsibility for the Church’s future according to the teaching of Lumen Gentium (Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) have a solemn obligation, undertaken when they accepted ordination as bishops, to address those issues. Reticence, in the hope that “God will provide,” is not an option at this Catholic moment.
In other words, nearly every essential belief of the Church—about Christ, authority, faith, morality, ecclesiology, evangelization, etc.—is at stake. Read the entire essay.
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