Sunday, October 18, 2015

"The Plot to Change Catholicism:" "Pope Francis maneuvers to alter his church's teaching;" by Ross Douthat NYT Op. Ed. p. 11, Sunday, Oct 18, 2015

Blogger's response: What Pope Francis is maneuvering to alter is not the melody but the key it has been played in. What was b flat before Vatican II is now to be played in f sharp after Vatican II. The melody is the same. What was pagan object in b flat is now Christian subject in f sharp. 

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Ross Douthat
THE Vatican always seems to have the secrets and intrigues of a Renaissance court — which, in a way, is what it still remains. The ostentatious humility of Pope Francis, his scoldings of high-ranking prelates, have changed this not at all; if anything, the pontiff’s ambitions have encouraged plotters and counterplotters to work with greater vigor.
And right now the chief plotter is the pope himself.
Francis’s purpose is simple: He favors the proposal, put forward by the church’s liberal cardinals, that would allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion without having their first marriage declared null.
Thanks to the pope’s tacit support, this proposal became a central controversy in last year’s synod on the family and the larger follow-up, ongoing in Rome right now.

But if his purpose is clear, his path is decidedly murky. Procedurally, the pope’s powers are near-absolute: If Francis decided tomorrow to endorse communion for the remarried, there is no Catholic Supreme Court that could strike his ruling down.
At the same time, though, the pope is supposed to have no power to change Catholic doctrine. This rule has no official enforcement mechanism (the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the crucial check and balance), but custom, modesty, fear of God and fear of schism all restrain popes who might find a doctrinal rewrite tempting.
And a change of doctrine is what conservative Catholics, quite reasonably, believe that the communion proposal favored by Francis essentially implies.
There’s probably a fascinating secular political science tome to be written on how the combination of absolute and absolutely-limited power shapes the papal office. In such a book, Francis’s recent maneuvers would deserve a chapter, because he’s clearly looking for a mechanism that would let him exercise his powers without undercutting his authority.
The key to this search has been the synods, which have no official doctrinal role but which can project an image of ecclesiastical consensus. So a strong synodal statement endorsing communion for the remarried as a merely “pastoral” change, not a doctrinal alteration, would make Francis’s task far easier.
Unfortunately such a statement has proven difficult to extract — because the ranks of Catholic bishops include so many Benedict XVI and John Paul II-appointed conservatives, and also because the “pastoral” argument is basically just rubbish. The church’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble has already been pushed close to the breaking point by this pope’s new expedited annulment process; going all the way to communion without annulment would just break it.
So to overcome resistance from bishops who grasp this obvious point, first last year’s synod and now this one have been, to borrow from the Vatican journalist Edward Pentin’s recent investigative book, “rigged” by the papal-appointed organizers in favor of the pope’s preferred outcome.
The documents guiding the synod have been written with that goal in mind. The pope has made appointments to the synod’s ranks with that goal in mind, not hesitating to add even aged cardinals tainted by the sex abuse scandal if they are allied to the cause of change. The Vatican press office has filtered the synod’s closed-door (per the pope’s directive) debates to the media with that goal in mind. The churchmen charged with writing the final synod report have been selected with that goal in mind. And Francis himself, in his daily homilies, has consistently criticized Catholicism’s “doctors of the law,” its modern legalists and Pharisees — a not-even-thinly-veiled signal of his views.
(Though of course, in the New Testament the Pharisees allowed divorce; it was Jesus who rejected it.)

And yet his plan is not necessarily succeeding. There reportedly still isn’t anything like a majority for the proposal within the synod, which is probably why the organizers hedged their bets for a while about whether there would even be a final document. And the conservatives — African, Polish, American, Australian — have been less surprised than last fall, and quicker to draw public lines and try to box the pontiff in with private appeals.
The entire situation abounds with ironies. Aging progressives are seizing a moment they thought had slipped away, trying to outmaneuver younger conservatives who recently thought they owned the Catholic future. The African bishops are defending the faith of the European past against Germans and Italians weary of their own patrimony. A Jesuit pope is effectively at war with his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the erstwhile Inquisition — a situation that would make 16th century heads spin.
For a Catholic journalist, for any journalist, it’s a fascinating story, and speaking strictly as a journalist, I have no idea how it will end.
Speaking as a Catholic, I expect the plot to ultimately fail; where the pope and the historic faith seem to be in tension, my bet is on the faith.
But for an institution that measures its life span in millennia, “ultimately” can take a long time to arrive.

 Comment by Blogger: Douthat fine tunes the tension between doctrine and mercy. The tension will helps to expose what was at the heart  of Vatican II: that "man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself" (Gaudium et Spes #24). That is, objectified conceptualization of the received anthroplogy from the Greek Stoics - the meaning of man - is a dumbed down rationalization of the human person. And, therefore, the human person can be understood to enter into matrimony not by a contract dealng with the "rights" of an individual "rational animal" to the use of the body of another, but rather by a covenant that is a mutual gift of self to the other whereby two form a communion of self-gift that is an unum, which is the image of the Trinity of God. If this is not in place, there is no marriage. So marriage is a covenant of persons giving the whole self rather than a contract between two individuals.

   The short version of the story: if marriage has not been entered into as a covenant of self-giving persons but as a contract of individuals (which immediately implies the possibility of a  homosexual union), there never was a marriage.

   The reason for this is that marriage is a sacrament  of faith, and faith is the giving of self to the revealing Christ.  Absent  that, one is left with a mere civil contract but not a covenant of faith. This lies at the core of it all. What is at stake is the meaning of the Church as a communio of fait hful rather than a community of individuals interconnected only accidentally. Everything rides on that. And the question of communion for  the divorced-remarried depends on that  question. There would be no ontological obstacle to receiving the Eucharist after due confession of serious sin. 

      What this implies, nevertheless, is that the Church would have to change its pastoral praxis which is inadequate for preparation of the sacrament. Rather, the entire formation by the Church of those baptized into the experience - living - of Christ (Faith) would have to be aimed at its true goal which is becoming Christ Himself so that he/she would be able to make such a gift, and therefore to truly enter into an unannulable sacrament. This would be very different from the short and necessarily superficial "Pre-Cana" nowin force
   In a word, the question before the Synod of 2015 is a revamping of the entire pastoral formation of the Church, not to make marriage easily annulable, but rather to form the faithful to enter it as a high way of holiness - Love to death. It cannot be dumbed down to a few practices and moral issues but the demanding high road to sanctity.

   The difficulty with this development would be the practical side of who decides that a marriage was superficial and not entered into as self-gift. And the answer, of course, is that only the interest ed parties themselves in their respective consciences could know if they had given it all. And this again, opens the door to every kind of subjective deception, which again opens the door to every kind of scandal. But this is the price that God has wished to be paid for the freedom to make the gift. Precisely because it is gift, it cannot be regimented or forced, or enforced. If it is Love that He wants, then it must be the self-determination of the person and cannot be made to happen.
   Ultimately, it comes down to being formed to understand that one enters Christian marriage only with the intention of giving oneself totally, and this demands parrhesia (daring and risk). But is this not what God did in Christ becoming man, freeing him from sin, staying with us in the Eucharist, and calling us to become Himself? Are we to do less? 

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