Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Response to an article by Nicole Winfield

I read an interesting article by Nicole Winfield that was published in the National Post (a Canadian newspaper) today. While she generally got the details right, I thought it might be worthwhile to post a few responses for the sake of clarity. I'm going to use the style of a "fisk", in which I take a few parts of the article and insert commentary. My goal here is not to attack Ms. Winfield's work, but simply to help inform the public. I hasten to add that I'm writing simply in my own name, not on behalf of other Synod members or any larger group. My thoughts and opinions are my own, and I reserve the right to develop my thinking further, or even change my mind, as the experience of the Synod itself unfolds.

Pope Francis opens a monthlong meeting of bishops Wednesday on engaging young Catholics as his church is again under fire for the way it covered up for priests who raped and molested young people.

Indeed, Pope Francis is opening the meeting (i.e. the "Synod of Bishops") on Wednesday. And indeed, the Church is under fire for cover-ups, although more accurately it is not the Church per se, but some of its senior leadership. These are not the same thing, as the expression "Church" includes all the baptized and even the saints in heaven. This is important to keep in mind. The Church is fundamentally a spiritual family, not a mere institution or corporation.

As for the condemnation of cover-ups, this is as it should be. Jesus said, "The truth will set you free". I know of no beatitude that says "Blessed are those who cover-up wrongdoing."

One American bishop suggested postponing or cancelling the synod, given the poor optics of assembling the church hierarchy to discuss a demographic harmed by the culture of concealment the same hierarchy has been accused of fostering.

Ms. Winfield does not refer to the American bishop in question, although I suspect she means Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, who indeed called for postponing or cancelling the synod. I do not know if his sole reason for this suggestion was optics, but regardless, in this matter I disagree with him. Simply put, this synod will be gathering people from all around the world to discuss the faith and spirituality of young people, to see how that dynamism can bring new life to the entire Church. The participants -- including many young adults -- have been preparing for this for months. I'm glad we are giving those people their chance to make their voice heard.

Despite the dark cloud hanging over the synod, organizers said Monday they thought the rebirth of the scandal could still give the Vatican an opportunity to show that the Catholic Church isn’t just about sex abuse and coverups.

Indeed! For example, the young people themselves who will be attending as observers are as much members of the Catholic Church as any of the bishops, and their testimony of life and faith deserves to be heard. I am eager for that encounter.

The synod is bringing together 266 bishops from five continents for talks on helping young people find their vocations in life — be it lay or religious — at a time when church marriages and religious vocations are plummeting in much of the West.

The key phrase here is "the West". In many other parts of the world the Church is flourishing. I've been blessed to visit some of those parts, and I think it is important that westerners (like myself) not project my own cultural assumptions upon the Church as a whole.

It’s a follow-on synod to the meetings Francis organized in 2014 and 2015 on family life that inspired his controversial opening to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion.

Well, strictly speaking, it isn't a "follow-on" to those other synods. A regular Synod of Bishops is normally organized every 3 years. The last regular one was in 2015, so it makes sense that this one is in 2018.

No single pressing issue is facing bishops this time around, although the way they address homosexuality will be the most closely watched topic. The Vatican’s preparatory document made what is believed to be the first-ever reference in an official Vatican text to “LGBT.”

No single pressing issue? Hmmm. It seems to me that the faith life of young people is itself a pretty pressing issue, no?

As for the idea that homosexuality will be the most closely watched topic, I wonder. Perhaps it will be, and perhaps that will be important for many. Still, we should keep in mind that the preparatory document covers 214 numbered sections. One two make any mention of homosexuality, and only one of those uses the expression "LGBT" exactly once.  I don't want to minimize what those who self-identify as LGBT want to see acknowledged in the Synod,  but if indeed this becomes a "closely watched topic", I hope it won't be to the exclusion of the other 212 sections of the preparatory document as the article seems to imply. It would be a shame, for example, if other parts like section 169 are not "closely watched" as a consequence. Section 169 contains the following sentences: "There are many young people in the world who live in situations of war or armed conflict of varying intensity. Some are forced or cajoled into joining paramilitary groups or armed gangs, whereas some young women are raped and abused. Those who survive often suffer from various psychological and social consequences." Surely the human devastation wreaked by war is a "very pressing issue" as well, no? It certainly is for those who are living it, and all the people I know who live in the LGBT categories would agree too.

In addition, the role of women in the church will be watched, although no woman has any vote on the final document. Only a handful of women are attending as experts or as some of the 34 young people picked to attend — a structural imbalance in the Vatican’s synod process.

I suppose the role of women in the Church will also be watched. I'm more than OK with that, as there is plenty of room for the Catholic Church to grow in this area even knowing that the ordination of women as priests will not happen. As for the observation that no woman has a vote on the final document, what can I say? I'm not even sure there will be a final document. Perhaps there will be multiple votes on multiple propositions, as has been done sometimes in the past. And yes, the votes will be reserved to bishops, but it's a Synod of Bishops. For the sake of clarity I should add that such a vote is only consultative -- it is really the Pope who has the final say.  Personally, I hope that all the discussions beforehand  -- including men and women from many ages, vocations and cultural backgrounds -- will enrich the final document(s). After all, we're not in Rome for a month just for a single vote at the end.

The synod’s working document says young people in many secularized parts of the world simply want nothing to do with the Catholic Church, because they find it not only irrelevant to their lives but downright irritating.

And it's true! And not just among young people! It is a great tragedy, because the Catholic faith contains a richness of wisdom that is truly unsurpassed. How that treasure got turned into a burden for so many makes me so sad, because in my experience the Catholic faith, properly understood and lived, is a source of great interior (and exterior) freedom. My speech during the Synod will be about how to overcome this sense of irrelevance, so stay tuned.

The one bright spot for the meeting is that for the first time, two bishops from mainland China are participating in a synod, the first tangible result of last month’s breakthrough agreement between the Vatican and Beijing over bishop appointments.

Welcome brothers! We will be delighted to receive you. Your presence will indeed be a bright spot, although in all honestly I do wish the article had not said your presence will be the only one. It's a Synod, a gathering of people of faith from all around the world, with the Pope in our midst. Surely the Holy Spirit can and will do a lot with that!

Well, that's it for my commentary. I didn't include every paragraph in my responses, because some of them brought in other issues and events outside of the Synod itself, and I preferred to limit myself to the those I saw directly connected to the Synod and its preparation.

Please pray for us!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent background information and clarifications on points raised by the journalist. Your notes facilitate understanding the Synod process and you give front row to the youth for whom the Synod was called by Pope Francis. Thank you for your proactive and respectful treatment of this one piece of media coverage. May your approach set a positive and respectful, proactive tone for all who cover this very important event in the ongoing life of the Church.