The Catholic Church’s Synod on the Family was ostensibly called to address the crisis within the family. But many of the statements coming out of it can only have the effect of deepening the crisis. The Vatican has issued a draft document summarizing the Synod which contains a host of dubious ideas that appear to reaffirm the causes of the family’s collapse. It is almost as if the most influential Synod participants want to redefine the crisis as a state of health.
The document is full of “respect” for deviations from Church teaching that safeguard the family. Many of the passages read like quasi-endorsements of sin. Relationships that the Church has always regarded as affronts to God are treated as steps on the path toward holiness:
Realizing the need, therefore, for spiritual discernment with regard to cohabitation, civil marriages and divorced and remarried persons, it is the task of the Church to recognize those seeds of the Word that have spread beyond its visible and sacramental boundaries. Following the expansive gaze of Christ, whose light illuminates every man (cf. Jn 1,9; cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22), the Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings.
Catholics, usually told by orthodox priests that cohabitation increases the likelihood of divorce, will find such passages baffling. Now they are told that living in sin is a good preparation for marriage. The document speaks of “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation,” including homosexual unions, which get a mixed-message tribute: “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.”
It is not surprising that liberal media outlets see such lines as “revolutionary,” discerning in them tacit support for homosexual civil unions and gay adoption. They are particularly pleased to see the Church move from describing the homosexual inclination as “disordered” under previous pontificates to presenting it in this document as an orientation to be affirmed:
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
As in many of the document’s passages, this one claims to uphold “doctrine” while undermining it. The official and constant teaching of the Church has been to love the sinner but not the sin. It has never been one of “accepting and valuing” sin or an inclination to sin.
The Church exists to promote holiness, not the “positive aspects” of sin. All that odd emphasis in the document will inspire is more sin. Nobody reading this document will conclude that “irregular” unions pose any serious spiritual hazard. The document’s fancy phrase, the “law of graduality,” appears to cast repetitive mortal sin as part of the trajectory of virtue. This isn’t a very convincing claim. The law of graduality in practice is more likely to produce stagnation in sin. Having been told that sinful relationships contain “elements” of goodness, many people in them will see no reason to give them up. And it is not clear, given the weak defense of official Church teaching in the document, why they should find gradually working toward orthodoxy and holiness desirable. What’s the point of striving to conform to a morality that Church leaders seem to regard as embarrassing and impossible? Who is going to follow such an uncertain trumpet?
The document is riddled with ambiguities and contradictory comments that will make people wonder if the Church actually believes her own teachings anymore. Readers are left to guess whether the Church truly opposes divorce and remarriage, contraception, premarital sex, and homosexual behavior. This vagueness, offered up as a “pastoral” solution, is presented as a fresh and exciting evangelical approach. But to anyone familiar with the modern Catholic Church the strategy looks very stale and ineffective.
It is not as if the Church hasn’t already tried the permissive, “relevant, “listening,” and pastoral approach. That has been its stance in many countries for decades. The result has been a lot of decay and confusion. Sadly, it appears that the Synod will not be a solution to the crisis of the Catholic family but a display of the very modernizing attitudes that eroded it.