Synod on the Family: Were the Episcopalians Right All Along?

The Vatican is already trying to calm things down.

The Synod issued a summary document of the speeches and debate which have taken place in the Synod so far. They called it the Relatio post disceptationem, which probably added to the confusion. If they had just titled it the Official Minutes of the Synod Thus Far, it would have gone a long way toward keeping reactions from going off like bullets in a campfire.

But they didn’t. They called it the Relatio post disceptationem, and now the word is out that the Synod has decided that the Episcopalians were right all along; marriage is a civil contract and entirely flexible and, oh yes, it’s not even all that necessary to sexual liaisons.

Seeing the mess they’d made, the Vatican issued a “caution” or whatever they call it saying:

Relatio post disceptationem, and the fact that often a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature, reiterates that it is a working document, which summarises the interventions and debate of the first week, and is now being offered for discussion by the members of the Synod gathered in the Small Groups, in accordance with the Regulations of the Synod.
The work of the Small Groups will be presented to the Assembly in the General Congregation next Thursday morning.

What the Vatican is trying to communicate in that painfully indirect paragraph is that the document the Vatican issued yesterday is NOT a final draft. In fact, it’s not a draft at all.

It’s just a summary of the speeches that the cardinals made during the first week of discussion. The Vatican had to issue this comment today because the relatio (my shorthand for the document) which is a ramble, summarizing a lot of speechifying, has lit a lot of fires.

Releasing it was a bit like emptying a feather pillow in front of a fan. Since it was just a summary of the speeches made by Synod participants after the Pope told them to be unafraid to say whatever they thought, and since, at least based on how they sound in their statements, the cardinals are almost as polarized in how they view the Gospels as our larger culture, it has something in it to scratch everbody’s itch, but is flat-out scandalous to the average pew-sitting Catholic.

Which is why it should have been published with a warning label — at the top, in big, bold letters — saying that it was not Church teaching but just, basically, minutes of the meeting.

The reason this matters is that the Synod is treading dangerous ground. It is trying to move bricks in the wall that forms the Church’s foundation: The sacraments.

The relatio is not Church teaching, but it’s being taken as Church teaching. Even worse, nobody’s going to read it. 

The media and those with agendas are the only ones who will read this thing all the way through, and they are looking for things they can pull out to advance their own ideas. With a document like the Relatio, that’s short work.

It is not a problem for anyone who wants to find it to pull out verbiage that could be used to convince people that the Synod has decided to continue proclaiming Holy Matrimony as a sacrament between one man and one woman, but to only do it in speech-making and sermonizing. It’s easy to assert from the relatio that the Synod actually sees Holy Matrimony as an arcane, “official” ideal and not something to actually live.

In the meantime, it would be equally easy to produce verbiage supporting the idea that the Synod is moving toward allowing divorce-remarriage, divorce-remarriage, divorce-remarriage, shacking up and sleeping around, with an inevitable gay marriage/polygamy chaser as its actual practice. In other words, the Episcopalians were right all along, but the Synod won’t admit it. They just plan to live it.

That, and not the nuances, are what the larger culture is going to teach from the relatio.

Meeting minutes are not official documents. I’ve been in a lot of meetings. The most productive of them included discussions that wouldn’t play well in the press. That’s the way of human nature. People think best when they’re free to be foolish and say stupid things.

I’m going to link to the relatio here. Read if it you want. But don’t mistake it for doctrine.

Let’s give the Synod time to finish and see what it produces.

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