The Synod on the Family has finally adjourned, leaving behind a document for us to read and ponder. In many ways, this Synod, like the one last year, ended up resembling the United States Congress. Here are a few of those ways.
1. Most of what they talked about doing was so disturbing that the people in the pews breathed a sigh of relief that, in the end, they did nothing. People were praying, saying their rosaries, signing petitions and writing blogs, all to the purpose of imploring the Synod Fathers not to overturn 2,000 years of Christian teaching. We feared with a real fear that our Church was going to go against the direct words of Jesus Christ and essentially deep-six the sacramental basis for the entire Catholic Church.
It was a scandalous debate, this consideration of taking the official position that bishops would officially ignore Church teaching in practice while not changing it in writing. It was scandalous, and it scandalized.
To that extent, the Synod did harm rather than good. The Synod Fathers managed to convince huge numbers of faithful Catholics that such a thing was possible. This damaged the essential trust between shepherds and flock, even though it didn’t, ultimately happen.
In short, the Synod was like the United States Congress. The changes it was willing to seriously consider were so disastrous and appalling to the people in the hustings that everyone breathed a sigh of relief and considered it a victory when they ended up doing nothing at all. We felt safer when they finally went home.
2. The Synod did not address the cataclysmic discrimination and violence facing Christians all over the world in a meaningful way.
Christians are being wiped from the earth in a genocide in the Middle East. Christians are subject to horrific persecution in North Korea and other places. Christians live under active discrimination that flares into violence, rape and murder in many other places such as India. Christians are subject to government oppression, unjust imprisonment and active government discrimination that can include arrest, torture and long prison sentences in such places as China.
Christians in the West are subjected to constant hazing and bashing. Christianity is slandered and attacked in the media, on-line hate blogs and other Christian-bashing outlets. Christian children are subjected to constant anti-Christian propaganda and pressure in the public schools.
Christians, including Christian elected officials, are subject to legal harassment, arrest and loss of their livelihoods in the so-called Christian West. This has gone so far that the Church itself is subject to lawsuits aimed at trying to force the bishops to stop teaching Catholic faith and practice in Catholic institutions. The Church is also currently fighting a draconian mandate handed down by a stacked anti-Catholic committee and signed by the President of the United States.
3. The Synod did not effectively address the destructive effects that many aspects of our modern world has on families. Drug addiction, discriminatory images of Christians and morality in the media, joblessness, low wages, sex education in public schools, job discrimination against pregnant women, violence against women and pornography mow down families and grind them into the dust. These problems cross cultures.
For instance, here in America, both parents in working class families often have to work more than one job each to make ends meet. This means that young children are often shifted from one baby sitter to the next, and then, when they are barely school-age, left alone for long hours. They end up being raised by other children, the public schools and themselves.
This destroys parental involvement in their children’s lives and leaves the children at the mercy of the larger culture. These same families are forced to send their children to sub-standard schools where they are indoctrinated in the anti-Christian zeitgeist.
In other areas of the world, poverty is so extreme that it leaves children without the basics of human life such as adequate food, clean water and shelter.
Catholic schools cost far too much for most working class parents to afford. They have often deteriorated into prep schools for wealthy kids, many of whom are not Catholic. Meanwhile, Catholic children are forced into substandard public schools. Catholic higher education, at least here in the United States, is an on-going scandal precisely because of the anti-Catholic atmosphere and teaching found in many Catholic universities. Also, Catholic higher education costs far too much to be accessible to most Catholic young people.
Catholic education has become so trendy, “inclusive” and expensive that it excludes most Catholic children.
The Synod was like the United States Congress in that it failed to address the very real needs and challenges of the people in the pews and went off after its own arcane interests that were in fact an affront to Catholic teaching. As I said earlier, we ended up being grateful that, while they did no good, at least they didn’t do the harmful things they had considered.
4. Finally, the Synod on the Family is like the United States Congress because it was lobbied by big money special interests who were bent on persuading the Synod to abandon Catholic teachings in favor of following the “teachings” of the world. These people did not persuade the Synod to subvert Catholic teaching and abandon the clear words of Jesus Christ, but they did control the agenda of the Synod.
The entire Synod revolved around a debate as to whether or not the Church should adopt the agenda of the special interests who were lobbying it. This agenda was presented to the Synod by the German bishops, but it was clear to someone like me who has lived through a lot of this stuff that the puppet masters were the special interests. That is precisely the way these things work in politics, including, it seems, Church politics. Outside special interests get their followers inside the legislative body to present their ideas and hammer them home.
To put it bluntly, the agenda of a few special interests dominated the Synod. The issues at hand were all about how or if to weaken the Church’s teaching on marriage, which is consistent with that agenda. Not much else was really considered.
It took the efforts of the people in the pews — who counter-lobbied through petition and prayer — in concert with a group of determined bishops, to stem this move toward clerical nihilism. At the end of the day, we are all saying Hallelujah! because at least the Synod did no harm to the doctrines of the Church.
Was the Synod a complete failure? I don’t know. That depends on what happens next. In short, it depends on Pope Francis and how he responds to the Synod’s recommendations.
I do know that this fight about weakening the Church from within is only just beginning. Those lobbies are not going to stop. They will be back, and next time, they will be smarter.
The pressure on individual bishops to walk away from Church teaching in practice while giving lip service to it is only going to increase. Then, each bishop who falls — and it appears that an entire segment of them in Germany, plus quite a few elsewhere, have already fallen — will be held up as an example as to why Church teaching is unworkable and must be ignored.
Before too long, we will be hearing about how Church teaching is utterly impracticable and the evidence will be the practice of these fallen bishops and their failed leadership. That will create pressure to spread this travesty of leadership further.
The lobbying, the money, the lavish media productions, the steady drip-drip-drip of hate directed at the Church is not going to stop. It is going to become more widespread and aggressive.
To withstand this pressure, a bishop is going to have to endure all sorts of personal indignity, ranging from shunning to open vilification. Bishops begin as priests, part of a brotherhood. They move up the clerical ladder by appointment from those higher up. Then, they find themselves in a position where they have to stand alone or fall, and if they fall, they will take a lot of good people with them.
Years ago, I interviewed an Anglican bishop from northern Nigeria. This man had seen parishioners beheaded right in front of him. Churches in his diocese had been burned to the ground. His own daughter was taken for a while. His wife said something to me that is perhaps the truest thing I ever heard about being a bishop.
The bishop must stand. If the bishop fails, all the people will run away.
That is the simple of fact of what it means to be a bishop, what it is to be a shepherd. Fancy dinners with the rich and powerful, getting all decked out in extravagant vestments and having people kiss your ring have nothing to do with it. In a time of trouble — and this is a time of trouble raised by powers of ten — it comes down to faith and courage.
Those of us in the pews do not need to be whipped about by bizarre theological experimentation acting on the behalf of special interest groups who are trying to destroy the Church from within. We need trustworthy leadership that we can be proud of and follow.
I know this is not going to happen, but what we need is for the bishops to start speaking with one voice for Christ and Him crucified. We need bishops who stand on the Gospels and don’t flinch when they are criticized for doing so. We need Church leadership that stops being obsessed with itself and begins to look at us, the people who make up the vast Body of Christ in this world and who are being mowed down by the wolves.
We need shepherds.