4 Ways the Synod on the Family was Like the United States Congress

4 Ways the Synod on the Family was Like the United States Congress October 20, 2014

How was the Synod on the Family like the United States Congress? Here are four ways.

1. We switched from hoping that they would accomplish something good to praying that they didn’t do any harm. By the time the Relatio came out, most faithful Catholics were just hoping and praying that the Synod managed to get through the next week and adjourn without trashing the sacraments and deep-sixing 2,000 years of Catholic teaching. We were no longer looking to the Synod for leadership, and we were certainly not expecting anything that would actually help Catholic families in they struggle to live our faith in a post-Christian world. We were just hoping that they didn’t start re-writing the Scriptures to suit the ACLU and the scriptwriters in Hollywood.

2. The Synod didn’t seem to be concerned with us, or with the Church. It gave the appearance of being all about the bishops’ private agendas and their fights with one another. At least a few of the bishops seem to be in rock-star envy of Pope Frances. The sound of one’s own voice is addicting, and several of our bishops appear to be in serious need of a sound-bite 12-step program. None of this would have mattered if they had not used their time on air to attack one another, (one of them even took off after the Pope) and to prattle on about their great desire to re-make the Church in their own image. It was a sad, sorry display of ego-driven sniping, carping tom-foolery by men who claim they speak for the humble Carpenter of Nazareth. 

3. The Synod exposed a number of the bishops as men who are too insulated, too flattered, too pampered and too proud of themselves to properly do their jobs. Does anybody tell these guys they’re full of it when they’re full of it? Does anyone in the circle of people around them remind them that they are but dust? I’ve seen, up close and personal, how easily constant flattery and being treated as if you were special can destroy a person’s equilibrium. I’ve seen it enough that I recognize its effects on a person when that person is in front of me, or, as in this case, on a news video. A number of our bishops need a year or so of sacking groceries in a t shirt and blue jeans to get their minds right. 

4. The Synod talked about Religion with a capital R, but it didn’t seem to care about faith and following Christ all that much. Was I the only observer who noticed how often these men talked about themselves and one another and how seldom they referenced Our Lord? Jesus was mostly absent from their comments, as was faith. They did not give me the impression that they were trying to follow Christ and Him crucified. I mean that. They were singularly lacking in humility, gentleness, common kindness and common sense. 

All in all, I was relieved when these boys in red and black wrote up their final results and went home. I am not looking forward to the next go-round at all.

I don’t want pious play acting from my bishops. I certainly don’t expect perfection. In fact, I know that they are as incapable of perfection as any other person who walks this planet. I know and acknowledge what so many Catholics, priests and bishops collude in trying to ignore: These men are just people. I don’t want perfection. I would know it was a lie if they tried to pretend it. I certainly don’t want the stuffy royal distancing that would help them maintain a false facade of holy perfection.

The day is past when the Church can grow and witness to the Gospels on a  diet of religious cornflakes and Queen Elizabeth waves from distant clergy.

We don’t need CEOs in miters, playing to each other. We need men who are alive with the call to convert the world. The Church has lost its missionary fervor. It must regain it.

All I ask of my clergy is authenticity. I don’t mean a fantasy, never-sinned perfection. I don’t care if my priests and bishops fall down and skin their knees. I don’t hold that against them any more than they’ve held my sins against me. We are all down here in the pits together in this life and we need to forgive and love one another without grinding our failures in each other’s faces.

My concern about the bishops who made all the noise at the Synod isn’t that some of them are rather obvious snobs and that some of them are in love with being in front of a camera. Being a show boat is probably one of the job requirements for being a bishop. If you’re the sort of person who detests being the center of attention, you probably would never want to be a priest in the first place.

My concern — and it is a concern, not a condemnation — is that at least a few of them are getting dangerously close to abandoning the call of every Christian on this planet, which is to follow Christ the Lord. We are — all of us, from back-row pew sitter to prince of the Church, required to yield ourselves over to Him and His leadership.

I didn’t see that in this Synod. What I saw was a lot of in-fighting and politics, a tiny bit of faith-talk when it fit the scenario and an overwhelming me-me-me. In that it was remarkably like that other all-too-human deliberative body, the United States Congress.

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16 responses to “4 Ways the Synod on the Family was Like the United States Congress”

  1. You’ve probably seen some of my comments around Patheos on this. I think I commented on one of your posts. I may be repeating myself here, but so what. The synod exposed and exacerbated divisions, and it did it in front of an all observing public. This created internal feuds and generated rivalries and became a public relations nightmare. And for what end? How was the family strengthened, no matter which side won? I don’t see how anything got strengthened and if anything it caused cynacism. I began to question the Church’s dedication to the Magisterium. And one has to question Pope Francis’ leadership here. Did he envision this? If not, then he is a myopic leader, and perhaps doesn’t understand the worldwide Church. If he did envision it and went forward, then I’m flabberghasted. Either way this does seem like a debating society with no purpose, which makes it even worse than a legislative branch of government. The synod was a complete waste of time and energy.

  2. It’s a shame that no progress was made for the good of the Church. They didn’t seem interested (from what I understand) in some of the proposals that the Pope made. Aren’t these the same guys that elected him?

  3. I’m far less negative than you Manny. I think the fact that these things were exposed and that they met with ferocious pushback from the Catholic public, is healthy.

    One of the problems we’re having with leadership in every area (not just the Church, but civil governance, as well) is that the leaders have become so insular that they are taking leadership advice from their own toadies.

    The bishops, of course, should not take direction from anything but the Gospels, but they are human and fallible and … well, this is what happens when people get sucked up to 24/7. Also, remember: All we really heard from were the showboat bishops. I doubt they represent much more than themselves.

    There are good, honest sincere bishops. I know several of them, including both my own Archbishop and Archbishop Emeritus.

    The Apostles squabbled and behaved badly.

    I think it’s great that these bishops got called on a bit of their craziness. It seems obvious to me that they spend far too much time with yes men and that has messed with their thinking.

  4. I didn’t see what you saw. First of all, none of us saw the workings of the synod itself. Cardinal Napier said that he had never been to such a wonderful synod as this one – that is, before the interim report was issued.
    The only thing we saw was the TV interviews. Those did not strike me as particularly egregious. Kasper was trying to pretend everyone was in love with his proposal. They weren’t. so that was a bit bizarre, And then we had his African faux pas, and true, that was weird.

    But we saw Burke being insistent that the whole thing was running off the rails, and he was in fact right. Apparently in the synod hall there was plenty of good solid talk about the family, but the media filter only allowed us to see divorced and remarried and gays. This was the hijacking that took place. The media was determined to present the synod as about nothing but gays and divorced people, the rest of family issues be damned. To my mind, it seemed that they had concluded that they had successfully hijacked Pope Francis before (“Who am I to judge”) and thought they would do so again (“Francis attempt to welcome gays fails” ).
    So, they are just using him, and he lets t happen, I guess.

  5. Americans tend to be wonderful, good-hearted people ( well, a lot of us, anyway) but we are incredibly myopic when it comes to international affairs. Europeans tend to be snobbish towards the developing world, almost a colonialist attitude. Not everybody, Fabio, just a lot. That’s what I saw come across. I was very interested in what the Indian and Asian bishops said about marriage. I was struck that maybe we can learn something from them.

  6. Rebecca,

    I certainly can understand your frustration. In many ways the story about the Synod devolved into the “horse race” story that we so often see in politics where the who is winning or losing takes precidence over the issues being considererd.
    I found Fr. Robert Barron’s commentary about the “sausage making” that takes place at a Synod very helpful and he included some historical perspective as well. You can find it here http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/having-patience-for-the-sausage-making-synod/4517/

    The other thing that I found remarkable was how the posturing from the extremes in the traditionalist and progressive camps may have set the stage for and, perhaps, empowered the widely acclaimed closing remarks by Pope Francis. Was the Holy Spirit at possibly at work in through the various camps to help to bound the dialog so that Pope Francis could then point the way as the Church proceeds through this process?

    Thanks as always for your perceptive commentary.

  7. Thanks Ray. I’ve been thinking all day that I need to write an addendum to this. I tarred them all with the same brush, but it was really only a few who caused all the trouble. I will probably do that tomorrow.

  8. Thanks for the feedback.

    I have also found the coverage by John L. Allen Jr. at Crux to be very helpful to me in providing some perspective. Here are several: http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/10/20/however-dramatic-the-synod-of-bishops-2014-was-just-the-beginning/ AND http://www.cruxnow.com/church/2014/10/19/paul-vi-beatification-a-fitting-coda-to-tumultuous-fortnight/

    I also found this timely and, I thought, balanced piece by Fr. Rosica today. He had a good perspective from his role supporting the English language press at the Synod. http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/fr-thomas-rosica/the-journey-continues-fr-rosica-reflects-on-extraordinary-synod-on-the-family

    As St. Francis said those he met, “May the Lord give you peace.”

  9. I’m not sure the Bishops actually reacted to rank and file laity. It seemed to have come up through the Conservative bishops. I don’t think what the laity thinks figures much in Catholicism. It depends on the Bishops, and for the moment there seems to be a majority of Conservative Bishops. The Conservative Bishops saved the day. It seems to me we are only a few Liberals away from accepting things not in the magisterium. And you don’t mention anything about the Holy Father. How does he figure in your understanding of the synod events? Clearly he was on the side of the radicals and he gets to appoint the new bishops. What could he possibly mean when afterward he said, “God is not afraid of new things?” What new things? Accepting sin? I’m sorry, I cannot see anything good that came out of this.

  10. I thought the same as you and was very afraid that they were going to water down the words of Christ.

  11. Good points. To me the most troubling is #5. We moderns love abstraction and anything that resembles a Copernican shift — so much so that probably most people think of God as pure potential, which is precisely wrong: He is pure act, more concrete, definite, and real than any of us. This way of looking at God has crept into the Church, perhaps because it is easier to be ecumenical if one’s words have no clear meaning.

  12. Sorry, but the media don’t get all the credit. The Vatican’s own press operation, as well as the USCCB news outlet deserve some too.

  13. Whew! There’s some hard-hitting commentary for you. Do you suppose it was different in the past?

  14. I certainly hope Pope Francis and all future Popes take a lesson from this Synod on the Family and pray and listen to the Holy Spirit before selecting priests to become bishops and appointing bishops cardinals. The Pope needs to be selecting those who are truly holy and not politically motivated in their priestly vocations. We need bishops who do not succumb to political pressures and Caesar inspired tax incentives, but teach the truth as Christ taught and accepted the consequences of always preaching the truth.

  15. To some extent I agree, but I have to point that (whether or not it factored into the bishop’s actions) the fact that the laity reacted to defend the truth is nevertheless a good sign.

    Further, while there are bishops who lean more left or more right, we have to remember that ultimately the Church is guided by God. We could say that if there were a few more or a few less bishops who lean one way or the other, then they might try to change doctrine in one way or another. And you may suspect (though I’m not sure I agree) that the Pope is likely to want to appoint the sorts of bishops who will make the wrong choices

    But God can control every aspect of reality as easily as think, and while He allows us to make a mess of things in a wide variety of creative ways, He has made us a promise concerning the truth of the faith. We have an Advocate. The Pope can try to do what he likes, as can the bishops, but no effect actually happens without at least God’s consent.

    In fact, the more pessimistic your view of the state of the bishops, the more this synod demonstrates that. Under these pessimistic assumptions, the deck was stacked entirely against the truth – and yet, messy as it was, the truth won. And it always will, even if things look bad for a while.

    So I think we need to temper our pessimism a little bit. As we know, Christ is Victorious, even when (and sometimes because) the very people He came to save are murdering Him. It will all work out. No matter how many bishops deny the truth, nor how many uphold it for the wrong reasons and in the worst possible way, the worst we will have is a time of confusion.

    So yeah. There are bad things, but we need to make sure we don’t exaggerate how bad they are. We need not fear that if we get a few more “liberal” bishops then the Church will change doctrine and so destroy itself. We might have problems, but that’s nothing new, and the Church tends to work through them eventually.

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