St. Augustine and the Synod on the Family

St. Augustine and the Synod on the Family October 14, 2014

The Synod on the Family has been very much in the news lately, particularly with the release yesterday of the Relatio post disceptationem to the media.  This document deserves careful discussion, as does its reception by various parts of the Church and by the secular media. (Indeed, it made the front page of my local paper today!)  But very much related to the discussions about mercy, justice, gradualism and upholding Church teaching is the following passage from St. Augustine, which I found courtesy of the folks at the Daily Gospel Online:

Our Lord was an example of incomparable patience. He bore with a “devil” among his disciples even to his Passion (Jn 6,70). He said: “Let them grow together until the harvest lest you uproot the wheat when you pull out the weeds” (cf. Mt 13,29f.). As a symbol of the Church he preached that the net would bring back to shore, namely the end of the world, every kind of fish, both good and bad. And he made it known in various other ways, whether openly or in parables, that there would always be a mixture of good and bad. But nevertheless he stresses that we have to protect the Church’s discipline when he says: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother” (Mt 18,15)…

Yet today we see people who think of nothing but stern commandments, who order that troublemakers be reproved, « not giving what is holy to the dogs », « treating like the publicans » anyone who despises the Church, cutting off the scandalous member from the body (Mt 7,6 ; 18,17 ; 5,30). Their stormy zeal so troubles the Church that they pull out the weeds before their time and their blindness makes of them enemies of the unity of Jesus Christ…

Take care not to let these presumptuous thoughts enter our hearts, trying to separate ourselves from sinners so as not to be soiled by contact with them, wanting to form a band of pure and holy disciples. We will achieve nothing but breaking up our unity under the pretext of not associating with the wicked. To the contrary, let us remember the parables of Scripture, their inspired words, their striking examples, where we are shown that, until the end of the world and the day of judgement, the bad will always be mingled amongst the good in the church without their participation in the sacraments being harmful to the good so long as these latter have not played a part in their sins. (On Faith and works, ch. 3-5)

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  • Believe me (although you may not like to face it), the Catholic right is gunning for this pope:

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I think that “gunning” for the Pope is a bit extreme. I think Fr. Robert Barron put it best when he quoted Cardinal Newman: those who love the barque of Peter should stay out of the engine room. Or in a more modern idiom: if you love, sausage, don’t watch it being made.

      There is a spirited (heated?) debate going on currently, with both sides using the media to make their points. (Though with a bit of hypocrisy, conservatives are complaining about this fact.) I think this is far better than having a synod whose outcome is predetermined by the Pope and curial officials, with bishops too afraid to really speak their minds.

      • Please tell that to Cardinal Raymond Burke, who seems quite up to leading a rebellion against the Pope and his Synod:

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Wow, this is pretty cheesy, even by the already low standards of Italian journalism. But it is telling of the general attitude among conservatives that this would gain any traction.

        • Ronald King

          Dismas, I read some of the comments on that site and the hostility presented in those comments felt like an impenetrable fortress.

        • Mark VA


          It seems that our Pope wanted us to have this discussion, thus he will have the discussion he desires (this is the general take of John Paul’s II old Krakow weekly, “Tygodnik Powszechny”):

          The Pope will sign a document summarizing the Church’s position on these issues in about twelve months, and we’ll accept it.

          My view is this: these are potentially very divisive issues, and neither side (liberal or conservative) should consider its position as privileged. This should apply especially to that faction of the Bishops from the West, who unwittingly still think in such terms (the “Euro-centric” or more precisely, “Western European-centric”view).

          The beginning is this discussion is already less than edifying, with the Vatican floating a half baked document, provoking a response. Let’s hope that the Vatican will show the class we expect, as this discussion unfolds.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            half-baked, or simply reflecting the diverse and discordant discussions that came before? It is clear that traditionalist bishops (e.g. Cardinal Burke) are upset by the document, but none of them (to the best of my knowledge) deny that it does not reflect what was said in the first week. This is why it is a rough draft, to be refined both this week, and then re-examined next year. I am sure that even the Gospels went through a couple drafts! 🙂

        • Mark VA

          Mr. Cruz-Urbe:

          It is my understanding that during these gatherings it is customary to release a daily bulletin, with the transcripts of the day’s texts (speeches and statements) linked to the names of the bishops. These texts, and not some second hand “summary”, are the primary sources from which we can draw opinions.

          According to Cardinal Mueller (as quoted in the Tygodnik Powszechny article linked to above), omitting these daily bulletins constitutes a form of censorship. He further maintains that this “summary” did not sufficiently take into account the voices of those bishops, who oppose the new line being floated on the issues in question.

          We the faithful have the right to read these transcripts. If they do exist somewhere, then we need to be told where to go to find them. The days of “pay, pray, and obey” are over – we need this information. Anything less is patronizing and divisive.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Mark, at previous synods it was the policy to release transcripts. The synod organizers, presumably with the backing of the Pope, decided to withhold them and go with summaries instead.

          I am of mixed minds on this question. On the one hand, you are correct that the laity should have a better sense of what is being said and by whom. On the other hand, bishops for decades have been censored or have censored themselves in a culture in which speaking openly was frowned upon. This makes it hard for them to suddenly have the courage to speak their minds. Perhaps (and this is only speculation, but it seems plausible) the Pope felt that granting them this degree of anonymity would help them find their voices.

          Also, I do not have a lot of sympathy for the claims by some conservative bishops that their voices have been censored. They have been appearing regularly and deliberately in the media: on a daily basis I can find out what Cardinal Burke and others thought about the previous session.

          P.S. The link above is in Polish, at least when I try to access it. Are you reading it using Babelfish, or is there an English translation available?

        • Mark VA

          Mr. Cruz-Uribe:

          There is circumstantial evidence that the voices of the Bishops who do not toe the current party line are being ignored:

          (the full interview with Cardinal Kasper in the Zenit source (quoted in the above link) is not available at this time).

          To be fair, Cardinal Kasper denies making such statements:

          Thus, the daily transcripts of the discussions would clarify this issue. Further, I don’t think you are advocating for going back to some censorship mode – anyway, we the laity are a little too educated today to accept such nonsense. Therefore, what is there to be “of two minds” about?

          As far as the media is concerned (I assume we are talking about the Western mainstream media), the spin seems focused on the good “merciful” Bishops, versus the traditional “bad wolf” Bishops (no surprises here):

          Lastly, I was not able to find a link to a whole page translator service on the “Tygodnik” page. I’m reading it in the original.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            “Therefore, what is there to be “of two minds” about? ”

            I am of two minds because I can see the value in anonymity and a lack of complete reporting to the broader Church if this gives the bishops the space they need to speak freely.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Thanks David ! One of the best gems from St Augustine I have ever read.

    God Bless

  • Agellius

    “… the bad will always be mingled amongst the good in the church without their participation in the sacraments being harmful to the good so long as these latter have not played a part in their sins.”

    That’s the crux, isn’t it? So long as we have not played a part in their sins. And don’t we play a part in people’s sins when we don’t teach what is sinful and what isn’t?

    I’m not talking about rebuking people, only about basic catechesis.

  • Roger

    I have to wonder why a Synod in the first place?

    Nothing has changed – the Church has always welcomed sinners. Until one has confessed their sins and repented, they cannot receive holy communion. That will never change.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Pope Francis felt that the Church was not preaching salvation in a way that was being heard by today’s families. To simply repeat things in the language of the past, when confronted by clear evidence that it is not being heard, calls for reflection and discussion on how to make the Good News heard.

      • Agellius

        Or maybe it’s not being heard because it’s not being spoken.

  • smclarty

    Reblogged this on Dissertating for the Greater Glory and commented:
    This an excellent quote from Augustine so relevant to the current conversations surrounding the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the family. But it occurs to me that there is a great lesson in school leadership here (especially Catholic school leadership) here as well.
    I can’t count the number of times both in my classes at USF and in my own experience living and working in Jesuit schools, that this question has come up (and it comes up in secular school contexts as well): What do we do with so-and-so or that group (often identified according to the generation they were born into), who clearly is not an effective teacher (but the students love him and he is totally committed to the mission and lives it out in all sorts of powerful ways) or maybe is an excellent teacher (say in math or science – her student not only love her but love math and science!) but isn’t invested in the mission of the school? What should we do about these “bad apples” among the faculty and staff – these weeds among the wheat?
    It seems to me there are RARE instances where the weed(s) must be plucked out for the safety and wellbeing of the wheat (our students). Sometimes teachers or staff should be fired and fired on the spot. But the vast majority of the time – despite what our basest desires might tell us – this is not the case.
    In my experience, young teachers often complain about that one teacher who has been at the school forever, has lots of loyal friends among the older faculty, students, and alumni, and no matter how ineffective they are as a teacher and colleague, how thoroughly they want to spread their institutional cynicism and grouchy demeanor, how often they want to complain about something – anything! – they will never be fired, or forced into early retirement, etc. The frustration of the young teachers over this grumpy misanthrope is often placed on the Principal – the one charged with hiring and FIRING of staff. But perhaps we, as young teachers/administrators (yes, I still consider myself young), should think about these situations through the lens of Matthew 29:13f – “Let them grow together until the harvest lest you uproot the wheat when you pull out the weeds.” Not only that, but perhaps, even the weed – if left unplucked – can become a bit more like the wheat over time.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Though I share the feeling about “old, grouchy, ineffective” colleagues, this is a timely reminder. Thank you.

  • Tanco

    The great commotion which Pope Francis’s rather mild-mannered bulletin has generated suggests that it’s time to reboot this synod as a council. All the abbots and bishops need to convene and work out constitutions on two vitally important topics of our day: 1) The culture of married life in the temporal Church and temporal society and 2) the life of queer people in the Body of Christ.

    In the first case, tough decisions will have to be made. The church is bleeding members in the “West” partly because of a very literal interpretation of Matthew 19 which is peculiar to the “Latins” and not even shared by the entire apostolic Church. (Yes, I understand that caesaropapism has greatly influenced Eastern views on marriage, but that’s not directly on-topic.) I suspect that the conservative/traditionalist [c/t] fury over the possibility of either second marriage or sacramental absolution for “irregular” couples is likely due to the reality that one or the other is inevitable. If c/t had to choose, it would probably be penitential marriage. Leniency for a second marriage is a more matrimonial path for re-inclusion in sacramental life. The broken marital bond is mended within the sacrament of matrimony itself.

    Worse case scenario: a Marcel Lefebvre-like character appears from inside a synod or council and spearheads a “h–l no” faction. He might very well gather to him a great number of c/t bishops and clergy. The Church does not need another schism, especially when this schism would be a re-microwaved mash-up of liturgical traditionalism and a hyper-rigidity on canon law. Maybe this is why Pope Francis has (wisely) decided not to preside over a council.

    I actually think the second question is easier than the first to resolve. Gay men keep churches and the Church running. Everyone knows this, including the most rigid traditionalist message board groupie. No, I do not believe that gay men are attracted to the clergy, and especially the traditionalist clergy, out of a desire to ape Broadway. Rather, it’s the ancient center/periphery question: those who are shunned for a certain personal attribute are often attracted to positions of power which do not question, or even ironically value, their intrinsic qualities. Of course c/t will go berserk even with the sight of the word “homosexual” on any missive with the mitre and keys on the letterhead. Still, I believe that a positive integration of queer people into the Body will not out the clergy. If anything, the periphery and center will be brought closer. Yes, from a Girardian standpoint this is the setup for another conflict, but non praevalebunt (cf. Mt. 16:17-19). Somehow, the Church will manage a new understanding of the psychology of emotion and sexuality which does not solely rely on a “special anthropology”.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “Worse case scenario: a Marcel Lefebvre-like character appears from inside a synod or council and spearheads a “h–l no” faction. He might very well gather to him a great number of c/t bishops and clergy.”

      Based on what little I know, I think Cardinal Burke has both too much common sense and too much love for the Church to take on this role, but from reading the conservative blogs I get the sense that they would like him to become their paladin.

      • Tanco

        dismasdolben [October 16, 2014 9:27 am] “Truly orthodox Christianity has had no difficulty using science as well as the insights of other cultures and other secular ideologies (abolitionism, Christian democracy, socialism, syndicalism, Darwinism, etc.) in order to change what has needed to be changed.

        Christianity is an incarnational religion. I do not intend to insult you dismas, but rather remind all of us that this reality underscores all other doctrinal considerations. I do not disagree that Christianity, throughout its history, has both actively and passively adapted philosophical, anthropological, and political ideologies. However, the et homo factus est of St. John’s Prologue always reminds us that every question of sexuality, procreation, and human performance is necessarily placed within a heteronormative and uniquely gendered circumstance.

        The issue of lgbtq persons (if you prefer) in the life of the Body of Christ poses a towering question which pierces the heart of incarnation. If up to ten percent of humans are indelibly ordered towards or even genetically predetermined towards same-sex affection and sexuality, then the Annunciation is not the perfected archetype of human sexuality. Can the Holy Spirit’s “overshadowing” represent only one of many gendered unitive options?

        Hegel and Marx both supposed that dichotomous synthesis, and not a priori doctrine, could create a new reality. Could the conflict of two views, one doctrinal and one empirical, create a new reality of belief? Perhaps synthesis resides in a studied disbelief in the incarnation, one which considers this cornerstone no more than a conceptual figment of minds.

        • Tanco, you are not insulting me, and I consider this to be a brilliant summation of conservative theologians’ view of the centrality of “hetero-normed”-based sexual morality, as supported by a very orthodox and somewhat primitive theology. I simply feel that it’s time to abandon that theology, in favour of something more realistic and quite compatible with a DIFFERENT view of the “Incarnation.”

        • And I should like to remind you and others, Tanco, of something else, helped along by this article in the New York Times: namely, that ACTIVELY heterosexual “normalcy” was once considered INFERIOR to being a “eunuch” for the “kingdom’s” sake. As I have been trying to indicate for years now, to all reading at Vox Nova, the modern Catholic obsession with “family life” ALREADY indicates a change in moral theology regarding sexuality in the life of the Church. The virginal state was once considered desirable for ALL–not just priests–by the early Doctors of the Church, and this was not considered to be a violation of “heteronormative” theology–although moderns would clearly think it so.

        • Additionally, Tanco, I consider what Cardinal Pell to be advocating here to be a wildly ignorant misunderstanding of historical tradition in the Church. Once upon a time, the “good people” that he is referring to considered the connubial state to be gross moral failing as regards sanctified life. What Christ himself “taught” regarding the connubial state was that it was a “remedy” for fleshly weakness–that those seeking to be “perfected” for admission to His “Father’s house” would remain “eunuchs” for the “Kingdom’s sake.”

        • trellis smith

          Perhaps Tanco I am too thick but an incarnational religion does not necessarily mandate a heteronormative lens. Queer people are born just as Jesus was born, and the manner in which he was conceived was very queer indeed.

          Jesus hardly conducted his life heteronormatively, at least as understood in the Jewish sense to be fruitful and multiply.
          And the Christology that through him we become the sons and daughters of God, says all that needs to be said about queer families.
          And finally as to Cardinal Burke, celibate and far too attracted to lace to take him too as heteronormative.

          I am curious David, do you think queer people as weeds?

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Let me think about this: I am traveling and do not have a lot of time to respond.

        • Tanco

          dismasdolben [October 18, 2014 2:59 am] “Additionally, Tanco, I consider what Cardinal Pell to be advocating here to be a wildly ignorant misunderstanding of historical tradition in the Church.

          Cdl. Pell’s understanding of [late] antique sexuality is cereal-box-cardboard flat. Would Pell be happy to know that in many schools of Eastern Christian theology God the Father is known as οἰκόνομος (or, for “Westerners”, paterfamilias), the absolute master of the household? The pastoral epistles and the Haustafeln in general enforce this patriarichial hierarchy. The Father is undoubtedly the householder-master of the Church militant. This socially bound Body is subject to the socially unbound Father and his final decisions.

          What Pell has conveniently omitted or inadvertently forgotten to mention is that while women’s and younger men’s sexuality were necessarily limited by the power of the householder, the οἰκόνομος enjoyed unlimited sexual possibilities so long as he sired the necessary amount of men to secure his lineage (cf. also East Asian sexualities). Pell’s quiet rant on sexual license ignores that the metaphor for the Father also contains within it the metaphor for sexual rapacity, including homosexuality!

          Cdl. Pell: please reread the Roman agricultural manuals now. Teubner is best; Loeb if you must.

        • Dante Aligheri

          While I do not necessarily agree point by point with Dismas, he has a keen assertion here. Historically, the Reformation Protestants were far more concerned with domestic family life as normative (per Luther’s and Katherina von Bora’s own leaving of the monasteries, following a strict interpretation of “be fruitful and multiply” as a divine injunction that all must marry) than the Catholics. Indeed, the norm of Catholic intellectuals did not live a married life per Erasmus and the medievals and even saw marriage as inhibiting their participation in public and intellectual life via the “republic of letters.” Indeed, people like Erasmus were far more involved in their male friendships. One can see the ambivalence of Early Modern Catholicism in its relationship with the institution of marriage in the life of Thomas More, a family man, yes, but also someone who straddled the monastic life (wearing a hair shirt, frequenting the Carthusians) and the public life.

          The Catholic root of Erasmas’ lifestyle, of course, derives precisely from the exaltation of the unmarried state, per the condemnation of Jovinian by Jerome, as an anticipation of the Kingdom. The monastics especially were the true Christians in the late antique and early medieval Church, living life in common and “like the angels in heaven,” the chief members of the grand spiritual economy into which the aristocracy and lay people could tap. Underlying all of this are the traditions of the ascetics such St. Anthony, Origen, and the Cappadocians with their profound soul-body dualism. Indeed, St. Melania herself and many Christians such as Origen (and even the early St. Augustine and St. Jerome) believed Adam and Eve were originally spiritual creatures without genders, like the angels – sexual differentiation and existence in a coarse, material body being the result from the literal Fall from the celestial Paradise and the our spiritual, lighter bodies illluminated solely by our rational intellects. Indeed, some very orthodox (and not so orthodox) people believed genders would disappear at the eschaton when creation was consummated in the Logos. There is more than a hint of disdain for the material world and marriage in the Apostolic Churches. Most of this I got from Illaria Ramelli’s “The Doctrine of Apokatasis.” John Meyendorff briefly dealt with this in his essay on Byzantine marriage: “Christian Marriage in Byzantium.” In this latter essay (see Fr. Kimel’s blog to download a free copy), St. John Chrysostom even goes so far as to invert the idea (contra the later St. Thomas Aquinas) that a marriage must chiefly produce children because Christians, unlike the people of Old Testament times (one can see the creeping stereotype of anti-Semitic materialism here), are oriented towards the eschaton and thus perpetuating lineage is superfluous.

          This now alien cosmology – far more Platonic than Aristotelian, and decidedly un-Thomist – was a philosophical recasting of the Second Temple Jewish story of Genesis, Adam losing his angelic, priestly garments of light in favor of mortality, one beginning with Philo of Alexandria. This narrative of fall into material bodies and resurrection into angelic, subtle bodies illuminated by the rational soul rests at the heart of Christian asceticism.

          As much as apologists like to rail against the Gnostics and label everything they don’t like as gnostic in character, there actually was very little difference on the ground between Christian practice and that of Gnostics except – and this nonetheless was a crucial point – the Christians would not surrender the doctrine of creation, albeit the unsullied creation and not the current fallen one. But they always walked a fine line and were jerked back when something truly heretical showed up, like the Cathars.

          Honestly, I think a great deal of the problem has the been the post-Reformation centering of existence around the domestic sphere and the loss of public friendships (which one has to admit did have some negative, misogynistic overtones). Today, especially with the loss of well-knit communities in favor of household atomization and long-distance commutes, the absolute severing of domestic and public, partially an unintended consequence (and I most emphatically am not criticizing this) of women’s liberation in that men and women could now interact as equals and culturally were expected to form friendship bonds (ones in which involved the unity of minds, careers, and public life rather than simply unity of souls, sentimentality for the upholding of an oeconomia) once reserved for the public sphere, I think this is probably more true today than any other time in history. It’s almost as if Jovinian has won out even in the Church, especially with the sidelining of its radical, pre-Aristotelian, ascetic character. One might even suggest that friendship has died at the feet of romantic relations, one might say — the public has died to the private (per Putnam’s “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community”).

        • From what you have written, Dante Aligheri, I cannot figure out exactly what points you disagree with me on; perhaps you do NOT believe that Christ Himself advocated total celibacy (in defiance of his Jewish formation, but definitely in line with His Essene influences)? What else, however, can be his high regard for those who choose “Eunuchdom” for the “Kingdom’s” sake, or his proclamation that there will be giving or taking of spouses in His Father’s house, or His spurning of His own family’s relations?

        • Dante Aligheri

          Nothing in that post, really. I do think that a lot of Christianity, precisely out of its intense otherworldliness and expectations of the eschaton, would not marry and own property in common. Certainly Jesus did strongly advocate celibacy (though I wouldn’t say he banned marriage), and Paul saw marriage as a concession – perhaps beneficial, if both parties were committed to the Faith. Certainly not the end-all.

          Mostly, I just do not like the idea of another Schism – especially if we haven’t closed the old ones yet.

    • I personally would welcome a schism that would leave me on the side of an Apostolic Succession that is genuinely “catholic” in that it is presided over by a Bishop of Rome who believes in what John Henry Newman describes in The Development of Doctrine–namely a theology that “develops” greater and greater adherence to the direction of a “Holy Spirit” that guides a “sensus fidelium” (sp?) just as much as it guides a Supreme Pontiff or a Council of the Church. Truly orthodox Christianity has had no difficulty using science as well as the insights of other cultures and other secular ideologies (abolitionism, Christian democracy, socialism, syndicalism, Darwinism, etc.) in order to change what has needed to be changed, and it has always seemed to me that the “Traditionalists” are actually either Protestant in their fundamentalist temperament or quixotic rebels against a modernity that influences the “Pilgrim People of God” whether ivory tower specialists in academic theology like it or not. For a long time, the “sensus fidelium” (sp.?) of the lay people has seemed to me to be right about what science is telling the world about “queer” people (as Tanco writes above), and the Church has been wrong. If the Church wishes to survive in the West, it had better start listening to what people in Europe and America believe about “queer” people, divorced people and people who feel sincerely compelled by tragic circumstances to abort a child, as terrible and as “sinful” as that choice may be.

  • Mark VA

    This seems to be the source of some reliable information about this synod:

  • Ronald King

    I think we do a lot of projecting in our faith. We have a lot of weeds which need to be tended to. It is hard work to pick weeds and one must get down on hands and knees for a long time and get to the root of the weed. Yet I find that one weed gets tangled with the roots of other weeds and then I realize that all of these weeds are connected in some unseen way, yet I must keep digging. I could use an artificial fertilizer and kill all the weeds so at least my yard looks outwardly perfect but is toxic if I were to walk on it in my bare feet. So I keep digging up the weeds in my yard. I actually like it and then I must put grass seed where the lawn is bare. I hadn’t dug weeds for a long time and so I now have some bare spots that need new seed.

  • Ronald King

    Dante, That was a beautiful comment. It is that kind of clarity of thought which I appreciate so much when I read VN. Mistaken beliefs are the weeds which need to be removed.

    • Agellius

      “Mistaken beliefs are the weeds which need to be removed.”


  • Mark VA

    Round one of the Synod on the Family is over, and I would say it is a loud and clear 1 to 0 – take your pick:

    In my opinion, the true winners of round one are the Bishops, especially those from Africa and their allies, who found their voice and stood up for transparency, while rejecting scripted outcomes. They will undoubtedly enter the 2015 round two well prepared, and with a clear sense of honest mercy and merciful traditionalism.

    In a way, this is a type of graduation for them, and it richly deserves a musical ceremonial:

    • trellis smith

      If that is true then it is a triumph of the law over the gospel.

  • If this is what the “Traditionalists” intend to dictate that their Ecclesia must become, then I’m leaving it–mostly because I don’t believe that this is what “traditional” Christianity is at all; John Henry Newman must be rolling in his grave to see this total rejection of what he describes in his Development of Doctrine. In fact, this is as clear a rejection of the modern sensus fidelium (sp.?) in the West, at least, as the condemnation of Galileo was of the “openness” of Renaissance humanism to science and classical philosophy. I will actually be the last of my family to leave the Catholic Church; many senior to me left because of the cruelty toward divorced people, and I am leaving because of the Church’s demonizing of “queer” people, among whom I find a large preponderance of my friends–many of who maintain an irrational, and, I now think, self-destructive allegiance to a Church that demeans their humanity and their unique “gifts.” Let the Third World hoi polloi have this parody of ancient Christianity which will not stand for nature’s “Truth” or even for the social and economic justice that would assuage their sufferings.

    • I made my position most clear HERE , in my response to what I consider to be an overly-sanguine estimation of the worth of this Synod. Where the article’s author sees hope for greater “openness,” I see a total embrace, by bishops, of the Fundamentalist Catholicism of the only places in the world where the Church’s “New Evangelism” is actually succeeding: darker and less-informed Africa.

      • Tanco

        dismasdolben [October 19, 2014 3:58 pm]: I see a total embrace, by bishops, of the Fundamentalist Catholicism of the only places in the world where the Church’s “New Evangelism” is actually succeeding: darker and less-informed Africa.

        I understand dismas that you are not trying to be racist or western-centric. Still, referring to the more conservative moral theological stance of most African bishops as the result of a “darker and less-informed Africa” smacks of a certain paternalism.

        • “Darkest” in my comment refers to sinister and superstitious notions–not to the colour of the skins of inhabitants–although I WILL insist that certain laws persecuting people for their sexual behaviors are, indeed, as “dark” as anything else in human history–so YES, “darker and less-informed Africa” is, according to me, quite a propos.

        • trellis smith

          It is far more paternalistic and racist to think that the younger more fundamentalist churches protestant or catholic should be spared from criticism of the homophobia that infects them and their societies as a whole and a theology that informs or buttresses it.

        • Georgr

          It’s also rather naive to think you can import Western notions of sexuality-in-society that only gained ground in the West in the last 20 years and apply it to very different cultures.

          It’s less that Africans “persecute gays” and more that the whole construct of orientation is a neocolonial import for them. That whole conceptual framework and set of images and scripts and labels is literally foreign.

        • Tanco

          Georgr [October 20, 2014 12:57 pm]: It’s less that Africans “persecute gays” and more that the whole construct of orientation is a neocolonial import for them.

          I agree that the “western” language of orientation is foreign to many cultures. Homosexuality itself however is not foreign to any culture, since it is a predisposition (perhaps genetic predisposition) of the human species. What frustrates me about non-“western” cultures is a denial that homosexuality is a permanent feature of the human condition. Sometimes there’s a vain attempt to fob off the genesis of homosexuality onto other cultures — Robert Mugabe’s statement that homosexuaity is a “white man’s disease”, for example. African cultures (in general) do not have to accept the socioanthropology of homosexuality, but must accept eventually the biological indelibility of homosexuality.

      • Appleton

        So the “Benighted Continent” line of racist Cardinal Kasper emerges again…

        • trellis smith

          Your moral relativism is showing Georgr- I think proposing the death penalty for homosexuality rather qualifies for “persecution”. Is it naïve to think only a Christianity of premodern fundamentalism should be the reigning narrative in Africa. if so then the benighted continent would ring true.
          The greatest foreign neocolonial import is non other than Christianity itself. And its has been amply demonstrated that the flames of homophobia are being fanned by the Western fundamentalists in its wake. To say that homosexuality is not indigent to Africa but imported from say France is as laughable as saying that the French import wine from Scandinavia when in fact it was syphilis from Scandinavian sheep that was imported to France- everybody knows that.

        • Georg

          Not relativism. My values are absolute, they just aren’t modern enlightenment liberal individualism.

          Now, I’d agree that fundamentalism is as much a modern colonial phenomenon as liberalism.

          But. There are cultures (say, medieval Europe) where communitarian notions meant that society was not merely concerned with “protecting rights” and using coercive power only to defend maximum freedom for the individual “as long as no one is hurt”…but to sustaining certain social orders and patterns of life and roles and scripts for different people to maintain structures and symbolic systems…and I don’t think, in itself, there’s anything wrong with that.

          The anti-gay laws in Africa seem evil because I suspect their political/cultural/sociological foundations are invalid. BUT that does not mean a sodomy law in every possible culture is invalid as if to concede the premise of sexuality as a radically private sphere beyond society’s power to police the scripts and “economy” of.

  • Mark VA


    Please take a short break, and re-read what you wrote above at a later date. Then think about this: most traditional Catholics swallowed their pride and stayed with the Catholic Church during the decades when they felt marginalized and unwelcome. In due time, Summorum Pontificum put to rest any questions about their legitimacy as Catholics.

    For what it’s worth, I would advise that those who are upset about the outcome of this Synod, do likewise. The question about a legitimate place in the Church for Her gay and divorced children is a valid one. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it will be answered with both truth and mercy.

    For now, it seems that manipulation was attempted to make this Synod produce a predetermined answer, and it backfired. Nevertheless, our pope is a humble man, and I’m sure he will better guard the future Synod from even the appearances of machinations.

    In essence, this legitimate question will be satisfactorily answered, I am sure of it, but the answer will not be given on African, American, Asian, Australian, European, or any other culturally bound terms – it will be given on Catholic terms.

  • PoppeyEye

    The bishops are in a very difficult place. But it’s because the beautiful paradoxes of Christianity itself put them there.

    The mythology of Scripture is one of Law and Grace. The problem is, that while Spirit triumphed over Letter in the narrative arc of the Bible…that narrative arc does not fundamentally change our individual spiritual situation in history (other than as a template for our own development).

    The loosening of the Mosaic Law in favor of the New Testament is, itself, only a Type of something that should occur in every life in every age regarding understanding morality as a matter of spirit, not letter.

    Therefore, the Church leaders face being in a very delicate position. The bishops are the Guardians of the Law, yet they also lead that Church which symbolizes the triumph of Spirit over Letter.

    Except, as a very wise man I once knew said, “interiorities can only be conveyed as exteriorities.” To “dogmatize mercy” is simply to set up yet another New Law and start the dialectic process (unnecessarily) all over again.

    Let me be clear on that: you CANNOT make a Law out of Grace…or you’ve defeated the whole point, the whole purpose. You just set yourself up for the threat of a whole new legalism based around the new (lowered) standard.

    This is my fear about all those who call for actually changing the Law in such a way as to declare that, for example, contraception or remarriage after divorce or homosexual acts are not immoral.

    All that is being done there, I think, is an attempt (however well meaning) to re-arrange the deck-chairs on the Titanic. To lower a standard so that more people can “realistically” meet it in good conscience and with minimized psychological tension…when in reality, I think, the whole point of the Law is to break us. That’s how the Spirit is liberated.

    Christ was broken under the Letter. Indeed, I would be very sympathetic with Luther’s epiphany here about the Law serving mainly to condemn us and remind us how useless our own will-power is to transform ourselves. My only complaint about Luther is that he then tried to turn around make his realization of the Spirit…into just another new Law.

    But Grace is a realization you cannot codify or your ruin it.

    Christ said, in one of His more baffling lines, that He spoke in parables “that seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”

    Wait, doesn’t He want their sins forgiven?!? People might be inclined to ask. But I don’t think that’s the point. I think this is itself a sort of meta-parable about how certain realizations have to be made by people for themselves, and that it is the duty of Authority (if it wants them to develop spiritually)…to “play the Bad Guy” of Unbending Law in order that people learn to negotiate the rules for themselves.

    Parents used to know this about kids. It’s a common trope in TV and movies. The good father punishes his teenage son for sneaking out after dark to see a girl, or for experimenting with alcohol etc, but inside the father is secretly proud that his son is undergoing the teenage milestones of individuation (“rebellion”). The kid might make stupid mistakes, and a lot of the time following the rules really would have been the better choice objectively. But by learning to figure out via experimentation, the kid hopefully also starts to discern those cases where ignoring the rules, with fear and trembling, really is the better choice.

    But this whole tension, this whole dynamic, simply DOES NOT work if you give people “explicit permission” to engage in it. If you tell your kids “Hey, I want you to experiment and rebel, go out there and break the rules!” then, really, you have robbed them of the chance to do so. Because how the hell do you rebel against an imperative to rebel? If you make exceptions PART of the rule…they aren’t acceptance. If you mandate mercy, it’s no longer mercy, because you’ve created a right to it in justice.

    That’s not to say there can be no development in pastoral practice, and I actually can think of a lot of ways the Church could be more welcoming. Mainly just by getting rid of double standards regarding sinners. As a youth I could have my “sins of youth” and try to assert my will-power for years and experience “being broken beneath the law” while still feeling welcome and nurtured in a Church millieu because the sins were “private” and certainly didn’t lead to ostracization or politicization. The fact that some groups are singled out for PUBLIC shaming or conclusion-jumping or exclusion under notions of “scandal” and keeping-up-appearances is not helpful.

    But I don’t think the solution is “changing the Law” proposed to all individuals because that really doesn’t address anything. The fundamental problem of morality and spirituality IS LAW IN GENERAL. It’s not this or that specific law as if we could ever “get the Law right.” In some sense, any Law will do as one pole in a dialectic. But traditional Christian moral formulae are especially good at both containing a Spirit, containing certain values, while still keeping this in tension with Letter. So I don’t see any reason to simply set up a new law, so that people can feel like they’re meeting it better. The point isn’t to meet it! The point is that we can’t.

    The Pharisees and the Liberals both don’t seem to understand this. The Pharisees seem to think that the Law saves (it doesn’t, it only condemns) and that the way we get to heaven is by exerting our will power to obey it. The Liberals, ironically, don’t seem to disagree! They just think we have the wrong law, that we just need change the rules and get the right rules (and then everyone can obey them). But that’s just changing the goal posts without changing the fundamental problem.

    I say woe to both. Law is Law and Grace is Grace, and the bishops are in the strange position of needing to represent both. The best solution, I think, is the old “lion in the pulpit, lamb in the confessional” idea…but in a way that doesn’t single any particular sinners out or treat anyone differently based on double-standards and notions of public vs private, “living in sin” vs. regular old sinning, etc. Propose the Law, propose it unbendingly, but then don’t presume any role in “enforcing” it publicly, don’t cultivate the “culture wars,” don’t act as if there is some duty to crusade against other people’s sins. Just provide the framework for people to Wrestle with God themselves.

    • PoppyeyEye, and you others, to me, what you are engaging in here amount to little more than torturous semantics. Look, for instance, at THIS, in the long, obfuscating comment above: …When in reality, I think, the whole point of the Law is to break us. That’s how the Spirit is liberated.

      No, the whole point of the Catholic “Law” seems now, to me, to be to break SOME people, but never those whom Cardinal Pell calls “the good people in the pews.”

      If the “whole purpose” of the Church’s “Law” were to “break” us all, then the Church would never have abandoned her earliest teaching that lifelong virginity is infinitely preferable to the connubial state.

      It took me a lifetime to reach this point, with a whole lot of rationalizing away of what has seemed to me to be a matter of conscience telling me that the Catholic Church’s approach to “queer people” is cruel, benighted and ANTI-Christian, but now I’ve had enough of pretending that the Church would be “merciful” to those she has allowed and even encouraged to become persecuted and ostracized. I’m “over” it, and I don’t intend to darken the doorstep of another Catholic church in my lifetime.

      I’m only following–quite closely, as a matter of fact–Newman, in his Letter to a Catholic Nobleman wherein he states that to disobey one’s conscience in order to follow a Church teaching that one KNOWS to be evil is MORTAL SIN. It is my fully “justified true belief” (the acceptable definition of “knowledge” in the epistemology that I follow) that homosexual ACTS are NOT, in all cases, “evil” or devoid of true love, and so I WILL NOT subscribe to this Church teaching, and WILL publicly reject it, as I regularly do with students, when asked.

      • Georgr

        I don’t think the Church really did abandon that teaching about the infinite preferableness of celibacy. But inasmuch as the emphasis shifted, it’s unfortunate. Because the point of the Law really is to demonstrate our inadequacy without grace.

        Moral law can never take all cases into account. It’s like Gödel’s incompleteness theorem: no axiomatic system can be both consistent and complete.

        The Church knows Her system is not “complete” in that there will always be cases it cannot cover or provide a formulized “answer” for…so She chooses to have it be at least internally consistent.

        The Letter expresses the Spirit yet cannot contain it. This is true of all signifiers: a reference can be valid, but it’s never comprehensive. Therefore there is a tension. On the one hand the moral formulae are communicating true values, even optimally I’ll say. On the other hand, the exteriorally-formulated maxim can never really guarantee the correct internal spirit it’s meant to convey.

        Take killing. The value at stake is something like the respect for human life, and “Do not kill” is the symbolically perfect command to signify that value.

        And yet, we all know this isn’t slavish. The Western Church makes explicit exceptions for self-defense, just war, capital punishment, etc. But it’s shying away from the latter two and perhaps with good reason. In the East, killing is seen as sin, period, it’s just that sometimes it’s still the best available course because sometimes killing to defend innocent life, say, actually shows the spirit of respect for life better than the law. But, the gravity of such an act is still understood and someone coming back from even a just war undergoes penance, etc

        Certainly, I think, “do not kill” is the best rule to convey an absolute respect for human life. Sure there are exceptions where the spirit overrides the letter…but if you qualify the rule to contain the exceptions, it actually confuses the transmittal of the value itself.

        This is true for the command against stealing or against lying. These are the only sensible maxims for expressing respect for property and for truth and trust in communication. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t steal bread to save a starving family, or lie to save Jews from Nazis.

        But again, trying to enshrine all exceptions in the Law under some sort of attempt at “completeness” is futile, as the Spirit can never be comprehensively contained by the letter like that, and in the process of trying, you usually wind up watering down the underlying value, lose the elegance of simplicity, promote a new sort of legalism (whereby the approximation/model which letter always is…is confused with the reality), and usually wind up surrendering to inconsistency (while still not truly obtaining comprehensiveness).

        Sexual morality is no different. The spirit of the law isn’t terribly controversial, really, but there is a particular tension with the letter in this case. Still, I don’t see how changing the letter would help.

        The problem is with the busybody attitude, in which conservatives in the Church seem to think other people’s sin is their business to call out, to use as the basis for scapegoating and exclusion, and to “enforce” politically and ecclesially.

        If all the Church did was proclaim the commandments but then leave everything else up to the individual conscience grappling with them and not single out any individual to feel judged by anyone but God/their own conscience, if the only external pressure was AT MOST soft nudges in private from close friends and spiritual directors…I don’t think we’d have a problem.

        As it is, there’s a culture of double standards and public shaming around certain sins as conservatives seem to be under the impression that there is some duty to “proclaim the truth” obnoxiously even when it drives people away, and to crusade for lowering the external occurrence of certain types of acts even when that is accompanied by no particular internal conversion.

        When that’s what the legalists are like, it’s no wonder liberals react in the opposite direction.

        • Agellius


          You write, “The problem is with the busybody attitude, in which conservatives in the Church seem to think other people’s sin is their business to call out, to use as the basis for scapegoating and exclusion, and to “enforce” politically and ecclesially. If all the Church did was proclaim the commandments but then leave everything else up to the individual conscience grappling with them and not single out any individual to feel judged by anyone but God/their own conscience, if the only external pressure was AT MOST soft nudges in private from close friends and spiritual directors…I don’t think we’d have a problem.”

          I’m a conservative and I’ve never advocating anything more than this. I also don’t know any other conservatives who think “other people’s sin is their business to call out” on an individual basis. In my case, and in my experience it’s the same with other conservatives, the main complaint is that the Church’s teachings on sexual morals are rarely ever preached, which, to use your words, “confuses the transmittal of the value itself”.

        • Georg

          Incorrect, Agellius.

          You see conservatives supporting/perpetrating:

          -firings of people in “irregular situations” in schools and music ministry
          -the active denying of communion to people who haven’t even been officially excommunicated
          -attempts to forbid people from bringing other people as dates to events
          -morality codes at small Catholic colleges that have nothing to do with safety or academic integrity
          -political campaigning in favor of morality laws; I’m not even talking about life issues or the question of forcing people to actively facilitate things they disagree with
          -a generally censorious attitude that seems to want to protect people (“the children”?) from even knowing or seeing how people really live in all its messiness
          -desire to maintain stigma and non-preferred language for the sake of fighting “normalization” (just look at the synod: a refusal to even use the word “welcome,” “partner” or “precious support,” and don’t get me started on the “SSA” thing…)
          -refusing baptism to children or kicking them out of Catholic schools merely because of who is raising them
          -controversy over whether family members can even attend Christmas dinner with their “irregular” family/loved-ones
          -children disowned or put on the street (albeit I tend to think that’s a more southern evangelical fundie phenomenon)
          -boycotting parades just because of identity politics of who is marching in them under what self-identification; canceling Masses to avoid having to walk by other parades
          -closing diocesan lgbt groups and canceling or boycotting their Masses
          -refusal to listen to the lived experience of what “orientation” even means as a psycho-emotional reality, instead choosing to address it only with sophomoric syllogistic “logic” as a strawman theoretical Scholastic construct (and thus say things like “the people can have gifts, but the orientation is nothing other than a temptation to a particular sin by definition…which probably has the major premise, the definition, wrong)
          -setting up huge barriers mentally (palpable in conversations with them) to maintain the taboo against gays even though they’ve already tacitly conceded the World’s notions of pre-marital romance and couplehood (albeit theoretically sexless).
          -all sorts of fear-mongering about which bathroom trans people should use

          In general, Agellius, there is a HUGE attitude among conservatives of other people’s private business (most are not having sex in public, nor even discussing it) being somehow their own to stick their noses in and try to punish or shame or make-difficult, of treating people differently based merely on whom they share a home with (at least, if they use a label other than “room-mate”) and of, additionally, a further double-standard between straight sins and gay sins.

          I don’t know what hole you’ve been living in. But firing gay teachers from Catholic schools or disbanding Boy Scout troops because the BSA allows non-closeted gay boys in…is NOT “just proposing the commandment generally and impersonally and then letting individuals wrestle with it in their own conscience.” It’s a very real attempt to “enforce” that morality publicly and socially and impose it on individuals by making life difficult for them if they merely display a queer identity or relationship (even if we know nothing of their sex life).

          And all this while being perfectly ecumenical with Protestants, etc. And yet it’s not just intra-church discipline (which would still be bad, but more understandable), but even with people who aren’t Catholic from whom we thus, especially, should have no expectations of following Catholic morality.

      • trellis smith

        @Dimasdolben. I believe what you’ve stumbled upon is the recognition that the Church welcomes sinners but not so much conscientious objectors.
        The animus of the Church’s teachings is so strong that unless they stay to suffer for the sake of Church then for the sake of their personhood and souls I think homosexuals should leave the Church, I don’t think however their allies should. Its the same fable of the chicken and the pig concerning breakfast- wherein the chicken is only involved while the pig is fully committed.

        In any event, I think you are not reading the trajectory of the synod correctly wherein nothing was squashed- when was the last time such an open debate occurred in the Vatican synod? . And these reports are to go back to the local churches for discussion? how very Anglican.
        The outcome of this synod was a rearguard action. They know the ground is shifting beneath them and many now know an exalted post as say a patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta awaits them.

        • Mark VA

          Trellis, you wrote:

          “They know the ground is shifting beneath them and many now know an exalted post as say a patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta awaits them.”

          We should rather ask if this a vision of charity – banishment of the “dissenters”? I still wonder if the Vatican realizes how this plays out in the eyes of many faithful.

          At any rate, it is the demographic center of our Church that is shifting, and rather rapidly (this shift is away from certain regions of Europe to other continents). Thus, I wouldn’t bet too much on the wishes of those in the decline.

  • Agellius


    We apparently had different things in mind. My point was that conservatives (the ones I know anyway) are not busybodies who feel obliged to inquire into people’s personal lives. I was assuming situations in which both parties are laypersons. I don’t, nor do I know any layman who goes around quizzing people as to their worthiness to receive communion. You named the exceptions of close friends and spiritual directors, and those are the same exceptions I would make. Apart from situations where it’s my business to monitor someone’s spiritual state, which is pretty much only my kids and maybe my wife, I don’t stick my nose into people’s spiritual affairs, nor do know anyone who does.

    I don’t fire people in irregular situations in schools or music ministry; or deny people communion; or forbid people from bringing dates to events; or impose morality codes at small Catholic colleges, etc., nor do I know anyone who does any such thing.

    But I think now I’m getting your point: You think that the Church’s only job is to let people know what the Church teaches about morality, and then let them do whatever they want; and that anyone should be allowed to associate publicly and officially with the Church, regardless of whether they live in accord with the Church’s moral teachings or not.

    I wonder if you would feel the same way about people who don’t accept the Church’s doctrinal teachings? Do you think it would be a good idea to have a publicly avowed atheist be a catechist in a Catholic school? Or, if someone stands outside a parish church during mass holding up a sign saying “the Eucharist is idolatry”, while wearing an “I Love Satan” t-shirt, should that person be allowed to be a Eucharist minister? I concede that most conservatives would not want the Church to allow such things. Maybe you disagree.

    I’m not sure I see a clear difference between people who publicly reject the Church’s moral teachings, and those who publicly reject the Church’s doctrinal teachings. In neither case do I think that people who reject the Church’s teachings should be in positions where they publicly represent the Church. I also don’t think that this makes me a busybody.

    When people keep their doctrinal disagreements private, as well as their moral disagreements, so that you can’t find out about them without prying, that’s a different story.

    • Georg

      The thing is, being divorced and remarried or in a gay relationship isn’t public dissent in itself. Why the assumption that “public sinners” are dissenting merely because their sin is public?

      First, we don’t know for sure what’s going on. A relationship is not some sort of public declaration of sexual activity. We give a straight unmarried “boyfriend and girlfriend” benefit of the doubt.

      Second, even if we assume sex is happening, it’s quite possible someone accepts Church teaching but just is willing to accept this much sin at this point in their lives. I know my share of straight Catholic boyfriend/girlfriend pairs who have privately admitted, yeah, they’re having premarital sex. For some it’s a guilty “slip-up, repent, try to abstain” cycle, for others it’s a more casual “well, this is where I am right now, we’ll be married in a couple years and it’ll be a non-issue then, so I trust God in my weakness” sort of thing. It shouldn’t shock you just how many Catholics live in this sort of “negotiated” tension, and I think it’s probably a healthier and more honest approach than the “following the rules will save me” self-righteous will-power approach.

      Third, even if they do dissent there is still the double-standard of putting them on the spot and requiring them to explain or declare where they stand which isn’t required of, say, all the contraceptors and fornicators and masturbators in the church who don’t even give a second thought to thinking there’s nothing wrong with it. Just like morality itself, there is often a gradualism to appropriating even just the theoretical moral beliefs.

      Some conservatives have the attitude “I’m fine with sinners, but they have to admit they’re sinning!!” As if Charity is allowed to waver and grow in fits and starts but Faith has to be all or nothing. But the truth is that lots of people are struggling and on a journey not just about how to be moral, but also about what morality even is or means. It’s very common (and it makes some sense) that many people’s discernment doesn’t take the form “I know what the good life is…now, how to get there?” but rather the form “What really is the good life?”

      I’m not saying either is more or less valid. The conservative form of “assent to a pre-fabricated vision and then confirm it by following its guidelines” has its strengths and spiritual dangers, and so does the more liberal form of “test and experiment and discern as you grope towards a full picture of goodness.” One is being told “there’s a flower in this woods, trust me, now find it (try using your sense of smell)” the other is thinking “I smell something nice, I’m going to sniff around more” and realizing in the end it’s a flower.

      So I don’t think people encountering the Church face just the challenge of appropriating the teachings in practice, but also of appropriating them in thought too. It’s not just a framework of wrestling with behavior, but even of wrestling with faith, with the message itself.

      Do we want loud explicit heretical dissent and challenging of authority and ideological anarchy? No. And there is excommunication for that.

      But most people I know, most Catholics who are having premarital sex, in a gay relationship, contracepting, divorced and remarried…are not dissenters in the sense of agitators. Many aren’t too worried about what they’re doing in good conscience, but they’re not there to try to convince or dissuade anyone else either. If you put them on the spot and made them explicitly take a stand on birth control they might say “well, I don’t really think it’s wrong,” but their use is not a political act as if it’s some sort of protest or defiant act of rejecting Church authority. The contracepting couple does not intend it as the revolutionary act some fundamentalist Catholics make it out to be.

      Most people simply don’t want their personal lives politicized like that, as if whom they love or sleep with is some sort of delineating marker of “which side are you on” or of a purity in identity politics, as if certain things are a form of ecclesial treason. Most people are just groping along trying to figure out what fulfills them and don’t really like to make strong claims because they themselves are humble enough to know that they don’t know anything for sure and are just trying to figure it out like everyone else.

      Stop browbeating them. It’s a wonder that with all the scrutiny and double-standards any are interested in the Church in any respect at all. And yet many are. They thirst for grace, for prayer and sacraments, for tradition and ritual and community and, yes, spiritual guidance and teaching and philosophy. And then you go and make sex the litmus test for participation (or, at least, any sort of visible public role or integration) even though all sorts of people wear their pride in their sleeves, or their anger in their voice, or their gluttony on their waistline, or their greed in their wallet, or their uncharity right above their heart.

      It’s unconscionable, Agellius.

      I’ll grant your point only when I see teachers fired for nasty gossip, Catholic bankers denied communion for their usury, priests chastised for being fat and lazy, people made pariahs for alcoholism, and parents disowning children for not doing enough to help the poor.

      • Agellius


        I feel like you’re arguing against things that other people have said rather than anything I said.

    • Agellius, if you don’t believe that what Georg is referring to isn’t actually going on, then you must be living in an “alternative universe”–a milieu which is actually dominated by “liberals” who abuse “conservatives.” However, my experience, all over the United States, now, is that even when that has occurred, the “conservatives” have been able to call upon reactionary John Paul II-appointed bishops, to “discipline” the “liberal” parishioners and their priests, and to overrule people in their parishes who might be “accepting” of the divorced and “queer” people. I suspect that you must live in the “People’s Republic of Massachusetts” or in San Francisco, or some place like that, and I think you should be grateful that you do, because, in my experience, it has been quite possible, in places like New Mexico, for a small group of “traditionalists” to strike terror into “liberal” parishes, like the one at the Newman Society of the University of New Mexico, and even into the heart of a pedophile-enabling Archbishop who’s afraid of too much “talk,” in order to uproot “liberal” priests and overrule parish councils.

      • Agellius


        Yes, I do live in an area that is dominated by liberals who abuse and suppress conservatism.

  • trellis smith

    @ Mark. Are you saying now that the church is a democracy? (tongue in cheek). Actually a demographic shift will alter very little unless it is accompanied by an intellectual weight. An Augustine of Hippo would do the trick ( a rather serendipitous mention don’t you think?)

    I actually bear no animosity towards Cardinal Burke and believe he loves the Church,( boy does he ever) but I have always thought the job he held was above his pay grade.
    Ultimately what I have read from you here and agree with that while it will play out along a political divide the tradition will greatly inform its outcome. But with this pope “the game of playing church” is over. These bishops are not being removed for their conservative theological positions but for the hardness of their hearts. The law will remain intact and probably restored to its original roman purpose as idealized law that one can strive for rather than what the last two barbarian popes unfortunately took and made into the ground rules.( you’ll understand my reference of course.)
    If Jesus says he has come to give us life abundant and St. Pope John has said that we are not on earth to guard a museum but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life and to do that St. Augustine reminds us not to cut out the weeds how then are we to accomplish this?
    How is this pope in the very little time he has left even begin to accomplish this? Only by preaching the good news.

    Much has been said and well said here about the tension between grace and law. But I believe with Paul that there really is no contest. The foolish and immoral deeds of humankind may well condemn us but just as certainly we are not saved by the Law but only by the grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ. Is this not the good news?

    @ Gregor, Your position, replete with straw man argumentation and false dichotomy but most notably a reference to a cultural diversity that excuses murder and abasement for the sake of community values remains morally relativistic at the most basic level. The last thing Africa needs is any Sharia law of any religious stripe or a Cairo bill of rights. I suggest you stand up for your own western civilization and evaluate it on other terms than cultural when moral absolutes are in play.

    • Georgr

      i don’t know what absolute you think I hold that would be contradicted my position. I do believe in absolutes, I just don’t believe being against capital punishment or saying the bedroom is inherently apolitical…are absolute values.

      Inasmuch as they are unjust in a given cultural context, it’s because of an inconsistency of treating like and like.

      One can say, for example, that it’s unfair to let some people vote and not others arbitrarily…while also believing that, absolutely speaking, the point is moot since no one should vote at all.

      • trellis smith

        I don’t believe you hold any moral absolute that is not negated by its cultural context. The moral equivalence you attribute to diverse cultures will but legitimize heterosexism, misogyny and murder.

        • Georg

          Once again, it may be that I simply have no absolute objection to the things you are calling “heterosexism, misogyny, and murder”

          If I do oppose them in some contexts it is not in se but on account of being something I do absolutely oppose (inconsistency or arbitrariness in the application of Justice).

          It’s not that I have no absolute values, it’s just that “equality” isn’t one of them, and neither is some idea that the body or physical life is the sacrosanct locus of “individual rights.”

          I’d be fine with our society setting up a Medeival framework again, as long as it wasn’t just modern fascism masquerading as medievalism (a big if).

    • Mark VA


      Smoke and mirrors, mirrors and smoke,
      That’s what me thinks, my dear bloke.

      OK, if I read you right, the law is to go back to its idealized state (I see a vision of a “Museum of Dogma”) – but – St. Pope John said we are not here to guard a museum.

      Thus I believe we’re both thinking in parallel terms: the progressives would like to see the traditionalists as exhibits in a “Museum of things that did not work out”, and vice versa.

      Unfortunately, we’re both crew on the same ocean going ship, and these vessels are not suitable places for museums (due to lack of space).

      • trellis smith

        The Italians have a saying that if your mother-in-law is pope you have the right to ignore me that is the real traditional way of handling things,
        In absence of an Elizabethan settlement a policy of benign neglect may be the best way to endure the things you don’t like.

        But tit for tat, I really don’t think the conservative bishops have much to gripe about if they are getting sidelined given that their faction has done significant amount of damage in censoring innovative thinking during the long course of the last two papacies.

        • trellis smith

          Well apparently you”ll have plenty of company of jihadists and ayatollahs on your trip back to the 7th century.

        • Georg

          I think those are rather modern phenomena. The medieval order had an organic inner consistency that attempts at imposing capital punishment on an otherwise modern world simply don’t have.

          A king in charge in medieval Europe was just a king. An actual monarch today would be a dictator because there is a difference in the whole apparatus socially that would make the situation different.

          You misrepresent me to score points and show your own anger and aggression in the process.

        • Mark VA


          I truly don’t follow your remarks about some trip back to the 7th century. I thought we was mates on the same ship (starboard and port sides), but here you are, making me do the wobbly trotters on the plank…

          Perhaps you could elucidate, and while you’re at it, do make it rhyme please. Rhymes expand me blinkered mind…

  • Larissa

    Great article, reminds me of some of the things said in this thread:

    • trellis smith

      Mark, my response was not meant to you but to Georg who alas does not put one in the rhyming mood rather whose unhistorical views border on the repugnant eliciting anger and aggression apparently. I find your views while not always persuasive, enlightening and your methods effective in the art of smack down.

      • Mark VA


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