Friday, November 7, 2014


There is a minority of cardinals who are terribly upset by Pope Francis.  Some (for example, Cardinal Burke) have been relatively public in their criticism (though he is trying to back off from some of its implications); others are more, shall we say, covert.  Their great fear is that without the veneer of unformity, "common people" will become "confused."

I take this fear, on one level, deadly seriously.  It is true that there was much confusion after Vatican II, chiefly (in my view) because bishops and pastors chose to introduce the reforms that most touched people's regular lives (= liturgy) with resentment and virtually no preparation.  So the changes themselves were less an issue than their implementation.  Can the same kind of fear be justified today as a result of the Synod on the family?

First of all, we need to be clear:  an authentic "synod" requires free exchange of views.  Otherwise, it is a thinly-veiled rubber stamp for pre-existing conclusions (this latter is exactly what many cardinals in "power" in the pre-Vatican II days were hoping for that council).  When complaints were made to Pope John that bishops arguing and disagreeing was "improper," his reply was interesting:  "Speak up!  I didn't call you hear to sing together like monks in a choir."  Can you not hear the spirit of Pope Francis also in this comment?

He also insisted that he wanted the bishops to "speak their mind"--the last thing he wanted, he said, was for bishops to go home later and tell others, "I wanted to say 'X' or 'Y,' but I was afraid to because I didn't think it would be acceptable."  If bishops (successors of the Apostles in their own right, NOT simple "emmisaries" of the Vatican) cannot speak forthrightly in such an assemply, who can?

There are no conclusions that have come (nor could come) from the Synod until at least 2016.  Pope Francis is not obligated to accept every comment made by every bishop, but he has committed himself to listening to every honest expression of their reasoned points of view.   I have posted on Facebook what I take to be a pertinent analogy between those times and ours.  Please see them, and agree or disagree as you like.  But after all, do we believe (or not) that finally the Holy Spirit is really in charge?  Pope John surely thought so; it's why he was virtually 100% non-interventionist at the Council.  Pope Francis likewise wanted bishops freedom to speak from their hearts.  His message was really simple:  speak freely, and listen sympathetically.

We can do this, too.