The Synod of Bishops on the Family wraps up this week. For anyone who was following even a small amount of the coverage, it would have been hard to miss the drama. At times, it has had enough intrigue to appear more appropriate for the silver screen than the Synod hall.
Like any good blockbuster, there was an appropriate teaser before it began.
On the eve of the Synod, Mons Krzysztof Charamsa, a theologian who had worked at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and lectured at a number of Roman universities, announced to the media that he was in a homosexual relationship. He issued a 10-point manifesto demanding a rewrite of Church teaching on issues of sexual morality, introduced the press to his partner,
Eduardo, and spoke to any media outlet who would run their story.
It could not have been scripted better!
Also part of the pre-game were publications containing passionate arguments for and against the changing of Church teaching (or “pastoral practice”) on issues such as the reception of the Eucharist for divorced and remarried Catholics, and the pastoral care of those in active homosexual relationships.
At the time of writing, the Synod still has a few days to run but from what we have heard so far, there have been stories of secret plots, thinly-veiled attempts to dramatically change Church doctrine, arguments, factions, committee-stacking, leaks and more.
These stories are being fuelled by usually moderate commentators who seem to be joining the chorus of panic.
Many Catholic commentators have speculated on Pope Francis’ goals in calling this Synod and appointing various parties to key roles within it, what the final outcomes might be, and other similar topics.
I have my own thoughts on these, but I consider speculation to be unhelpful at the best of times, and particularly so when it seems to be causing so much disunity, so I will not be sharing them any time soon.
But I would like to provide some brief thoughts on the scandal of the public disagreements among the Synod Fathers themselves, whether they be in the form of published theses, interviews with media, tweets, blogs, leaked comments or otherwise.
If your parents are anything like mine, you would have had those moments where mum or dad interrupted your argument with a sibling and told you to keep quiet because “the neighbours will hear you”!
And if you are anything like me, you would have defiantly responded that you did not care if the neighbours heard you, because some things are worth shouting about.
Some days during this Synod process, I have played the role of the parent – not wanting anyone “outside” the family to know that our family fights. Ever. It is hardly becoming of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church to appear so divided. And fighting has the potential to scandalise those who are paying attention, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
But on other days, I am more like the defiant child, not caring at all whether the neighbours can hear us arguing because I am convinced the argument is important. I’d even go further and say I want people to know the Synod process is and has been messy, because family is messy.
If the Synod on the Family had been a smooth process with no sign of quarrelling or disagreement, then I think I would be left wondering whether those gathered really understood family life at all, because no family is perfect.
Seeing the Synod Fathers struggle with how best to respond to divorced and remarried Catholics, homosexual persons and others makes me feel a little better about my own imperfect attempts at charitably but truthfully reaching out to those in my own life who are not living the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.
I know there is something wonderful about having firm and unanimous resolve without any public debate when it comes to the Church’s unchanging and unchangeable teaching on marriage and the Eucharist because it sends a clear message about the importance of these doctrines, and reminds us that they cannot be ignored by those of us seeking to make them subservient to our consciences.
But on the other hand, might there also be something beneficial about public disagreement?
Might it serve as a very public reminder that the Church is a family with all of the struggles that family life involves?
Might we be able to say with greater confidence that the Church understands families because it is one?
And might we also be able to say that if the neighbours do hear us yelling, at least they will know that we care deeply enough about the issues involved to be arguing?
Family life is hard. It is worth fighting for. And about.