How did heterodox prelates try to change doctrine at synod?
November 24, 2015 (VoiceoftheFamily) — In this address delivered at the Catholic Voice conference Faith of Our Fathers, Matthew McCusker of Voice of the Family discusses three key elements of the “progressive” strategy deployed at the Ordinary Synod: arguing for changes in the Church’s language, the obscuring of moral absolutes by emphasising “positive aspects” of sinful situations and calls for “decentralisation” of doctrinal authority to episcopal conferences. He also outlines some of the chief concerns arising from the final report of the synod. The address was given in Limerick, Ireland on 21 November 2015.
Introduction to Synod
I’m here today representing Voice of the Family, a coalition of 26 pro-life and pro-family organisations, managed by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. Voice of the Family was established by SPUC in August 2014 because of our growing concerns ahead of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family that met in Rome in October last year. The lead-up to the synod had been dominated by the proposal, made most prominently by Walter Cardinal Kasper, that divorced and civilly remarried Catholics should be admitted to Holy Communion without amendment of life.
A Voice of the Family team was present in Rome throughout both the Extraordinary Synod in October 2014 and the Ordinary Synod in October 2015. During that time we sought to assist synod fathers in their defence of Catholic teaching on the family and to assist the wider public to understand what was taking place by offering accurate reporting and in-depth analysis.
The two synods were called to address the challenges facing the family in the modern world and the mission of the family in modern world.
Unfortunately both synods were in fact dominated by attempts to undermine or alter the teaching and discipline of the Church on a wide range of issues relating to marriage, the family and human sexuality. Both assemblies witnessed division between synod fathers who wished to uphold Catholic teaching and those who wished to undermine or alter it.
Despite the efforts of some synod fathers to raise the real challenges facing the family, very little attention was paid to these threats in the official documents of either synod.
Issues which were either entirely neglected or paid insufficient attention include: abortion, IVF, embryo experimentation, euthanasia, assisted suicide, anti-life anti-family sex education, attacks on parental rights and the increasing threat to the civil freedom of citizens of many western nations who wish to live lives faithful to the Catholic faith and the natural law.
As indicated earlier, much discussion in the media and among concerned Catholics has centred around the question of the reception of Holy Communion by the “divorced and civilly remarried”. However, this was not the only issue which the so-called “progressive” synod fathers were determined to pursue.
The discussions at the Ordinary Synod this October were conducted according to the content of the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document for the Synod. Voice of the Family produced a detailed analysis of this document and concluded that it posed a serious threat to the integrity of Catholic doctrine.
We argued in our analysis of the document, which can be found on our website, that the key to understanding the Instrumentum Laboris, and by extension to the wider debates at the Synod, could be found in the following statement, that the principle “describing the synodal experience and indicating the task at hand” is “to read both the signs of God and human history, in a twofold yet unique faithfulness which this reading involves”.
This statement proclaims that the task of the synod is to be faithful to two different sources of authority, on the one hand “the signs of God” and on the other hand the signs of “human history”. It therefore sets up human history, the changes of human society over time, as an object of fidelity which must be obeyed alongside the fidelity due to God.
It is in accordance with this principle that we would argue that the Instrumentum Laboris, and many of the synod fathers, strove to bring the Church into conformity with the modern world.
If man must be faithful both to the “signs of God and “human history” it follows that whenever there is a clash between their mutual demands a compromise must be found. When this approach is adopted, the natural moral law is no longer regarded as immutable but rather as subject to change over the course of time.
The consequence of this is that the Instrumentum Laboris, which was the basis of the Ordinary Synod’s work, threatened the entire structure of Catholic teaching on marriage, the family and human sexuality.
It did this:
by undermining the doctrine of Humanae Vitae by proposing a false understanding of the relationship between conscience and the moral law (paragraph 137)
by discussing artificial methods of reproduction without giving any judgment on the morality of such methods or making any reference to the enormous loss of human life that they entail (paragraph 34)
by preparing the way for the admission of the “divorced and remarried” to Holy Communion without amendment of life (paragraphs 120-125)
by reducing the indissolubility of marriage to the level of an “ideal” (paragraph 42)
by suggesting that cohabitation has “positive aspects” and can, to some extent, be considered a legitimate form of union (paragraphs 57, 61, 63, 99, 102)
by preparing the ground for the acceptance of same-sex unions by acknowledging the need to define “the specific character of such unions in society” (paragraph 8)
by adopting modern secular notions of “gender equality” and acquiescing in the need for “a rethinking of the duties of the spouses” thus contributing to the dissolution of traditional family structures (paragraph 30)
and, finally, by denying the full rights of parents as the primary educators of their children (paragraph 86).
This document was, as I have said, the basis for discussion at the Ordinary Synod. And it was precisely this approach that was evident as a significant number of cardinals and bishops worked strenuously towards the goal of bringing Catholic teaching into conformity with the principles prevalent in the modern secular west. There was however strong resistance offered by other synod fathers, especially those from Africa and Eastern Europe, who were determined to defend the unchanging teachings of the Church.
The heterodox party were therefore forced to adopt a variety of strategies directed towards changing church teaching while giving the impression that doctrine would remain untouched. I would like to discuss three of the most important and dangerous of these strategies beginning with the emphasis on the need to alter the language that the Church uses to express her teachings.