Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Further Reflections: This Cruel Mercy

It is still too soon for any definitive comment on the recent Synod: I have yet to read the final text; and even that is relatively trivial until we see what the Holy Father says and does.

However, I have been thinking a lot, as I am sure many readers have, about the noises emerging, and I find that there are are various troublesome questions arising.

My first and in some ways greatest concern does concern the text, and that is the selective quotation from Familiaris Consortio which many have already commented on. I am worried about the apparent dishonesty of this, and about setting a precedent for the selective reading of, and thus practical reinterpretation of, previous teaching documents.

I also have many questions about the much-vaunted but ill-defined Pathway. The first is: is this pathway open to paedophile priests? Are they to be journeyed with, so that they can discern for themselves whether they can resume their priestly ministry? I suspect not. And if not, why not? Could it be because the Bishops really do believe that what they have done is sinful? Come to that, do all our bishops still believe in mortal sin? That is, sin so fundamental that it fractures our relationship with  the Blessed Trinity, so that, as the Church, led by St Paul, teaches us: it is perilous to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion until that damage is mended by God's grace in sacramental confession. Or is it the fear of scandal alone that makes the paedophile the modern untouchable, the leper of our days? For if the mercy of the Synod does not reach these despised men, what kind of mercy is it? And if the mercy is to take another form in their case (as I would suggest it should) why is that form not also suitable for other public sinners who are not able to amend their life?

And this discerning pathway: what is it trying to help people to discern? For most of us, damaged as we are by sin - Original and Actual - the tendency will be to excuse ourselves. Others, of course, are more temperamentally inclined to take too much guilt upon themselves. How is walking alongside people preferable to teaching them the Truth? For it is the Truth that will set them free. And Truth Himself entrusted that mission to the Church.

And then there were the very odd comments from our own ++Nichols, who reveals he has already been down this Pathway, and some have decided for themselves that they should not receive. That is troubling for many reasons. One is that it implies that some have decided for themselves that they may receive. Even if one were to cede that the Synod allows that (which I do not, as it happens)  ++Nichols was clearly jumping the gun and breaking with the law, tradition and discipline of the Church if he was allowing that practice.

But also consider what a cruel mercy that is. Imagine the effects on those few wise ones who pursue that path and conclude they should not receive whilst in an objectively irregular situation,  and who then see others blithely reaching a more 'merciful' conclusion about their own (quite possibly worse) case. 

That approach seems to me most Un-Christ-like. Nowhere do we see Him throwing people on their own resources: indeed the hallmark of His teaching is that He taught with authority,  unlike the legalistic Scribes of His day, who could find all sorts of excuses to bend the law to suit the outcome they wanted.  No, this is a modern liberal paradigm: that we are all fully functioning adults now. This has more to do with Jung and Carl Rogers than Christ and St Paul. I do not discern the wisdom and authority of Christ and His Church in such an approach. It seems, above all, to ignore the fact of Original Sin, which means (inter alia) that we are really not the best judges in our own case.

The other problem is the age-old one that hard cases make bad law. Because the real cruelty in endorsing adultery, or even seeming to do so, is the impact on the abandoned spouses, on the damaged children, and on all those who marry in the future, whose prospects of a stable marriage are thereby damaged.

Because we know that marriage, and indeed chastity in any vocation, is difficult. Separation and divorce should be unthinkable. A society that normalises them, increases them dramatically - at huge human (and societal) cost. The Church used not be such a society, but is rapidly becoming one, and these proposals accelerate that. The integrity of marriage needs all the cultural/structural support we can offer it: why did the Synod not focus on that?

These bishops think they can teach the Church about Mercy? A cruel mercy indeed!