In yesterday's Times, Austen Ivereigh, one of the prime movers behind Catholic Voices, had a piece, under the headline Pastoral approach triumphs over doctrine at synod. I couldn't help feeling that Dr Ivereigh would have done better to stick to Catholic Voices' guiding principle, which is 'to advance the Catholic religion for the benefit of the public, in particular but not exclusively, by explaining the doctrine and practices of the Catholic faith (in accordance with the Magisterium, Catechism and Canon Law of the Catholic Church) and the relevance of its teaching to modern society and culture and daily life. '
Instead, he gave us a think-piece, in which he seemed to be trying to persuade us, or possibly himself, what a great synod it was.
I am not wholly convinced, either by the overall drift of the article, nor by some of the specific statements. For example, he says 'Francis' reformed synod took for granted church doctrine on marriage.' Indeed, he effectively repeats this: 'thoughout the synod, it was taken for granted that marriage is between a man and a woman, indissoluble, faithful and open to life.' If only he'd said it three times, it might have been true...
As it was, I was left wondering whom he was trying to convince, and if it might, in fact, be himself. For myself, I am not wholly convinced.
He creates a dichotomy between doctrine and practice when it suits his argument to do so, yet conflates them when he wants to rubbish the work of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI: 'Synods under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were tame affairs, which kept a lid on authentic ecclesial discernment. Bishops spoke out, but to little effect, for the process was designed to reaffirm existing teaching and practice.' (My emphasis). That is not only snide, it is also unjust and untrue. Both of Francis' immediate predecessors were certainly committed to reaffirm existing teaching - that is indeed the office of the Pope - but both were keen to develop new (and indeed rediscover old) practices.
Reading that, and what follows, one can only conclude that Ivereigh thinks that the 'progressive' voices of ++Kasper, ++Marx et al are what he sees as demonstrating 'authentic ecclesial discernment.' Again, I am not wholly convinced.
There is much with which to disagree in this short and poorly constructed piece. But perhaps the worst, and most revealing, sentences are these: 'However, the synod succeeded in spotlighting the plight of those who had come back to parish life, often after a conversion, who had remarried and now had children, but who were unable to apply for an annulment, and who were barred from the sacraments. Clearly these are not "adulterers," but could they be readmitted to Communion?'
Ivereigh holds a doctorate, and is, I suppose, a professional communicator. I imagine he composed this piece thoughtfully. Yet I cannot read those sentences in a way that is compatible with 'the doctrine and practices of the Catholic faith (in accordance with the Magisterium, Catechism and Canon Law of the Catholic Church).'
Firstly, such people are not 'barred from the sacraments.' The Sacrament of Reconciliation is open to them, and is indeed, in many such instances, the Sacrament to which they should have recourse. And contrary to Ivereigh, I hold that such is the most pastoral, and indeed the most merciful, thing to tell them, for it is the teaching of Christ and His Church.
Secondly, nobody is 'barred from' Communion, unless in a state of mortal sin, and unwilling to repent and amend his or her life.
Thirdly, "adulterer" is Our Lord's word for people in such a situation; and that despite the fact that Moses had allowed this.
So again, I am not wholly convinced...
Where Ivereigh hits the nail on the head, though, is in recognising that the final document was 'phrased with sufficient ambiguity to allow bishops afterwards to claim both that it reaffirmed existing practice and opened the door to Communion.' But even here we differ. For Ivereigh seems to think that a good thing, while I... I am not wholly convinced.
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