More Confusion From Rome Ahead of the Synod on Synodality – The American Spectator
On Wednesday, more than 300 delegates from around the world will meet at the Vatican for what has become known as the Synod on Synodality — a meeting intended to continue the “three-year process of listening and dialogue” that began in 2021. Traditionalists in the Catholic Church have expressed concern about the direction in which the synod appears to be going.
A statement from Pope Francis in response to questions posed by five cardinals ahead of the synod made headlines on Monday when it appeared that Francis is, at the very least, open to considering allowing priests and bishops to bless homosexual couples. (READ MORE: Is the Pope Catholic?)
The requests for clarification, known as dubia, were first presented to the pontiff this summer in the form of five questions concerning the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, the role of the synod, the development of doctrine, female ordinations, and the sacrament of penance. Typically, dubia are “formal questions brought before the pope and the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith,” Catholic News Agency explains. They’re supposed to receive a “yes” or “no” answer — after all, they’re intended to be clarifying, not confusing — rather than “theological argumentation.”
The German Synodal Way Produced Chaos
The dubia didn’t come out of the blue — the question on homosexuality, for instance, came after a rogue, openly gay German priest acted contrary to the local cardinal’s wishes and held a huge event in March on the steps of the Cologne Cathedral in which gay and heterosexual couples received individual blessings from Catholic priests.
The priest responsible, Rev. Wolfgang Rothe, used the event to call on the synod to leave behind the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching on homosexuality — that it is a sin. He told attendees:
I call on you, tell the pope, tell the synod of bishops, tell the world church: The current sexual morality of the Catholic Church is outdated…. It is unbiblical and immoral … a slap in the face of the loving God. This sexual morality belongs on the trash heap of church history.
Rothe isn’t a lone voice in Germany. The German Catholic Church is in shambles and hemorrhaging Catholics. Women are giving “homilies” (according to Church teaching, a homily can only be given by a priest); Catholic schools and churches fly rainbow flags; and German priests and monks have come out as openly gay. Just last year, more than half a million Germans left the Church, according to the Washington Post. Their number one reason? Unsurprisingly, sexual abuse.
Of course, it’s not as though Pope Francis wholeheartedly approves of what is going on in Germany; he’s compared the revolutionary tendencies of the German Church to the Protestant Reformation. Last year, he told journalists, “Germany has a great Protestant Church, but I don’t want another one, because it won’t be as good.” (READ MORE: Two Popes on Church Doctrine: Rupture and Retrospect)
But Francis then potentially confused the issue in a handwritten letter he sent to the American Jesuit priest James Martin, an openly gay activist for LGBTQ+ Catholics. The pope said that homosexuality isn’t a “crime” but that “every sexual act outside marriage is a sin.” “[W]e know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter,” the pope added, “but also evaluates freedom and intention.”
Many traditional Catholics took issue with this phrasing, believing that it downplayed the special emphasis the Catechism of the Catholic Church places on the inherent sinfulness of the homosexual act, calling it “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law” and stating that “under no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved.”
Dubia and Francis’ Confusing Response
Due to the confusion, German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, and Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen presented Francis with a draft of their questions in July. They immediately received a response in the form of a letter, but the cardinals protested it wasn’t clear enough.
On Aug. 21, they formally submitted the dubia, reformulating the questions in order to elicit the desired “yes” or “no” answers. When they didn’t receive a response after more than 40 days, Burke published the questions on his website. The Vatican promptly responded on Monday by publishing the answers made to the initial dubia formulation.
In his response, Francis clarified that there was no change in Church teaching — homosexual unions are still not recognized by the Catholic Church. The pope wrote:
The Church has a very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children….
It is not just a matter of names, but the reality we call marriage has a unique essential institution that requires an exclusive name, not applicable to other realities….
[T]he Church avoids any kind of rite or sacramental that could contradict this conviction and imply that something which is not marriage is recognized as marriage.
But Francis further added that charity demands “kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement.” He seemed to argue that, in some cases, a priest could have a pastoral reason to extend a blessing to a homosexual couple:
Pastoral prudence must therefore properly discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more people, that do not convey a misconception of marriage. Because, when a blessing is requested, it is a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better.
Nobody is arguing that individuals with homosexual tendencies shouldn’t be able to receive some kind of blessing — the issue at stake is whether homosexual couples whose lifestyle puts them in a state of sin should be able to receive a blessing on that same union.
Francis seems to want to walk some line between progressives and traditionalists. He states that homosexual acts are sinful, but he makes overtures of welcoming individuals practicing homosexuality into full communion with the Church. Progressives, on the other hand, want to remake the Church in their own image. Francis seems to hope that the Synod on Synodality will provide a peaceful and constructive back and forth between disagreeing factions. Instead, it’s becoming a battleground for the war to define the Catholic Church.