The Answer

James Fitzpatrick has doubts and James Martin’s advice about discernment are not resolving them. The source of these doubts and advice is the 2015 Synod of Bishops. Martin appears to be optimistic about the direction of the Roman Catholic Church:

“Discernment,” Martin continues, “is the term used by Jesuits and their colleagues to describe the way that decisions are made in a prayerful way. St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder, lays out many of these methods in his classic text The Spiritual Exercises. At heart, the process begins with the belief that God wants a person, or a group, to make good, healthy and life-giving decisions; and through the ‘discernment of spirits’ sort out what is coming from God and what is not.”

What does “discernment” look like in practice? Martin writes, “At the heart of every group discernment is the idea that everyone should be…radically free to follow God’s will wherever it may lead.” This means that the participants in the group should free themselves from “disordered attachments,” including “fealty to things, ideas and people” — including previously accepted beliefs and figures in authority — “that prevent one from thinking, speaking and acting freely. The most essential element of group discernment is this absolutely radical freedom.”

Martin acknowledges that this freedom may “create tension among those who feel that any movement away from the status quo is in opposition to fidelity to the church or that change itself would cause confusion.” This fear, Martin claims, must be rejected: “Group discernment calls for a willingness to be open with one’s thoughts and feelings, and also to be open to another person’s thoughts and feelings, no matter how threatening they may seem,” since “in group discernment it may be the least likely person or group through whom the Spirit moves most strongly.” It well may be, he continues, that the Spirit is moving in opposition to “those who feel that those with the most authority, learning, or experience naturally have the correct ‘answer’.”

It is for this reason, Martin asserts, that we should not overreact when we hear leaks about things said at the synod. Many of these early positions taken by participants will be rejected before the synod ends; they will not be part of the final report. We must have patience: “The Spirit blows where it will. It takes its time for people to offer their reflections, for questions, for discussion, for clarifications, for prayer and discernment. The Holy Spirit cannot be rushed.”

It is amazing to see a Jesuit appeal to the Holy Spirit as freely as Gilbert Tennent.

But Fitzpatrick, a conservative I suppose by virtue of his writing for The Wanderer, is not so reassured by Martin’s advice:

How can we feel confident that the participants at the synod are proceeding with a “prior commitment and fidelity” to the teachings of the Church, when recent years have given us so many examples of members of the clergy who have demonstrated their opposition to what the Church teaches?

We have seen Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee retire in 2004 after it was revealed that he had used $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to settle a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment of a male lover.

We remember how Pope John Paul II in 2003 found it necessary to remove Hans Hermann Cardinal Gröer from office because of allegations of sexual misconduct with young students in his care. In September 2005, Juan Carlos Maccarone, the bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentina, was forced to resign after pictures were released of him engaged in sexual activity with another man.

More recently, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, because of allegations from three priests and one former priest that O’Brien had engaged in improper sexual conduct with them during the 1980s.

And just a few weeks ago, Fr. Krzysztof Charamsa, a Polish priest and Vatican official, came out publicly as an active homosexual with a male partner. Charamsa condemned what he called the “institutionalized homophobia in the church,” calling for a change in the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex.

And just this past week, according to crux.now, Archbishop Basil Cupich of Chicago said, concerning Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, that there are some ideas surfacing in the synod hall about “penitential paths” in order to integrate people back into the life of the Church.
“[Archbishop Cupich] pointed to the so-called Kasper Proposal, an idea floated by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would create a pathway to Communion for the divorced and remarried, and he expressed support for the theology behind the idea, published in a book last year,” reported crux.now.

LifeSiteNews reported: “When asked by LifeSiteNews if the notion of accompanying people to ‘the Sacrament’ who had a clear indication of conscience to do so also applied to gay couples in the Church, Cupich indicated an affirmative answer.

“‘I think that gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point. It’s for everybody….”

So, I ask this question sincerely, without an axe to grind: How can we feel confident, given the above history and with some of the statements that have come from certain synod fathers?

Is the cure for such worries two multi-syllabic words — wait for it — papal infallibility?

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19 thoughts on “The Answer

  1. Hahahaha. Yea, well, lots of straight answers from Jesuits. But, you can always ask for clarification. But, I’m with Fitzpatrick, do you really want to ask these guys? You can’t anticipate their discernment?

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  2. Is the cure for such worries two multi-syllabic words — wait for it — papal infallibility?

    All grist for the anti-Catholic mill.

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  3. D. G. Hart
    Posted October 28, 2015 at 6:49 pm | Permalink
    vd, t, if only Old Life could get you to go to church.

    Lk 18:11-14

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  4. Tom, the better to hide Andy Dufresne’s rock hammer. Which reminds me: “His judgment cometh and that right soon.” Get right.

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  5. Zrim
    Posted October 28, 2015 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
    Tom, the better to hide Andy Dufresne’s rock hammer. Which reminds me: “His judgment cometh and that right soon.” Get right.

    My wife loves that movie and it’s always on, so I know every word. 😉

    I understand what you people are trying to say better than you understand each other. Nobody has any idea what you just said, and seldom know what darryl is on about. You just pretend to understand each other. John Kennedy Toole. [See, I can do the sibylline thing too. 😉 ]

    But your retort has nothing to do with this sola-scripto Biblical grenade-toss, though I’m sure Darryl appreciates you fronting for him. Do you people ever actually read this thing? Nobody who actually reads this blog has the least bit of confusion who’s who here.

    11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

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  6. TVD
    Posted October 28, 2015 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
    Zrim
    Posted October 28, 2015 at 11:02 pm | Permalink
    Tom, the better to hide Andy Dufresne’s rock hammer. Which reminds me: “His judgment cometh and that right soon.” Get right.

    TVD:
    My wife loves that movie and it’s always on, so I know every word.

    I understand what you people are trying to say better than you understand each other. Nobody has any idea what you just said, and seldom know what darryl is on about. You just pretend to understand each other. John Kennedy Toole. [See, I can do the sibylline thing too. ]

    But your retort has nothing to do with this sola-scripto Biblical grenade-toss, though I’m sure Darryl appreciates you fronting for him. Do you people ever actually read this thing? Nobody who actually reads this blog has the least bit of confusion who’s who here.

    11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed[a] thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”>>>>

    Thanks for reminding me about The Jesus Prayer, Tom. That phrase, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” has always meant a lot to me. Mercy is a good thing. God is merciful. I rely on His mercy and grace.

    The Jesus Prayer

    O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

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  7. Mermaid, “Mercy is a good thing. God is merciful. I rely on His mercy and grace.”

    Said like a good Protestant. Don’t you think you need to check with your priest to see if you really do rely on God’s mercy? Is that truly your call or above your pay grade?

    No salvation outside the church. You don’t get to say whether you’re in or out (unless you’re still acting like an evangelical).

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  8. Cats, is getting justified really that simple though? What if the tax collector starts a mean blog that afternoon? Or worse, what if he collects taxes from a homosexual?

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  9. Tom, my retort is simply following your lead, which also had nothing to do with the question of infallible sources.

    “I understand what you people are trying to say better than you understand each other.” Said like a good Pharisee thanking God he’s not like other men. I love irony.

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  10. D. G. Hart
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 6:30 am | Permalink
    Mermaid, “Mercy is a good thing. God is merciful. I rely on His mercy and grace.”

    Said like a good Protestant. Don’t you think you need to check with your priest to see if you really do rely on God’s mercy? Is that truly your call or above your pay grade?

    No salvation outside the church. You don’t get to say whether you’re in or out (unless you’re still acting like an evangelical).>>>>

    Said like a good Catholic who loves Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy. You do know that the Jesus Prayer is Orthodox and also prayed by Catholics, right? We are encouraged to pray like that daily, and all day, recognizing our dependence on the mercy of God and not our own righteousness.

    You think Calvin invented the idea of grace? You also believe that there is no salvation outside the church, and how do you know you are among those who will persevere to the end?

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  11. Mermaid, you also know that Rome condemned Calvin for antinomianism — grace instead of works.

    I know, it’s a different church you now belong to. Like mainline Protestants, except women can’t be ordained.

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  12. Ariel, are you aware how the humblebragging comes across? The complete opposite of the Jesus Prayer. But all day, every day? Really? Jesus didn’t teach that. What’s wrong with the one he did teach once a day, in secret and not broadcast? Please don’t describe your fasting face.

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  13. D. G. Hart
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
    Mermaid, you also know that Rome condemned Calvin for antinomianism — grace instead of works.

    I know, it’s a different church you now belong to. Like mainline Protestants, except women can’t be ordained.

    Zrim
    Posted October 29, 2015 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
    Ariel, are you aware how the humblebragging comes across? The complete opposite of the Jesus Prayer. But all day, every day? Really? Jesus didn’t teach that. What’s wrong with the one he did teach once a day, in secret and not broadcast? Please don’t describe your fasting face.

    The Pharisees strike back. What a great advertisement for going to your church.

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  14. When church authority trumps the Bible:

    One of the most repeated themes during the Synod on the Family was the need for a more biblically based approach. The original working document for the Synod — the Instrumentum Laboris — came in for repeated and severe criticism for taking as its starting point sociological data rather than the Word of God.
    The final report made substantial improvements in that regard, but there was throughout the Synod a troubling usage of the Scriptures, as they were often employed to make a particular point in contradiction to the plain meaning of the actual text.

    The most spectacular example was given on the Synod’s very first day. One of Pope Francis’ “cardinals from the periphery,” Jose Luiz Lacunza Maestrojuan of Panama, argued that the indissolubility of marriage is contrary to God’s mercy, and asked the Synod fathers why the Successor of Peter could not be more like Moses, who permitted divorce. The clear implication, one hopes lost on Cardinal Lacunza, was that when Jesus corrected the teaching of Moses, He was wrong to do so. Lacunza employed the Scriptures to argue that the Vicar of Christ should be more like Moses, faced with a hard-hearted people, and less like Christ, who transforms the hearts of the baptized by sharing with them the life of grace.
    Cardinal Lacunza was soon corrected by a fellow bishop and, to prevent such embarrassments from becoming widely known, the Synod secretariat requested that participants no longer put online the speeches of the Synod fathers. After that misadventure in biblical interpretation got things off to a bad start, we hope that no other Synod fathers were so egregious. Yet the use of the Bible was not infrequently partial and tendentious. There were at least four frequently cited biblical passages consistently put to use contrary to their plain meaning.

    1. The mercy of the father who goes in search of the prodigal son.
    The father in the parable does not go after his prodigal son. Indeed, respecting his freedom, the father facilitates his departure from the family home. It is only after the son is permitted literally to wallow in the consequence of his sins that he has a conversion, and decides to return home to confess his sins. He then receives the father’s mercy. The father is quick to give it, and eagerly restores the prodigal son to far more than he deserves. I think that we should chase after those who turn their back on the Father’s house, but we can’t use the prodigal son parable to that effect, because the father did not do so. He waited for the son to return on his own.

    2. The Good Shepherd who goes after the lost sheep.
    This was often employed as a model of pastoral accompaniment, the pastor of the flock gently entering into the lives of the lost and distant. Contrary to the prodigal son, this is a parable of God going in search of the lost, of chasing after them to bring them home. But it is not about accompaniment. The sheep is not at all free, and the choices it has made are not respected. The shepherd finds the sheep and forcibly removes it from danger, carrying it back to the flock independent of its own will. Nothing at all wrong with that, but the parable is not about mature pastoral accompaniment.

    3. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus.
    This episode from the life of Jesus, not a parable, is about authentic pastoral accompaniment. The Lord Jesus does in fact draw close to the forlorn disciples, walking with them and re-awakening in them their hope. Yet the entire purpose of the Lord’s presence on the road to Emmaus is to convert — literally, to “turn around” — the disciples who are going into the night, away from the nascent Church in Jerusalem. Emmaus is one of the most beautiful models of pastoral ministry in the entire Scriptures, but it is about more than merely walking alongside those moving away from the Church. The Risen Jesus walks with them, questions them about their experience, listens intently to them, sternly rebukes them for their foolishness and lack of understanding, teaches them authoritatively and, only then, reveals Himself in the Eucharist. It is a complete model of pastoral service; too often the model is presented only in part.

    4. The Pharisees and the question about divorce.
    This was the most stunning example of curious biblical commentary in the entire Synod. There were no shortage of denunciations of pastors who are like Pharisees, not least from the Holy Father himself, who concluded the Synod with fearsome rhetoric against the Synod fathers who most strongly opposed changing the Church’s practices. Yet it was the Pharisees who favoured divorce and remarriage. It was Jesus who opposed it. And when the apostles preferred the Pharisees’ option, thinking the teaching of Jesus too difficult, He did not accommodate them but promised that all things are possible with God’s grace. The allowance for divorce and remarriage is the position of the Pharisees; yet many Synod fathers appeared to favour their position over that of Jesus.

    The final report of the Synod restored the proper priority of the Word of God in the Church’s mission. That begins by reading the Scriptures as they are, and not as we would wish them to be.

    But that’s okay. Only the church can identify infallible doctrine (even if the bishops can’t interpret).

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