Some changes occur at the surface of events; others take place in the depth of reality. The latter seems to occur these days in the Vatican. In my outsider’s eyes, tensions amongst bishops are running too high to enable the present synod to conclude on some major evolution in family Church discipline. But – it could well be that this very lack of agreement, might be a fruit of the Spirit. The Church at its most senior level, isn’t perceived any more as a gathering of clerics who whisper their balanced views in hidden corners. It appears nowadays as a place of debate and reflexion, with nobody trying to hide possible disagreements. Including disagreements with the pope. And this is no case of some outlaw bishop, but concerns mighty cardinals of very strict obedience. They publish books, give interviews and encourage petitions against possible evolutions, proposed by other high prelates.
A messy outlook? Rather, a sign of health and interior strength. Which brings us back to the old tradition of theological disputes, as flourished in the Church until the French revolution. Catholicism is no monolithical body. It is a family. And in a family, diverse options can coexist around a unique credo. The baptized will come out of all this, more mature and with a greater sense of responsibility.
In this context, the thunderous ‘coming out’ of the undersecretary – if you please – to the International Theological Commission the day before the opening of synod, is all but meaningless. Not so much because of the sexual orientation of the prelate : If he had turned up with Miss Italy, the Vatican would have reacted all the same. (Everyone is free to advocate for a change in the actual discipline of mandatory priestly celibacy, but none ignores that celibacy is required in the Latin catholic Church, up to this day). No – what is striking to me, is that this priest comes from… Poland. The nation of saint Jean-Paul II became, with the fall of the Berlin wall, one of the cornerstones of militant Catholicism. Today, holy Poland is beginning to feel a mighty wind of secularization and protest against the Church. And this tornado blows right into the heart of the Vatican. As it happened in Ireland, Austria or Flanders, the Polish Catholics are due to start the same tedious evolution, that undergo all believers in secularized countries : Swapping the social status of a people’s Church, for that of a prophetic Church. Renouncing being a save harbour, to become a lighthouse amidst the storm.
This brings me to the key issue of this synod on the family: In my view, it isn’t doctrinal. The teaching comes from Christ. No – the challenge is to find a language and a pastoral approach which makes sense and enables to proclaim the Gospel in this very world. The truth about today’s families, is that the parable of the lost sheep has been reversed. It isn’t any more about one lost sheep, which has to be searched, leaving the 99 obedient ones behind. It has rather to do with one faithful sheep, and 99 who escaped. The pastoral issue is – without discouraging the remaining one – how to care for all the others? Most of those do not reject the Gospel, but life lead them to live outside the boundaries of the meadow the Church prepared for them. These are the facts – whether you like them or not. The question is how you handle them. ‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’ (Churchill)