Today the synod published its midway working document, which I’ll be referring to as the relatio.
Vatican expert John Thavis calls it an “earthquake” but I am more immediately concerned with the vacuum — by which I mean the embarrassment of a Vatican news conference which followed the release of the document.
I’ve been a longtime critic of the Vatican communications shop and today is sadly yet another episode in its long history of bungled sessions. Austin Ruse was there so you can read his report. It seems pretty clear that all four churchmen either lacked the intention or the ability to answer the serious questions posed to them.
In the ensuing vacuum, of course the media is having a field day.
You have to love it when the media distorts church teaching, then when the church phrases her teaching in a way the media can grasp, the media congratulates itself for having been “right” all along. And in the absence of anyone setting the record straight, millions of people come away with the wrong impression.
The best commentary on the relatio itself I’ve seen so far is from Elizabeth Scalia, particularly this part:
“…We really must pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to forcefully guide the synod and its wisdom, and then keep praying all the way through to the next synod, next year. It’s that grave an issue.
There are a lot of prodigals who are “still a long way off” and whom the church wants to “run out to meet.” Gradualism is effective ministry, but it’s a long healing. Done correctly, it can completely renew the church. Implemented poorly (as was VCII) and it can be a wrecking ball, and pfft goes Catholic credibility and too, too many souls.”
The crucial thing to understand about gradualism is that in order for it to work it must be rooted in the truth from beginning to end. We are all going to have to do our part, day in and day out, in word, deed and prayer, to speak the truth about marriage and family, mercy and justice.
There are plenty of good people who are going to interpret these recent developments as signs of the end times. That doesn’t help anything. The Holy Spirit won’t let the church fall into error, and the same Holy Spirit is calling you, and all of us, to build up the church.
But a mighty number of souls are in danger. So it is critical for all of us to once again call upon the Holy Spirit, strengthen ourselves through prayer and educate ourselves in the truth as revealed by the church. Even if it means being the still, small voice of sanity, when everyone else seems to be losing their head.
One of the first errors we need to combat is the idea that only the revisionists are offering any sort of reform agenda. Ross Douthat posted a good reflection on what things the church can do without violating her teaching or betraying the clear message of Christ. My father Ed Peters has been writing frequently and in depth about areas for reform in the annulments process. And set aside 30 minutes to watch this interview with Cardinal Burke.
The second falsehood we must overcome is the claim that only the revisionists speak from a place of mercy. True mercy is always rooted in the truth. And authentic mercy can never contradict the truth.
Third, we need to remember and repeat that the relatio is only a working document and carries no authority. In fact, this entire extraordinary synod serves a purely advisory role in preparation for the ordinary synod next fall.
What this debate has already done is create a space for all of us to reflect on the church’s teaching and to quietly, firmly and persistently proclaim the truth. This is only the first working document in a year-long process leading into next year’s ordinary synod. This is a marathon, not a sprint. So it’s time to get training for the long road ahead.
So read and share good articles that provide clarity and explain the church’s teaching well. Respond to false accusations against the church and her teaching. And, perhaps most of all, refuse to fall into despair when it seems as though the truth is being lost in a sea of falsehood.
The truth only vanishes if truth-tellers cease speaking.
So keep speaking — for even a still, small voice can overcome an earthquake if it speaks the truth.