On Tuesday morning, Catholic author George Weigel took to National Review Online to describe “The Great Catholic Cave-In That Wasn’t.” Weigel slammed a Monday article in The New York Times headlined “Vatican Signals More Tolerance Toward Gays and Remarriage” as the latest in a long series of biased articles awaiting the Catholic Church’s surrender to the liberal, modernist Times zeitgeist.
For the better part of a half century, the New York Times, and similarly situated purveyors of news and opinion, have eagerly awaited the Great Catholic Cave-In: that blessed moment when, at long last, the Catholic Church, like many other Christian communities, would concede that the sexual revolution had gotten it right all along and would adjust its teaching and practice to suit.
...Thus Elisabetta Povoledo wrote that “an important meeting at the Vatican used remarkably conciliatory language on Monday toward gay and divorced Catholics, signaling a possible easing of the church’s rigid attitudes on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage.” It would be hard to cram more misinformation into one sentence.
1) The notion that the Catholic Church approaches suffering people who struggle with chastity, failing marriages, or both with “rigid attitudes” is slander. Yes, there are priests and bishops who sometimes display a lack of pastoral charity in these difficult circumstances. But they are a distinct minority. As any serious Catholic with experience of the Church’s confessional practice knows, confessors are far more compassionate and understanding than this kind of Dan Brown caricature suggests.
2) Moreover, what the Catholic Church believes about the ethics of human love and about marriage is not a matter of “attitudes.” It’s a matter of truths. Many of those truths can be demonstrated by reason, if people are willing to work through a reasonable argument. Some of those truths, especially those pertaining to the permanence of marriage, come from the Church’s Lord himself. To suggest that any of these truths are matters of “attitude” is another form of slander.
3) And then there’s the slam implicit in that phrase, “rigid attitudes . . . on the sanctity of marriage.” Does the Times now espouse flaccid attitudes toward the sanctity of marriage? Would a culture further corrupted by marital breakdown and divorce be more to the Times’s liking?
4) Beyond these typical bits of Times-speak, Ms. Povoledo utterly misrepresented the document on which she was putatively reporting. It was not issued by “a meeting” or by “the Vatican.” It was not an authoritative document in any sense; it was an interim report on themes that had been raised in the previous ten days of debate and discussion at the synod. It had absolutely no legislative weight — synod documents are consultative, not legislative — and I am told by those who were there that various formulations in the report were seriously criticized in the synod debates. Moreover, the interim report will be chewed over in the ten synod language-based discussion groups — where, one suspects, further criticisms will be aired — before any final report is issued. To turn this kind of interim report into the virtual equivalent of a papal encyclical is ludicrous on its face.
The 2014 synod is an agenda-setting exercise that was intended by Pope Francis to help prepare the work of the 2015 Synod on the Family. The pope knows full well that marriage and the family are in crisis throughout the world. In his own remarks before the synod, he said that he hoped the synod would lift up the beauty of Christian marriage and Christian family life in a world too dominated by what he’s often called a “throwaway culture,” the throwaways all too frequently including spouses and children.
It’s fascinating to think that reporters would ignore the remarks of Pope Francis before the synod in favor of a “working paper” written in the middle of the synod by lowly bureaucrats – but then, that paper had the encouraging words of “surrender in the culture wars,” as Chuck Todd would put it. Weigel concluded with the demographic clincher that mainline Protestant churches following the secularizing Times agenda are seeing their churches empty out:
And if the Times and others really want to dig into a serious debate that’s underway beneath the surface at the 2014 synod, they might consider this: The experience of the 20th and early 21st centuries suggests that there is an iron law built into the Christian encounter with modernity, according to which Christian communities that maintain a clear sense of their doctrinal and moral boundaries survive and even flourish, while Christian communities whose doctrinal and moral boundaries become porous wither and eventually die. Why have the Catholic leaders who have gotten the most press at this synod, including Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, failed to grasp that? Why do they want to emulate the pattern charted by the dying communities of liberal Protestantism?