Councils and Synods

It seems to be the consensus among prelates in the Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox churches that now is the time for all the bishops to meet and discuss “important events”.  But why now?  What do they hop to accomplish?  What is triggering this need to have these pan-communion synods?

In the case of the Catholic one there are definitely issues being discussed, relevant ones such as the treatment of homosexuals and broken families.  Some of these have been excellent:

130. (55) Some families have members who have a homosexual tendency. In this regard, the synod fathers asked themselves what pastoral attention might be appropriate for them in accordance with Church teaching: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” Nevertheless, men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons, 4).

131. The following point needs to be reiterated: every person, regardless of his/her sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his/her human dignity and received with sensitivity and great care in both the Church and society. It would be desirable that dioceses devote special attention in their pastoral programmes to the accompaniment of families where a member has a homosexual tendency and of homosexual persons themselves.

132. (56) Exerting pressure in this regard on the Pastors of the Church is totally unacceptable: it is equally unacceptable for international organizations to link their financial assistance to poorer countries with the introduction of laws that establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex.

Others less so (this passage, much like many documents of Vatican II can mean different things depending on how one reads it… And that is a problem):

107. Almost everyone agrees that taking care of wounded families and allowing them to experience the infinite mercy of God is fundamental. People differ, however, on the approach to be used. On the one hand, some consider it necessary to encourage those who live in non-marital partnerships to undertake a road of return, leading backward. On the other hand, others support inviting these people to look forward, to leave their prison of anger, disappointment, pain and loneliness and to continue on the road ahead. Of course, others say, the art of accompaniment requires a prudent and merciful discernment process, not to mention an ability to grasp the real diversity in individual situations.

108. Everyone needs to remember that the failure of a marriage is always a defeat for everyone. Consequently, after becoming aware of one’s proper responsibility, each needs to regain trust and hope. Everyone has a need to give and receive mercy. In every case, justice is to be promoted for all parties involved in a failed marriage (spouses and children).

The Church has the duty to ask the spouses who are separated and divorced to conduct themselves with respect and mercy, especially for the good of the children, who should not have to endure further suffering. Some call for the Church to show a similar attitude towards those who have failed in marriage. “From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends” (MV, 25).

I don’t want to discuss it any further, but there is definitely an agenda here and forces working to curb that agenda.  Now, these are pressing and relevant problems that do warrant discussion. There is a definite reason to consider how to handle particular cases.

And therein lies the problem.  The assaults African Catholics endure are wildly different than those of European/American Catholics or Chinese Catholics or South American Catholics.  Trying to get all the bishops in a room to hash out a “common” solution is a self-defeating idea in itself (try to imagine the orthodox Sarah, the grumpy Burke, Dolan the cookie monster, and Kasper the Canaanite all agreeing on something; it won’t happen).  Trying to force a consensus is just testament to how unwieldy the Western church is and why Conciliarism/Collegiality is not a substitute for a natural decentralized synodality.

But what of “Holy Orthodoxy”?

Honestly, I have no idea exactly what is trying to be accomplished in the upcoming council in Constantinople.  Antioch and Jerusalem have excommunicated each other over a jurisdiction issue, which is casting a long shadow over whatever else is happening.  Two documents (to my knowledge) have been revealed:

‘Importance of Fasting and Its Observance Today’

‘The Orthodox Church’s Contribution to the Triumph of Peace, Justice, Freedom, Brotherhood and Love among Nations and to the Elimination of Racial and Other Forms of Discrimination’

The first has been greenlit by the Russians while the second has been rejected in its current form (maybe now we’ll see a good document with a shorter and less stupid name).

Given that the seven councils the Orthodox accept were almost all in reaction to a heresy of some sort, this one seems to be a bit of a break from that (unless, of course, some of the bishops would like to condemn the modern errors in a more intelligent way than Pascendi Dominici Gregis did).  There are some who hope that the various overlapping jurisdiction issues among the bickering churches will be addressed, but very few from my experience expect them to be resolved.

Why are they holding this council?  Because they can?


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