I had a hard time figuring out what was going on at the Synod. Actually, I had a hard time just figuring out what a Synod is.
• A bunch of Catholic bishops got together to discuss families.
• A significant minority seemed to want to liberalize the Church’s approach to remarriage after divorce, and to homosexual activity.
• Many people think the Pope is sympathetic to the liberal bishops. At minimum, he placed them in bureaucratic positions leading the discussion.
• Half way through, one of those bishops published a summary document that was squishy on these issues, suggesting possible and important changes. Meanwhile, the leader of the squishy bishops melted down against African bishops, suggesting their conservative position should be dismissed as a taboo.
• The majority of bishops at the synod then reacted strongly against this squishiness and produced final Synod documents that are doctrinally solid.
• Final for now, that is. They are going to do all this again next fall.
If this is basically what happened, then I draw four lessons from it.
1. The final documents were doctrinally solid. That’s a victory–a reaffirmation of Church teaching. But people still seem to be acting like truth was defeated here, instead of squishiness being rejected.
2. The process was messy. So was the Arian controversy, where Athanasius was at one point pitted against most bishops in the world. So was the run up to Humanae Vitae–which also ended up teaching a very unpopular truth.
3. The New York Times and traditionalists think the Pope is a liberal. If they’re wrong, then the Pope is Catholic after all. If they’re right, then the Synod maintained Church teaching despite the Pope’s personal views. Either option involves a miracle. Name a Christian denomination where the leading bishops hold liberal sexual views but that church has not liberalized its formal teaching.
4. I’m not saying believers in Catholic truth can sit back and do nothing. The Holy Spirit protects the church through the instruments of its doctrinal defenders. Athanasius had to work hard and suffer much to preserve orthodoxy, and he succeeded because the laity, too, firmly believed that Christ is God.
So Catholics should keep proclaiming the Church’s beautiful teaching on marriage and on the human person as male and female, in opposition to those who would trade it for a mess of modern pottage–the disaster of the sexual revolution. But I think the faithful have good evidence, including the first round of this Synod, to believe they are on the winning side.