I am confused about the whole Synod business, the reactions to it, the Pope's intentions, the role of the Bishops. I am intrigued by Benedict's reaction too.
It is true that the Churches teaching on matters sexual is confused and in tatters, it is so obvious that for all the rich teaching of Popes from the last century, very few Bishops or priests take a blind bit of notice. Some bishops and priests have good reason not to raise their personal heads above the parapet. Some priests, in some parts of the world, are living concubinage with either a female or male partner without censure from people or bishops.
Even good honest bishops belong to families, like the Pope himself, which are broken by marital break up or where family members have 'come out'. The sexual abuse crisis which has touched all bishops through out the world has made them aware that it is impossible to merely brush human sexuality under the carpet. In a world where human sexuality seems to have evolved and the old constraints have gone there is a need to face it full on, if that is possible.
The problem is the way it which it is faced. Perhaps a Pope who boasts to have 'the humility and the ambition' can make a difference, whereas it was something which his lesser predecessors from the time of Pius XI have shied away from.
I have to admit that I am a bit bewildered as to what the Synod was really about. In the final document there is plenty of good stuff, but was it about that or something else. There was certainly an interest in greater collegiality expressed by the Bishops but from the luxurious floor of rooms in the marble halls of the poshest 'guest house' in Rome there seems to have been the kind of renaissance princely interference that only the most Ultramontane of Popes would dare to inflict on the gathered Bishops of the Synod. It wasn't a listen exercise but a gagging one, where a few brave souls spoke out against the various lobbies that many had hoped this Papacy would control rather than fuel have been disappointed. Collegiality seems to be off the agenda.
Those who were empowered to spin the Synod focused on homosexuality and the divorced and remarried. In the popular mind, as well as the Bishops of the world this is what the Synod was about. The focus on 'where people are at' dominated whereas those who might want to focus on the vision of St John Paul for example were deliberately excluded.
The truth is whatever happened at this Synod or any further Synod will do little to change the behaviour of the priest or bishop living with his boyfriend or mistress or the sacramental welcome given by a 'merciful' cleric to those living in a second marriage, or any other strange or irregular situation. Let's face it, this already happens, any movement on the part of the Synod will merely mean it happens more often.
I have a fear, and I suppose this is the fear of many, that really what has happened was a trial, a real opening of the can of worms, which again lesser Popes have not dared to touch. What was being tried was the authenticity of the Word of God itself. Atheists and Secularists accuse us following 'bronze age goatherds' rather living in the real world, it seems to be this that was being tried. To put it simply the question seems to be can we still live according to teaching laid down some two millennia ago or should it be updated: does the word of scripture still bind Catholics or not?
It is an hermeneutic problem: how to interpret scripture. Most Protestants today enshrine the Word of God and read it reverently but actually it is dead thing, belonging to another age with teaching for a people of another world, a reference point in time which must be distilled in order to apply to our own age. They will suggest nothing has changed, the Word of God is still the Word of God but in reality it has been emptied of any meaning or traction in the real world.
The talk of changing pastoral practice but keeping doctrine is nonsensical, the Word is Alive precisely because of the pastoral practice that gives it traction. There is rather intelligent illustration here of how we have changed the Doctrine of Suppression of the Old Covenant by the New Covenant, of the difference between doctrine, sort of, remaining the same whilst practice and words change until no-one actually believes what the doctrine actually defined.
Yes, we still believe in what Jesus says but we simply don't talk about it or use it as a way of life. Perhaps other examples could be the place of Marialogy in the lives of Catholics today compared to how it had developed from the age of the Apostles up until the 1960s, or the place of those eschatological themes like Judgement, Purgatory and Hell (has any generation ever seriously proposed that either Hell did not exist, or though Hell might exist, probably no-one goes there who were not condemned as heretical?).
It is perhaps dangerous to continue this examination too closely, but it seems that doctrines do change, not by hacking the Gospels with an axe but by changing pastoral practice. Bishop are after all Pastors not theologians, they lead people by pastoral practice. If they treat the Holy Eucharist with awe and reverence, that is how their clergy and people respond. If is treated as mere bread, surrounded by a few special beliefs, then that is how it will be responded to. Ordinary people and even the majority of clergy have never embraced the sublime theology of the Summa on the Eucharist except in the Rites and customs that the Church invites them to participate in.
The argument that all this follows Newman's theory of 'development of doctrine' - acorns to oaks - is somewhat tenuous. Remember, the Orthodox continually state 'doctrine does not change', that it is simply built up by the action of the Spirit