Thursday, October 22, 2015
The Synod of Mistrust
I had a long conversation with a priest friend who told me his former boss now acts as a spiritual director amongst the Roman diocesan clergy and is deeply worried about their low morale. I can well imagine that those Sta Martha sermons, which have been published in a huge volume, tend to be critical and finger pointing rather than up building, even in their modified Vatican Radio form.
Meanwhile, in a move reminiscent of Francesca Immacolata Chaouqui's tweet that Pope Benedict had cancer, Fr Lombardi has been forced to deny that Francis has a brain rumour. Reminders of mortality upset rulers and undermine their collaborators. Chaouqui's remark about Benedict seemed to be the first step in the winding down the Ratzinger Papacy, though Chaouqui herself still continues as an influential Vatican consultant under Francis.
Papacies are by nature short and limited and for all the Pope's discomfort with it he is a prisoner of the Vatican. He communicates to the world through others and hears about the world through others. For a Pope who has allowed himself to be allied to the German cause, its reported failure at the Synod is a failure for the Papacy of Francis.
What seems to have been at the heart of the Synod and its point of crisis is nothing to do with the issues on the table, nothing to do with family or homosexuals or communion, it is trust. Trust has broken down, no-one trusts the people who report the Synod's discussions. Fr Lombardi and his crew seem more about obfuscation than clarity. Fr Rosica, his English speaking side-kick, has become a twitter by-word for bullying and is seen as presenting of his own pro-gay agenda. Both are seen as presenting the 'spirit' of the Synod, not the Synod itself. In the same way most, if not all of those who are entrusted with responsibility by the Pope, like Cardinal Baldissieri and Archbishop Forte and other papal appointees, are regarded either as being corrupt or part of the 'gay-lobby'. They are simply not trusted.
The great divide between the Germans and most of the rest of the Synod again underlines a break-down in trust, it is unfortunate that the Pope has allowed himself to be seen as allied to the German cause.
To an observer, mistrust seems to be at the heart of the Synod. There is a great contrast between those of a 'liberal' perspective and those who oppose them. The trouble is that the 'liberals' are incredibly inarticulate, rather like poor old Cardinal Dew or Cardinal Wuerl or even our own Bishop Doyle, who has never struck me as being in the avant guard of revolutionary, or even contemporary, thought. What are they saying? The truth is no-one knows, which means they inspire and capture no-one's imagination, no-one will die for what they have to say, no-one will commit themselves to what they have to say, because ultimately they have nothing to say. It is merely vacuous prattle, which breeds confusion and becomes like the Holy Father's, which tend to be nagging rather than edifying.
Contrast these men with the voices that come from Africa, the growing, vital, faith-filled Churches, of which Cardinals Napier and Sarah are obvious examples, Like it not, they call people, including the Synod Fathers to something authentic, the voice of Christ. We've looked towards France and the Low Countries at the beginning of the 20th century and then towards Germany and then towards Latin America. Are we now going to look towards sub-Saharan Africa for a new and relevant way to understand our Faith.
I recently attended a diocesan seminar on 'Mercy'. It was remarkably good and three of our diocesan priests spoke. It's background - but not its source, was Cardinal Kasper's book on 'Mercy'. What struck me with my own reading of the book was that the Cardinal treats mercy as a phenomena. He calls it the 'key hermeneutic of God' and regards it as being the major attribute of God. His weakness, I feel, is that he deals with it as a divine attribute, rather than the Incarnate Word of God.
The visceral or tender God glimpsed in the Old Testament is actually a Person, not a phenomena. It is Jesus Christ. We Christians are called not to have a relationship with a philosophical, or even a theological, idea but with a Person, we aspire to or think about a phenomena, we love a person and have a relationship with him. This, I think, is a great weakness of Kasperism as opposed to the great Ratzingerian concept of a return to the Person of Jesus Christ. It is this Person of Jesus Christ of course that the African Bishops are actually pushing forward and that seems to be winning at the Synod - not an attribute or a phenomena, but a Person. It is the Person of Jesus who saves.
In an age where people seem to be starved of relationships, perhaps the way forward for the Church is not to talk in terms of theological concepts, or of phenomena, but of the very Person of Jesus Christ, not even to speculate on what He might have said, but on what He actually said. This seems to be the dividing point in the Synod. Those who stand for Christ are for those who stand for something appertaining to Christ.
In a Church where confusion and disorder and inexactitude and even chaos seem to be present, where leadership in recent years has had a history of being untrustworthy - for this seems to be the great problem with out bishops over recent years - and the Church is weakened and seems entirely without hope to many bishops and clergy, it is to the Person of Jesus that we must return to, which was the concept that Ratzinger based his papacy on. Christ is our only hope. there is no hope for us but Christ. This is what the African bishops and the powerful voices at the Synod seem to be saying. This is possibly not what observers see in Pope Francis. Francis articulates well the call to mercy, a call that is heard among the peripheries, but in the heart of the Church what people seem to be searching for is the Person of Jesus Christ, not a simple phenomena like mercy, but the Mercy of Jesus in His Incarnation and the power of His grace to transform.
Confusion ('hagan lio') tends to destroy trust rather than build it up. Faith is dependent on trust. People believed the Apostles because they found them trustworthy witnesses. They were called not to have faith in the Apostles but Jesus Christ.
Is one of the problems of the Francis papacy that we are called to trust him, rather than his Master. Is one of the problems with the Francis papacy that will inevitably lead it to its doom, that he has surrounded himself with men who prove themselves to be untrustworthy. A dreadful truth is you can tell a man by his friends.
Will we be able trust the Papacy after it all?
Posted by Fr Ray Blake