Monday, March 31, 2014

Some thoughts on Francis and the Synod on the Family

For me Pope Francis is still a "puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma", is he a conservative or a liberal, incredibly subtle or just crass, is he going to lead the Church into deep waters or onto the rocks? A year on from his election and there are still no clear answers.

He is certainly a new style of Pope, the machinery of the Ultramontane Papacy we have known and taken for granted for over a century has been dismantled by his predecessor, leaving it impossible for Francis to be merely a Conservative following the models set by his immediate predecessors. Liberalism too, as it is commonly understood in the the Church, as an imposed, top down series of innovations, obsessed by structures, again doesn't seem to be a possible route for Francis, though one might presume that would be his personal inclination, it is not his inclination as Pope. The only real route for him seems to be to delve into the depths of the riches of the Church's Tradition.

The reports of the last Consistory are fascinating, if 75% of Cardinals really were against the 'Kasper theorem' for resolving the issue of divorced and remarried Catholics. A friend suggested this was a way of showing to the German bishops they were way out on a very thin limb, they were after all a pain for his predecessors, and have, because of their wealth, punched well over their weight to the annoyance of many other Episcopal Conferences. Having only one speaker, a German Cardinal, who was then rounded on by his fellows, is humiliating for the German faction. And even if reports on the numbers were over blown, they show the difficulty Francis would have if this truly is his intended reform, of carrying a consensus of the world's bishops. Synods are after all about consensus.

However, every sign from Francis, given by Mueller, is that reform of the anullment process is more likely than a simple admission of those in a state of sin -defined not by the Church but by the Lord- is probably the course of action he favours. The solution will be Canonical not theological, which might account for Cardinal Burke still being in place and for Cardinal Piacenza, now recovering from his illness, being sent as Prefect to the Apostolic Penitentiary. Interestingly, the writers of the Chutch's law are convinced Ratzingerians.

Again, the public face of Francis, would seem to suggest that his major concern for the Synod might focus on the economic structures that oppress the family; in the West making children unwelcome and being seen as an economic burden, in the South leading to emigration and poor health, that disrupt and destroy the family but we have had not a word of this. Nor has he touched on the interference of the State in the family, the redefinition of fundamental relationships that constitute the family, the promotion of 'gay rights' in some parts of the world whilst heavy strictures are placed on them in Africa and the Orthodox and Islamic spheres of influence.

The family and the ecology that supports it: population growth, emigration, unemployment, education, sexual relationships, the ethics of reproduction and trafficking should be the big question of the next century, if Francis and the Synod play their cards right the Church could structure the debate rather merely reacting to it.

Our problem, and Francis' skill has been that we still only have a two dimensional superficial understanding of him, rather like his  two dimensional superficial presentation of God 'the Merciful'  which ignores everything else we know about God through his Son.


Anonymous said...

Father, interesting post, but could you please consider sincere a request from me, a long-term reader, but one who doesn't read here so much for one reason? Yellow text on black. Even as I write this comment on the white comment screen, I see annoying, dazzling black and white stripes, after-image. I gave up on Fr Finigan's blog for the same reason.

Conchúr said...

Father, the figure was 85% according to Cardinal Ruini.

Liam Ronan said...

So it all boils down to whether the Pope is more akin to Homicide Investigator Lt. (Frank) Columbo or Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau?

Unknown said...


I hold you in high esteem for a number of your qualities, but are you seriously suggesting that Francis has yet to show his colours?

There is little doubt that his words ahve already caused more damage to the misson of the Church than any other Pope I can think of. We have had everything from suggesting, 'publicly'. that bishops conferences should have dogmatic power to calling homosexuals 'gay', a point picked up by the media as it is the agreeable term for such poor people i.e., used by those that agree with them. To the infamous 'who am i to judge'.

The meeting this October has already been politicised. Kasper making an outrageous speech in order to dampen the changes that are inevitable. An old political trick. Tell them something outrageous and they will be thankful we did not go further. And we must remember that Kasper was asked by Francis himself to make the speech, even though the meeting had nothing to do with the subject. Are we really to believe that he did not know what he was going to speak about when he asked him?

Whatever the answers to these questions I'm confident that a hard dose of reality, as painful as it will be, tells us exactly what this pope is like. He is, with the deepest respect, the very nightmare of Pascendi Dominici Gregis.

Jacobi said...


I suspect that a reform of the annulment process is what will come out of the Synod.

Marriage is important. As Christ, Himself, said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. That seems pretty clear to me.

The annulment process is therefore about deciding whether God has, or has not, joined together a particular couple. If He has, that is the end of the story.

This requires canon law experts, an ex-diocesan tribunal (to avoid local manipulation), and both parties being represented, e.g., the “guilty” and the “innocent” of the original marriage.
Now I’m sure that is close to what already exists so how it can be “reformed” is a bit of a puzzle.

Above all, there must be a presumption of validity, and if annulment is established and the Catholic party(ies) wish to continue a civil marriage, they will have to be validly married in the Catholic Church.

The effect on the wider married Catholic community in the event of any apparent ” loosening” of the rules, for the sake of a complaining secularised minority, must be deeply considered. This is vitally important!

In any case, there must be a sharp tightening of the pre-marriage preparation process, by Catholic priests, to ensure the demand for annulment is sharply reduced in future.

Finally, if annulment is not agreed then the Catholic (and non-Catholic) parties must not be allowed to receive Holy Communion.

Anonymous said...

I cannot understand how anyone who knows the Faith and is following what's happening could fail to see the terrible damage Pope Francis is doing to the Church, after a year of one scandal after another. The Faith is unchangeable but Pope Francis has represented it as otherwise in words, deeds.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Jacobi, that might well be what is eventually decided but possibly their might be a greater presumption of the truthfulness of witnesses or of those requesting an anullment - but what we have now seems to have been refined over time.
I would hate us to take a S.American attitude to law ...or lawlessness.

Deacon Augustine said...

Jacobi, there are some areas of the annulment process which need to be reformed for the sake of justice.

Firstly, there are still many dioceses around the world which have no tribunal and in which it is virtually impossible to have a case considered in the first place. This needs to be put right.

There is also the issue of non-cooperating parties being able to stymy the whole process. Currently when one of the "defendants" has contempt for the tribunal and/or the Church and refuses to give evidence, no evidence can be taken in the case because "it would be an abuse of their human rights." This is clearly an area where innocent parties are vulnerable to the injustice of a deserting spouse frustrating due canonical process. A way needs to be found around this.

If the outcome of this synod is that greater justice is obtained in more reasonable time, then I will not be unhappy.

John Vasc said...

I keep on imagining the case of the divorced couple who continue to live in the same parish, or at least in the same diocese. A, has deliberately avoided remarrying, though she had offers. One day A - childless, and now beyond childbearing age - goes to Mass and sees that B, her divorced husband, is at Mass with his second wife C and their young children - who all go up to Communion together.
Afterwards Father X, the parish priest explains to A that B is now in what the Bishop of Menevia has described as a 'good remarriage'.

And we are all to tolerate' this?

Jacobi said...


Increased presumption of truthfulness of witnesses, at the expense of the accused, is creeping into, particularly, English law. I am not sure it is good, although it makes for more interesting press headlines. If it does come about in ecclesial matters, it must work both ways, for the “innocent” and “guilty” parties.

It is all so difficult, I agree. The Church has an enormous reservoir of experience in these matters and I just hope that is not overruled in the interests of current fashionable attempts to diminish what God has joined together!

Anonymous said...

No. That would be an affront to God and His Law. Clearly sacrilegious and unjust, and a cause of grave scandal. It would constitute a mortal sin on the part of the adulterers and priest every time they were given Holy Communion. It would put many souls at risk of damnation, not only the adulterers living in sin, but also the children and others who would be scandalised - and even the innocent wife who may be provoked into commiting grave sin through anger.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lepanto said...

Perhaps he is two-dimensional and we have understood.

Chloe said...

Could I add my voice to Dialyt? The yellow on black is very hard to read for anyone with the slightest eye problem.

With regard to the annulment procedure, if there are dioceses without tribunals round the world, that must be addressed. It also seems very unjust if one party can stymie the other. Surely if there are decent witnesses this shouldn't happen. The objecting party can come forward and give evidence if they wish, they cannot complain if they refuse to play ball. Having been awarded an annulment myself, I had no idea my ex could have put a spanner in the works. I had good witnesses. I don't see hw it can work without third party witnesses as otherwise it's your word against theirs. Leave it to Cardinal Burke. He knows what he's doing! Only, I don't suppose they will. Sigh!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yellow on black suits my visual problem, black on white I find difficult.

Sonia Gable said...

I can read the yellow on black, but a simple solution for those who have trouble is to zoom in on the page to make the print larger. Another thing that works on my computer at least is to print the blog as a pdf, which comes out grey on white.

gemoftheocean said...

Dialyt and others: as regards intense yellow on black I worked as a computer programmer for over 17 years professionally, and have in fact been using computers since 1980, so that's 34 years for me - ergonomic studies have shown that intense yellow/amber on black is actually the LEAST stressful on the eyes over long periods of time. In fact when monitors in the early days were typically light gray on black, then when some basic color (8, wow!) came in with VGA monitors in the US the basic standard display was green on black for text, and in Europe, amber on black. When I first read the report I then switched over to writing my code using intense yellow on a black background. I noticed CONSIDERABLY less eye fatigue and strain almost immediately -- in fact, light black on white is snow blinding to me. It took me about a day to get used to it, but the switch was dramatic.

I wish more people would use either intense white or yellow on either black or a dark blue -- As someone who virtually lives on the computer I find my eyes are much better rested.

But perhaps because you (and some others) find it difficult, perhaps a practical solution for reading Fr. Tim or Fr. Ray (and others) would be to set up another browser that you don't use much (like say opera or one of the others (I can't stand Internet Exporer personally) and have that default to forcing a particular color scheme - in your case, the snow blinding black on white or whatever color combination you prefer. Then use that browser when you want to read those blogs.

Liam Ronan said...

Dear Father Ray,

You venture your opinion that:

"...every sign from Francis, given by Mueller, is that reform of the annulment process is more likely..."

Trying to stay on point, I have recently had the occasion to complete a 'Witness Statement' for a party in the United States who I had known since childhood. For convenience sake, I was permitted to complete the 'Witness Statement' (a series of 77 essay-like questions) at the Diocesan Headquarters. The priest-advocate, a Monsignor, handed the forms to me and waited in another part of the building for the 2+ hours it took me to finish the Statement.
I am a retired administrative law judge and no stranger to complex questions, nuances, and the like, but the Statement was ponderous and worded in a manner I found confusing. Nonetheless, I completed it with a view to the history of the parties right up to the "I do" and any matters I thought revelatory which occurred thereafter.
I have been both blessed and cursed by an accurate memory for dates, events, etc. so I was (please God) able to give a good account of the history of this couple.
When I later gave the 77 question 'Witness Statement' to the priest-advocate, he gave it a good look-over to make sure no questions were missed and that it was signed, dated, and witnessed and then he said to me: "This is fine. You've included dates, details, and events will will make reaching a decision so much easier for the Tribunal. You'd be surprised how many witnesses answer 'Yes' or 'No' or 'I don't know' for the essay questions (or focus exclusively on events later in the married life of the couple rather than at the time of the exchange of vows). He also suggested that some answers were put in a manner that made them extraordinarily difficult to understand.
It dawned on me then that the annulment process is not infallible and, though you may have the angels on your side insofar as the facts of the matter, your Decree of Nullity is as much a function of how your case is articulated and clearly remembered by those ordinary friends, relatives, etc. of yours after the passage of 5, 10, 20, 30 years or more.
I realize this is the way the Church has decreed it must go, but to me (God forgive this layman's opinion) it's a crap-shoot whether your Decree offers any moral certainty one way or the other.

Liam Ronan said...

Just to clarify, my one sentence ought read:

"He also suggested that some answers (received by the Tribunal)were put in a manner that made them extraordinarily difficult to understand."

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