The Synod: Conservatives declare victory too soon

Like a football player who spikes the ball before crossing into the end zone, like a runner raising his arms in victory before crossing the finish line, conservative bloggers and commentators are triumphantly proclaiming their victory at the recent Bishops’ Synod. I’m seeing plenty of posts of this type, declaring that liberals and progressives failed to win the day at the Synod. But the game is not over yet.

Pope Francis is writing the final document of the Synod, an Apostolic Exhortation on the Family. We don’t know when it will be released; it could be days, weeks, or months. My assessment is that he will write the document almost entirely himself, meaning that it will be completed much faster than if he assigned the initial work to others, and then completed the document himself.

I think it likely that the document will be issued this month (Nov. 2015), prior to his planned trip to Africa at the end of November, and prior to the start of the Year of Mercy on 8 Dec 2015.

The Synod document has the usual hallmarks of preaching the Gospel by committee — vague compromise language, avoiding controversial truths, failing to rebuke grave sin, and general indecisiveness. But Pope Francis, in contrast, is direct and uncompromising in preaching the Gospel. He is not afraid to offend or to stir up controversy. And he is determined to continue his reform of the Church. So I expect his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family to pull no punches.

Pope Francis incorporated mercy into the topic of family at the Synod, and he has repeatedly expressed his desire to offer mercy to marginalized Catholics, including greater participation in the parish and reception of Communion. So I think that the Apostolic Exhortation will include decisions on both doctrine and discipline. He will likely loosen the rules for reception of Communion, not only by the divorced and remarried, but by any Catholic who is not conscious of actual mortal sin. Perhaps he will permit reception after grave sin, prior to confession, as long as the person makes an act of perfect contrition.

And then he will go to Africa, where the Church is most conservative. He will not have such a warm reception there, if he issues a progressive Apostolic Exhortation in the days prior to the trip.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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