Synod of Bishops – CHANGES WITHOUT SUBSTANTIVE CHANGES

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Swami Snehananda Jyoti  

auther4Some called this Synod, Pope’s Synod, and rightly so. He appeared to actively but unobtrusively direct and guide it to arrive at relatively positive outcome. He prepared the way by adroitly divesting the curia of the enormous power of dealing with marriage annulments by delegating them to the local bishops. I want to think that his advisors are compassionate as well capable of understanding human nature. His conservative flavor only added to the changes. His snub of the diehard bishops, who sit on the chair of Moses unceasingly waving the red flag of traditional Church doctrine without mercy and compassion called for in the Christ’s message, I hope, sends a clear message to those bishops, who perhaps, unwittingly, tries to plug the holes in the tottering Peter’s bark. These bishops need to realize it is not the letter of the law but the spirit that matters. The changes certainly resonate the well-known dictum of Christ: “Sabbath is for human, and not human for Sabbath”. Pope Francis did all this in a typical, but pleasantly positive, Jesuitical way. Even the anti-Jesuits of old who coined the term “Jesuitical” to denote negative cunning ways have to tip their hats off to the quintessential Jesuit Pope, Francis. Francis shook the foundation of these do-gooder bishops who ignore the signs of the times in ushering the Catholic Church into the 21st century. This is not to say that the present changes came too late as they were logical conclusions already seen in the Second Vatican Council over 60 years ago, and after credibility of the Catholic Church suffered a great deal. At this point I also want to give some unsolicited advice to Francis that he needs to think of including women at the appropriate time in responsible positions and serious decision-making. Christ did not have any problem in integrating women in his ministry in spite of the prevailing anti-women culture of the time.

The changes are not substantive in the sense they do not change the Church doctrine but the practice. The idea of greater decentralization called for by Francis can accommodate these practices to the local needs and circumstances. The encouragement of decentralization considerably weakens the old stern saying “Roma locuta est, causa finita est” (Rome – Vatican – has spoken and the case is closed). Francis steeped in his Jesuit training can well understand the great importance given to discernment in the Spiritual 

Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Doctrine and rules are ideals. They need to be exercised in a human context, certainly in keeping with one’s conscience and without compromising one’s principles. This is certainly a life-long practice for those who live a conscientious, spiritual life. Greater decentralization will also give the ultra-conservative bishops a chance to put things in practice in their own non-compromising ways in their dioceses to gain  pastoral insights, and see for themselves the response they get from the real people instead of hiding behind the comfortable shadow of Vatican.

I am reminded of what a great Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Martini (himself a “papabilis” –someone widely mentioned to be the future pope until he withdrew his name) said in his historical interview which was only to be published after his death which happened about two weeks later. He stated in the interview that Catholic Church was about two hundred years behind times. Martini should be very happy with the changes where he is. I am personally against abortion. But I remember how I was given grief about forty years ago by one moralistic Jesuit theologian at St. Louis University who thought I did not sufficiently made clear the doctrine of the Catholic Church on abortion to a 15-year old pregnant Catholic girl and her family who came to see me in the Psychological Clinic, and who were intent on getting an abortion. The girl ended up having abortion. The family came to see me as a therapist, and I was not there to impose my views as a priest even though I told them empathically what they needed to know. We need to understand that persons are going to do what they are going to do, no matter what we tell them. Only thing that we can have is plenty of love, compassion, and empathy, and, some Kleenex to wipe tears, in stock.

The term “intrinsically disordered” is carefully avoided for homosexuals in the discussions. For those who are familiar with scholastic philosophy, the term means the person is not right in one’s very substance, being. This is one of the harshest terms ever. Homosexuality, once a psychiatric disorder in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – II (DSM-II) around the time when I was studying psychology is not so anymore. And it is no more a criminal offense in most of the enlightened countries. Years ago a homosexual pastor, who had a doctorate in ministry, came to me with some emotional problems, but told me right in the beginning that he did not come for any treatment for homosexuality. I did sector therapy with him; in other words helped deal with the problem he came for.  They are humans with the same rights and dignity as everyone else. Marriage involves two partners, and it can fail due to abuse, mental disorder, or intransigence or unwillingness of one partner to deal with marital problems. The other does not need to be imprisoned in that marriage under the guise of indissolubility. Let persons make informed and conscious decisions in prayer and discernment before God.

Pope Francis has a very difficult job. He has to keep the engine, the caboose, and the bogies of the train together so the whole train can chug along. With the much-needed emphasis on love, mercy, and compassion, and not appropriating God’s territory of approval or condemnation, long-awaited changes in the Catholic Church are slowly trickling down. Let the current powers be on clear notice that the business is not any more going to be as usual. Let them get off from their thrones let they meet the fate of dethroned kings after the age of enlightenment. Changes are in the offing. Moral absolutism cannot freeze changes. The Church is a living organism. It needs to grow, adapt, and change without compromising the absolute essentials. This synod, especially Francis, has started a silent,  non-violent revolution without much fanfare. Nobody can stop its momentum. Let the inverse pyramid get solidly established in the ground. The zenith of the pyramid, taking the initiative from Pope Francis, is going to begin a bottom up revolution. What is required is power to serve, not power to rule and control. Eternal salvation is everybody’s primary business. No bishop goes to hell for someone else’s sin. Let the bishops relax, learn to be servants and ministers, and, above all, learn to lead others by their own example. Rather than any particular doctrine, let the bishops teach others to be as concerned about salvation as they are.  Given a chance and the empathic climate, people will pick up the necessary essentials for this life and the life to come on their own. Praise the Lord! 

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