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Catholic Church returns to pluriformity of Vatican II

  • 20 October 2014


It’s not often that Catholics get to see the processes of Church decision making made so transparent. The recent reports from the Synod on the Family have been a real eye-opener for those used to being presented with an ecclesial fait accompli, with all debate and discussion behind closed doors. Topics on which the Church has put a relatively uniform face, at least at an official level, now reveals a degree of pluriformity not heard since the days of the Second Vatican Council.

It would have been simply unimaginable for a bishop or cardinal to say something like the following during the pontificates of St John Paul II or Benedict XVI:

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.

Yet this was published on the Vatican website as part of the interim relatio of the Synod. 

The backlash from more conservative elements has been quick. Cardinal Burke was so outraged that he publicly criticised the document. 

In relation to homosexuals he noted, 'First of all we don’t refer to people by their attraction to persons of the same-sex, calling people homosexual persons. That’s not their identity.' And on the question of homosexual unions he went on, 'It is impossible for the Church to say that homosexual relations have a positive aspect. How can we attribute a positive aspect to an unchaste act? That has to be clear.' 

Somewhat ironically he defined these relations in terms of 'an unchaste act' whereas the Synod document seemed to leave open the possibility that such acts do not define the 'identity' of the relationship, which may on other grounds have positive aspects, such as 'mutual aid to the point of sacrifice.' 

Still this is just one front that the Synod interim document has opened up for discussion. Premarital cohabitation, contraception, and the possibility of communion for those divorced and remarried have also been put onto the table for debate. This is a long way from the years when such open debate was actively discouraged and silenced. And this is not coming from a few 'liberal' theologians or 'ill-informed laity' who should know their place, but from bishops and cardinals, encouraged to speak freely by Pope Francis. 

Further each of these bishops and cardinals was appointed by either John Paul II or Benedict XVI.