The Catholic Church is not a democracy, so don’t expect radical change – The Irish Times


There is a real danger that the synod on synodality (only the Vatican could come up with a title like that) raises unrealizable hopes and therefore causes serious injury.

Everyone from Pope Francis to our own Irish bishops have said that the listening exercises carried out in Ireland and around the world are not some kind of consensus building.

For example, in the book Let Us Dream, co-authored with Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis says, “What is discussed at synodal meetings are not traditional truths of Christian doctrine. The synod is primarily concerned with how the teaching can be lived and applied in the changing contexts of our time.

Similarly, the Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin said in July: “Synodalism is sometimes misinterpreted as a kind of parliamentary voting system where majority opinions could overturn long-standing Church tradition or basic education”.

Unfortunately, this message was not heard. Nevertheless, the Church is not a democracy. If so, Arius would have won. Arius, an intellectual and cultured man who lived in the 4th century, believed that Jesus had a unique status but was not divine – as Hilaire Belloc said, Arius granted Jesus “all divine attributes except divinity” .

If extremely popular Arian beliefs had prevailed, no Christian, whether Reformed, Catholic or Orthodox, would pray the Nicene Creed today: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, born of the father before all ages. “The Christian churches would not be trinitarian.

The Nicene Creed, promulgated in 325 CE, was meant to be the final word on the Arian dispute. Instead, 50 years of controversy and theological warfare ensued until, finally, the understanding of Jesus as God prevailed.

Arianism is largely forgotten today, but it was hugely influential and promoted by the intellectual elite of the time, including a number of bishops.

The controversies facing the Church today are not as overtly theological as Arianism, focusing instead on sexuality, the role of women, and the nature of the priesthood. But they are theological in the sense that they revolve around conflicting and ultimately incompatible visions of the Church.

The degree of division in the church is not unprecedented but it is significant. The schism is openly discussed in the international church

Many Irish Times readers have little sympathy for the church’s self-understanding as the sacred guardian of divine truth, though it is a flawed guardian that has failed spectacularly. in different ways throughout each century to live up to its own message. The church believes that it could not have survived at all if it were not directly supported by the grace of God.

Such a claim to guardianship of sacred truths is considered absurd by many, a relic of pre-scientific times.

But if, as a thought experiment, you could go into the church’s understanding of itself, you could see how it can never be a majority organization.

If the Church’s claims about the immutable nature of her main moral teachings are false, why should anyone believe her claims about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? The Church cannot be both a democracy and a guardian of sacred truth.

These views cannot be reconciled. The degree of division in the church is not unprecedented but it is significant. The schism is openly discussed in the international church.

A schism has already occurred in modern Anglicanism in 2009, when theologically traditional Anglicans split from the Anglican Communion to create the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

In the Catholic Church, the pope, as a sign of unity, is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the Church. It is instructive to see how Pope Francis has responded to, for example, the German Catholic Church, which has long proposed even more radical change than the Irish Church.

Pope Francis in a 2019 letter, to the astonishment of many German Catholics, urged them to “guard themselves against the temptations of the father of lies and division, the master of separation who, inciting the search for a apparent good or a response to a given situation, ends up fragmenting the body of the holy faithful people of God”.

There is more in the same vein and even stronger language, warning them against “the great sin of worldliness and the worldly anti-gospel spirit [where]there would be a good church, well organized and even “modernized”, but without soul or evangelical novelty”.

This is a clear reaffirmation of church teaching in the face of the demand for radical change. Given this, was it wise or even benevolent to raise hopes for such a change among homosexuals who want a new teaching on marriage, or women who believe they have a call to the priesthood?

These people cared enough to participate in the synodal process. Raising hopes that must inevitably be dashed can ultimately lead them to leave the church, which for many will be a devastating loss of a spiritual home, no matter how much pain that home causes them.

The synod could still bear real fruit. The Church in Ireland can and must do much more to welcome Catholic homosexuals, to renew the participation of the laity in the life of the Church and, above all, simply to preach the Gospel. But those who wait for the church to become what it is not will wait in vain.


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