Tom Reese, one of the pope's fellow Jesuits and his usual strong supporter, says it flatly:
The list of those attending the Synod of Bishops on the family is a disappointment to those hoping for reform of the Curia and for those who hope that the laity will be heard at the synod.
A disappointment to those hoping that the laity will be heard at the synod. . . .
Let those words remain in your ears for a bit. We'll return to them in a moment.
As Reese notes, for Catholics who may wonder whether "natural family planning" (that is, the rejection of contraception) is the church's great gift to the laity, it appears the synod on the family is shaping up to be a repeat of the failed 1980 synod on the family: the pope has stacked the synod's council of auditors (observers) with lay Catholics who promote "natural family planning" and oppose birth control.
At the 1980 synod on the family, the lay participants were remarkable for how totally out of touch they were with the views of average Catholics. I fear this is a rerun.
This despite the fact that responses to the questionnaire sent out by the Vatican to lay Catholics in preparation for the synod uniformly and consistently report, insofar as bishops' conferences have been willing to release their results, what we all have known for many years now: namely, that an overwhelming majority of Catholics in the developed sector of the world resoundingly reject the magisterial teaching about contraception. And that those lay Catholics had thought, when they replied to the Vatican questionnaire asking for honest feedback about church teaching re: family matters, that they were at last being given a voice in the church's deliberations about these matters.
And then there's the fact that Pope Francis's list of pontifical appointees to the synod on the family includes Cardinals Angelo Sodano and Godfried Danneels. As Jerry Slevin notes in an essay just posted at his Christian Catholicism site, both men have deplorable records vis-a-vis the abuse crisis in the Catholic church — which is surely a family issue of the greatest critical importance to lay Catholics everywhere.
Regarding Sodano, Jerry quotes Jason Berry, who wrote last year in the New York Times:
But Cardinal Sodano ranks with the Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony as an egregious practitioner of the cover up. As John Paul II’s secretary of state, he pressured Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, in two notorious cases.
In 1995, Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër resigned as archbishop of Vienna, trailed by accusations, soon proven, that he had abused young men. Cardinal Ratzinger wanted the pope to speak out; Cardinal Sodano overruled him.
Cardinal Sodano also pressured Cardinal Ratzinger to abort a case filed in 1998 by several men accusing the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, of abusing them as seminarians. Cardinal Sodano was a longtime beneficiary of money and favors from Father Maciel. Priests who left the order told me he received at least $15,000 in cash.
And regarding Danneels, Jerry notes,
Belgian Cardinal Danneels in 2010 reportedly recommended silence about an especially obscene sex abuse case that had involved Bishop Roger Vangheluwe. Cardinal Danneels reportedly advised the victim, a nephew of Vangheluwe, to delay a public statement until Vangheluwe had retired. So what else is new?
Put all of this together with what Jerry Slevin rightly calls the pope's "non-approach" to the families of gay Catholics, and it's very difficult to avoid the conclusion reached by Pope Francis's fellow Jesuit in the National Catholic Reporter statement to which I link at the head of this posting: next month's synod on the family is giving every indication of turning into a rerun of the 1980 synod.
Which was a complete failure.
Because of the unwillingness or inability of the all-male, ostensibly celibate leaders of the Catholic church to listen to lay Catholics as we speak from our graced experience of family life, from our graced experience of living our calling as lay Christians in the world, of grappling with issues of sexuality that touch our own lived experience.
Because of the unwillingness of the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church to listen. Because of their unwillingness (and the unwillingness of one Catholic institution after another, including its media outlets) to provide any sort of unmanipulated, undistorted listening spaces within their church for authentic, unmanaged interchange between themselves and the people they pastor.
Because of the astonishing arrogance of their presumption that they and they alone have the answers, and it's the obligation of those they pastor to receive said answers in dutiful, humble, and, above all, silent submission. Because of their inability to look into the mirror and see what all of us can easily see simply by reading the news on any given day: that the pastoral leaders of our church contain criminals, men guilty of heinous crimes, of putting children in harm's way, lying to the public about their behavior, and helping mount cover-up schemes designed to deceive the public and proect child molesters.
In the period from 1980 to the present, the obvious case for the men running the Catholic show to shut up and listen for a change — to the people they claim to lead — has grown not less but more imperative. It has grown more imperative primarily because the gap between what the hierarchy declare and what the laity do has now become so wide as to be insupportable, with the abuse crisis, the disconnect on the issue of contraception, and the growing rejection of the magisterial position on marriage equality: the gap is toppling the church from its foundations.
So much misery, so much sinful waste of time, talent, and hope, so much forfeited credibility, so many missed opportunities: all rooted in the single glaring problem of being unable to hear. When one desperately needs to hear.
If one expects to be listened to himself.