Thursday, October 22, 2015

Notes from the Synod: "I’m Astonished That Many People Talk about Doctrine without Knowing What Doctrine Is," Or, Implications for the Future When Stupidity and Venality Carry the Day

At Commonweal, Grant Gallicho reports on statements made yesterday by German Cardinal Reinhard Marx at a Vatican press briefing about the synod on the family. According to Gallicho, Marx was asked by Edward Pentin of the ultra-right publication National Catholic Register to commnent on South African Cardinal Wilfred Naipier's statement on Tuesday that the synod should not take up theological or doctrinal matters (implication: those are set in stone and cannot be discussed, let alone altered).

Gallicho says that Marx replied to Pentin's question as follows:

"I’m astonished that many people talk about doctrine without knowing what doctrine is," Marx replied. The church has different levels of doctrine, he continued: revealed truth, doctrine of the church, and so on. "The doctrine of the church is not a closed shop but a living tradition," he said. "We don’t change the truth but we find the greater truth. The truth owns us. We don’t own the church. The truth is a person who we meet"—that is, Jesus. Doctrine and pastoral application are not opposed, Marx said.

And, of course, what Cardinal Marx says here is perfectly obvious to anyone with even a modicum of theological education. The matters — e.g., pastoral outreach to divorced and remarried people and to LGBT people — that the cannot-discuss-doctrine group at the synod want to treat as settled, closed, etched in stone are not at all doctrinal matters on which the foundations of the church stand or fall. They are matters of practice that can and should be discussed at a point in which the stolid intransigence of some church leaders and their ultra-right cheerleaders has become a grave scandal, a stumbling block, for many people seeking to hear the good news of Christ from the Catholic church.

The illusory pretense that church leaders would be tampering with doctrine if they discussed these matters of practice and if they altered historically conditioned practices about communion for, say, the divorced and remarried reveals just how dumbed down many Catholic leaders and their cheerleaders have become in recent decades. It's almost as if such dumbing down was a deliberate strategy of the two previous popes who set this pope-says-it-so-it-can't-be-changed system of thinking into place within the Catholic community.

So that you now have folks of the ilk of our old friend Purgatrix Ineptiae, a person who professes to have a Ph.D. and to work at a major research facility in the Boston area, at National Catholic Reporter chippily informing her devotees there that "[i]t is a de fide truth that the Pope never teaches heresy."

It is? Try telling that to Peter and Paul as Paul informs the first pope that he's absolutely wrong when he tries to impose the purity laws of his birthright Judaism on non-Jewish converts to Christianity, as if those purity laws are foundational to the good news of Christ. 

The stupidity and venality of these glib formulations, which grew up during the reigns of two right-wing popes whom folks like this would not dream of questioning or attacking as they question and attack the current pope, go hand in hand with each other. The stupidity of assuming that historically conditioned practices which betray the church's pastoral goals cannot be questioned if a reliably right-wing pope says so go hand in hand with the venality of attacking LGBT human beings — since that's one of the primary Catholic "doctrinal" imperatives these folks do not want to give up as they resist any tinkering with pastoral approaches to LGBT folks and the divorced and remarried.

Meanwhile, droves of Catholics are walking away from the stupidity and venality, away from the equation of the good news of Christ with denigrating, excluding, and actively hating LGBT human beings. As well they should . . . . 

(Want to see the stupidity and venality brilliantly exposed in almost clinical fashion by an educated, thinking Catholic layperson? Read Questions from a Ewe's report on a recent discussion she had with a priest in Africa about the synod and the impossiblity of changing "doctrine" re: LGBT folks and divorced and remarried folks. 

When an institution deliberately chooses stupidity coupled with venality as its future, that future does not promise to be bright.)

The photo of a dunce's cap is by Kathy Adams at eHow by way of Jessica at Pinterest.

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