It has taken some time, but it is coming finally. It’s in a more subtle form than usual, and perhaps far less subtle in places I have not seen.
It is, of course, the old chestnut that bishops and clergy preach down to the faithful, have no knowledge of “real life”, and that their recourse to doctrines is divorced from reality, and almost inhuman. So we hear the drivel that the Church needs to “listen” to those in irregular situations (ie sinners) so that the Church can better “accompany them”. So this article seemed one of the more temperate versions of that rhetoric. Sr Maureen Kelleher, an auditor at the Synod, reworks the language into that of a cultural chasm between laypeople and the bishops. The bishops she paints almost as victims, desperately trying to please both the institution and the people.
“And they’re very, very – well, they’re in pain, I think, to deal with the pastoral situation and reaching for particularly the remarried after divorce in a way that would be accompanying them … and yet being faithful to their understanding of Jesus’ sentences on divorce and its consequences,” she continued.
“I am watching people who have been very formed and steeped in language and concepts really trying to reach for a way that won’t confuse us faithful laity and will be sensitive and yet be faithful to everything they believe,” said Sr Kelleher.
The mildness of tone should not blind us to the tendentious manipulation at work in what she is quoted as saying. The bishops are in “pain” because they are torn between the supposed needs of the people and the demands of the unfeeling, unyielding institutional Church. The bishops want to be “accompanying people”, yet (somehow?) remain faithful to “their understanding of Jesus’ sentences on divorce and its consequences”. So Jesus’ solemn teaching, the commandments of the Son of God, are reduced to “sentences”, and of course the bishops are trying to be faithful only to “their” understanding of them. It’s a double lie: that the Lord’s teaching is but “sentences” and the timeless preaching of that divine teaching by the Church’s pastors is now relativized, and thus diminished, to “their understanding” and “their beliefs”.
So it is “us” (God’s people) and “them” (clerics and the institutional Church), and the latter has no more importance than the former.
Let us not be sucked in by this subtle manipulation. It is not us and them. This is what really ticks me off. When this argument, or variations of it, are trotted out a totally false, and indeed insulting (among other things), division is made. The laity are struggling with the burdens and imperfections of their messy lives, and by implication the clergy are not. What utter rot.
Most clergy I know, and most bishops I suspect (I know so few!), are more than conscious of themselves, ourselves, as sinners. We also struggle with temptations, inclinations, urges, moral lapses, uncharitableness, resentments, poor judgements, misunderstandings. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” Yes, we are sinners too. I am a sinner, and I have temptations to sin everyday, temptations that will remain with me for the foreseeable future and become in many ways a burden, an ongoing trial, an obstacle to joy.
On the one hand, the bishops and the pope could come out and say (hypothetically) that all the sins the trouble me are no longer to be seen as things that keep me from God, not things that impair me from communion with His Church. Don’t feel excluded because of your sins, they would be saying.
But does that change reality? Does that help me towards salvation and eternal life, which is the very purpose of the Church? Or is it little more than a sop to my self-pity and my desire not to feel bad about myself? Should I not feel shame for my sins? Why are we not hearing the first word of the gospel – “Repent”? What little value does it give to those who struggle honestly and daily to overcome their sins and strive, faithful to Christ’s clear teaching, to be holy.
In case someone should assert that I do not speak for them, I shall revert to the perpendicular pronoun. I, a cleric and not a layperson, am a sinner too. I do not want the Church to “accompany” me, or “walk with” me or whatever term one might employ. I want the Church to teach me the truth, that truth which sets us free. I want the Church to teach me what God has revealed about humanity, its fallen nature, its redemption in Christ, the offer to humanity of redemption though faith in Christ, the daily demands that faith makes upon me in particular, and I want it to give me all the spiritual and sacramental helps it can to heal me of what separates me from God and to strengthen me to carry on the struggle, the carrying of the Cross, that is the essential element of Christian life. I want to be conformed to God’s law in Christ’s teaching, and do not want the pathetic lie involved in conforming it to suit my sinfulness to make me feel better.
In fact, and in sum, I do not want the Church to make me feel better; I want it, need it, to call me to repentance. I want it to make me truly better. Worthy of heaven. A blessing to my neighbour. A bearer of a treasure not made of gold in the feeble clay of my flesh. I want to please God not myself.
Who is it that some of the Synod fathers are trying to please? Man? Or worse?
Let’s pray for them. To them much has been given; and from them much will be demanded.