When Roots and Branches Collide
Recent events have brought to mind a scene from one of my favorite movies of all time.
The Shoes of the Fisherman is a 1968 American film drama, based on the 1963 novel of the same name by the Australian novelist Morris West. Shot on location in Rome, it was directed by Michael Anderson and released by MGM. In one early scene, Archbishop Kiril Lakota (Anthony Quinn) has recently been released after twenty years in a Soviet labor camp. He has come to visit the man who escorted him to freedom, Father David Telemond (Oskar Werner), where he is congratulated on his elevation to the Sacred College of Cardinals, and to give his reaction to a controversial work penned by Father Telemond, which is undergoing official scrutiny.
Lakota: So your hearing is set for tomorrow, huh?
Telemond: Ten-thirty. Did you have a chance to read my book?
Lakota: Yes, I did.
Telemond: Well, I'm not going to die from the truth.
Lakota: I found very little of the Christian faith as I know it, in your book. For twenty years, that faith alone kept me alive.
Telemond: Go on.
Lakota: I found it ... speculative, dangerous ... and full of ...
Lakota: It … It challenges the faith. For instance, Jesus Christ speaks of the redemption of the soul. I find not one mention of the word "soul" in your writings.
Telemond: But it's there, only under another name!
Lakota: Why change a name if you're not afraid of it?
Telemond: To express in modern terms ... reality and truth more clearly.
Lakota: Well, Father, if you truly believe that ... why did you remain a priest?
Telemond: Are you accusing me of dishonesty?
Lakota: I'm not accusing you of anything. That is for you to answer. But are you sure you are honest -- with yourself?
Telemond: I'm under a death sentence. I cannot afford to be otherwise. [Pause] May I offer you another drink?
Lakota: No. No, thank you. [Pause] You know, David, for many men, belief is a place to crawl for safety. Of course, they will fear and accuse you. Your writings are a danger to their safety.
Telemond: I'm not afraid of being accused. I'm only afraid of being silenced. You know, even God has not spoken His last word about His own creation. [Pause] Would you like to hear some Shostakovich?
Lakota: That would be fine.
Telemond: Eminence, you are destroying me before the commission does.
Lakota: Oh, David, that was not my intention. No, as a matter of fact, after I read your book last night ... I couldn't sleep. I saw a brilliant mind reaching out to the last frontiers of thought. A place where I wouldn't venture. [Pause] I came to wish you well tomorrow. I will say my mass for you.
Telemond: Thank you.
“I saw a brilliant mind reaching out to the last frontiers of thought.” Think about that for a moment, and consider that, elsewhere in the film, the young priest returns to the point of origin concerning matters of belief.
Lakota: David … I'm feeling lost. I'm troubled by the whole idea of my coronation.
Lakota: I am not prepared to be crowned with the pomp of a prince, while hungry men live in the shadow of death. Because in the emotion of the moment, I may have done wrong to accept the election.
Telemond: “Tu es Petrus.” You are Peter.
Lakota: [Pause] There is one consolation. As pope, I cannot preach error, no matter what folly I may commit. The church will survive.
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Much has already been written about the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, currently underway in Rome. This writer could not begin to provide a comprehensive survey, never mind a complete account of the proceedings. (In this case, it's not the day job, but one-week-plus vacation, and a wee bit of the writer's block.) This piece will be limited to a few highlights, and some random thoughts that may or may not have occurred to anyone else in the Catholic blogosphere.
The secular press, and the more irresponsible corners of the Catholic press, are all over the notion that our Mother the Church is going to be more "welcoming" to those with alternate sexual proclivities, as well as those in invalid marriages wishing to receive Communion.
With the release of a “relatio post disceptationem” (which is Latin for “report after the discussion”), essentially a working draft of ideas (ostensibly) exchanged during the proceedings, all hell broke loose. On top of the authorized edition being in Italian instead of Latin (the former of which, as one of our assistants has observed, is essentially a "gutter version" of the latter), this six-thousand-word document was translated into English, French, German, and Spanish, all in the space of 24 hours. That can only mean one of four things; A) the document was translated very badly, B) the document was prepared ahead of time by certain nefarious parties with an agenda, C) the document was not prepared ahead of time, but was nonetheless dominated by certain nefarious parties with an agenda, or D) some or all of the above.
Let's go with "D" for right now.
Problems with the translation, and the manner of proceedings themselves, have come under fire.
In the English translation provided by the Vatican, this is rendered as: "Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"
The key word "valutando," which has sparked controversy within the Church, was translated by the Vatican as "valuing."
Italian's "valutando" in fact means "evaluating," and in this context would be better translated with "weighing" or "considering."
The English translation, in contrast, suggests a valuing of the homosexual orientation, which could at least create confusion to those who are faithful to the teaching of the Church.
Some will dismiss this as a distinction without a difference, but one should expect a certain precision in language when defining matters of faith and morals. But the confusion continued in the press conferences, in the form of bobbing and weaving in the face of plain questions requiring plain answers.
5:27: "I must say that it is not easy to answer such an ontological question …"
8:24: "We are now working from a position that's virtually, virtually, when I say, irredeemable; The message has gone out; this is what the Synod is saying, this is what the Catholic Church is saying, and it's not what we are saying at all."
Is an objective disorder integral to our being? Are we nothing more than the sum total of our appetites? And once we determine otherwise, how do we get the genie back into the bottle?
As the week went on, the relatio has stirred open revolt among the majority of the Synod fathers, who also take exception to remarks by Cardinal Kasper, who has arguably been the main antagonist in the entire affair, calling for changes in Church teaching while trying to make it sound as if he is not. In an interview reported by Zenit, Kasper dismissed the exclusion of African bishops from the review panel, saying that the prelates of that part of world "should not tell us too much what we have to do." Even New York's own Cardinal Dolan challenged this: "We in the Church in Europe, the Church in North America, we suffer sometimes from a lethargy, don't we? Not Africa! … The bishops of Africa are prophetic in reminding us that the role of the Church is to transform the culture, not to be transformed by the culture."
He could well afford to learn that lesson himself.
Of course, Kasper denied the Zenit report of the interview, which has been taken down from its page, but the internet is a marvelous environment for chickens coming home to roost. And so, His Immenseness was caught with the goods in short order. Meanwhile, some of the press are already disappointed that the English text has revised some of its language, making it less "welcoming."
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So, some of you might be thinking: “Yo, mighty Black-Hatted One, whatever inspired your reminiscing of this nominee for two Academy Awards while reflecting upon this Synod?”?
When the Angelic Doctor himself, Thomas Aquinas, was using the philosophical approach of a pagan to develop a theological approach for the Church, he presented the arguments of his opponents, even to the point of explaining the merits contained therein, after which he would proceed to defeat them. There is a place for speculation, for posing hypotheses, but at the end of the day, the teaching authority of the Church demands clarity. No matter how far one branches out, one must return to the root, the source. The Synod has seen too much unrooted speculation, venturing into charted waters as if uncharted, and a growing number of the prelates assembled are heeding, if a bit overdue, the warnings posed early this year, by such reasonable voices as that of Father Peter Stravinskas ...
Back in May, I warned our readers that this Synod had the real possibility to be hijacked by special interest groups, rather than being a presentation of the life- and love-affirming teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and the family … The lay faithful need to inform their shepherds of their intense desire to live the Gospel message with fidelity and to beg their shepherds to assist them in doing just that. We all must also pray that our priests, bishops and Pope have the faith and courage to give a clear signal and unflagging support. If you do this, you will duc in altum.
... as well as observations on pastoral difficulties already prevalent in the mishandling of the message, by Father Dwight Longnecker.
Here is an example: twice in the last week I have had to deal with Catholics in irregular marriages. One woman married outside the church and told me that she thought it was now okay for her to come to communion because, "The pope has changed all those old rules." Another man has divorced his wife and is living with another woman. He also assured me very confidently that it was now fine for him to come to communion because, "Pope Francis has changed the rules." I know you mean well Holy Father, and I admire and like you, but this process on which you have led us is not helping.
Someone who does help is Raymond Cardinal Burke in his EWTN interview where he names names and doesn't mince words. Canonist Ed Peters provides a list of highlights from that interview. If you study nothing else, this interview, and Peters' comments, are worth the half-hour or so of one's time.
Our disorders are not "gifts" to ourselves or anyone else. At most, they are a cross, a concession to our fallen nature, an invitation to accept what C S Lewis called "the gift of suffering." If we do not suffer, we do not need God. If we do not need God, we will not seek Him. If we do not seek Him, we will not find Him. Glossing over the difficulties of life does not remove their consequences, and even as the Church survives the tumult, Her faithful will spend years undoing the damage wrought.
There is supposed to be a follow-up Synod scheduled for next year. If the pastors of the Church cannot leave the situation better than they found it, the lot of them should save us all millions of dollars and just stay home. There will still be plenty of opportunities for damage control in their own back yard.