Unanswered Questions

This afternoon’s news conference at the Vatican heard two questions posed, but not answered.

The reporter from "Catholic News Service" made the observation that the Synod has generated a lot of controversy, both within and without its confines. He suggested that some saw in the "relatio" Church teaching being muted in favor of "a kinder, gentler approach;" and that traditional teaching, if not abrogated, was being put into the shadow. Was this concern at all reflected in the "small groups?"

No answer was forthcoming.

Then the reporter from "The Catholic Herald" asked directly whether Pope Francis had  seen and approved the "relatio" before it was presented to the Synod?

The question was evaded.

Summing up some of the present sentiment, John Allen reports the growing impression that:

Catholicism is undergoing a transition, even if the precise nature of the shift and where it’s going to lead are unclear. People may be dismayed or elated, and there are articulate voices on both sides, but no one seems to believe it’s mere window-dressing.

Capping the coverage Damon Linker casts caution to the winds (with ample further links):

Francis would like to liberalize church doctrine on marriage, the family, and homosexuality, but he knows that he lacks the support and institutional power to do it. So he’s decided on a course of stealth reform that involves sowing seeds of future doctrinal change by undermining the enforcement of doctrine today. The hope would be that a generation or two from now, the gap between official doctrine and the behavior that’s informally accepted in Catholic parishes across the world would grow so vast that a global grassroots movement in favor of liberalizing change would rise up at long last to sweep aside the old, musty, already-ignored rules.

If this is what Pope Francis is going for, I don’t blame conservatives for beginning to express serious misgivings. It’s a brilliant, clever, supremely Machiavellian strategy — one that promises to produce far-reaching reforms down the road while permitting the present pope both to claim plausible deniability ("I haven’t changed church doctrine!") and to enjoy nearly constant effusive coverage in the secular press.

What’s happening in Rome isn’t yet "revolutionary change." But it just may be what eventually prepares the way for exactly that.

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.

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