Was the Synod All Just a Terrible Dream?

George Weigel! George Weigel! I had the most frightening dream! It was about the Synod on the Family, and oh, it was dreadful!

Now now, have you been listening to The Media again? You just come over here and let George Weigel put it all in the proper context for you.

Well, I dreamed that the bishops at the synod were openly debating how to apply abstract principles to specific challenges, instead of serenely insisting that nothing about either church teaching on marriage or its application in particular instances can ever change a bit!

My, that does sound scary.

I dreamed that people -- respectable, important people, not just the lamers we always make fun of! -- were talking about Vatican II as if it were an authoritative council of the church whose vision of collegiality ought to be faithfully studied and implemented, instead of just some embarrassing thing that happened in the '60s, like Woodstock, that has no relevance now!

Nonsense. That was just the northern-European bishops and theologians and bishop-theologians trying to spook you. I mean now really, who would take those guys seriously?

But weren't they appointed by --

No one, that's who.

But wasn't the last pope from --

Shhhhhh, now you're getting yourself upset.

But, but, I dreamed that it was somehow significant that the synod featured so much open debate, and at the explicit invitation of the pope himself!

Now now, haven't I told you about Galatians 2?

Yes, but in recent history --

Tut tut, it's as though you've forgotten all about Cyprian of Carthage! There was nothing noteworthy about the cardinals' public disagreements. The reporters who were covering it just tried to make it look that way.

Well, OK. But I dreamed that people were left with the impression that the bishops of the church are deliberately turning their attention to the life experiences of laypeople in deciding how the church's teachings should be interpreted and applied. And that, despite an increasingly frantic effort among conservatives and traditionalists to discredit people like Cardinal Kasper, with all his dangerous ideas about mercy, the general public's sense of it all was that the church is honestly evaluating itself, and that many of its leaders are really pleased to be taking part in such a collegial process.

I dreamed that people might view whatever comes of this synod process as more authoritative and legitimate if they can see that it springs from genuine discernment and humility on the part of the bishops. I even dreamed that people's sense that the church might actually make some welcome changes that would improve its ability to spread the gospel was -- well -- accurate.

Confusion, my child. This is all just theological confusion.

But how are people so confused? In my dream the pope, for one, seemed to be speaking awfully clearly.

I believe Cardinal Pell said it best: We have to stick with Jesus.

Yes, but isn't where Jesus would stand on the specific issues that affect Catholic families today exactly what all the debate was supposed to be about?

Are you suggesting that the gospels are insufficient?

Well, I mean, there's nothing about the Theology of the Body in the gospels, and --

There you go.

Huh? I mean, I know that doctrine can develop, and it seems like --

But doctrine can only develop in continuity with the past. Never rupture.

I'm sorry, but isn't that a tautology? I mean, who gets to decide what counts as continuity, and what would be a "cave-in"?

Precisely.

What?

I'm afraid you're only demonstrating how damaging all this confusion can be. Confusion is of the devil, you know. Archbishop Chaput said that.

So...you're saying that the way the pope ran the synod was wrong?

Of course not.

But do you think Bishop Tobin was right about it being a "mess" and all? Or was Francis right to do things the way he did?

Hm? What? I think what you really mean to ask is, What do the African bishops have to say? That's the real story coming out of this synod.

It is? Boy, I guess I really had things all mixed up.

Indeed. The media spin will do it to you every time.

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.

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