The Bishops’ Synod – Challenge to the Pope
serious challenge to Pope John Paul II’s pontificate since
his election two years ago may be facing him now, at the Synod
of Bishops meeting in the Vatican. More than 200 cardinals and
bishops, representing the world’s Catholic hierarchies,
have joined there with the Pope and senior prelates of the papal
government in a month-long discussion of marriage and the family
in today’s runaway world.
to the Pope, which has been more or less low key thus far, is
apparently a result – at least in part – of the Vatican
document prepared as an agenda for discussion. The document has
been criticized as backward by the usual neo-Modernist theologians
and has been challenged by some as misunderstanding the “realities”
of present-day family life.
the most severe criticism of the Synod agenda came from Africa,
where the Pope spoke frequently last year on the ideals of Christian
marriage, during his 10-day visit. A pastoral consultation in
the diocese of Arusha in Kenya called the Vatican document "flawed,"
saying it gave its attention exclusively to the European concept
of monogamous marriage. This marital structure does not represent
the "reality" of the Universal Church, the Africans
consultations in other sectors of the Church, while less extreme,
also have criticized the Vatican document. They fault its alleged
failure to confront the “actualities” of married love,
divorce, the sexual revolution, homosexuality, and the population
problem in a “realistic” fashion.
bishops coming to the Synod have also been prepared by a "consultation"
with their priests and people to demand “an honest debate”
on the papal encyclical Humanæ Vitæ the 1968
ban on artificial birth prevention.
In a national
pastoral consultation last fall, the bishops of England and Wales
were reportedly asked to call for a "fundamental re-examination"
of Church teachings on marriage, sexuality and contraception.
opinion poll reflected almost identical statistics, with U. S.
surveys among practicing Catholics who use artificial contraceptives
and challenge papal, directives on marriage.
As was to
be expected, the Canadian and U.S. bishops are apparently taking
the lead trying to soften Vatican strictures that deny divorced
and re-married Catholics the right to receive the sacraments.
the United States at the Synod are four elected delegates –
Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco, Archbishop Joseph Bemardin
of Cincinnati, Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe, N.M., and
Auxiliary Bishop J. Francis Stafford of Baltimore. Cardinal Cooke
of New York is one of approximately twenty synodal members directly
appointed by the Pope.
result, if and when it materializes, will be a “thorough
examination” of modern sexual mores and the breakdown of
family structures that have led to the current epidemic of pre-marital
and extra-marital sex, teenage pregnancies, and casual and frequent
divorce among Catholics. It will, then, presumably, produce a
document that will project a “realistic” approach
to Christian marriage. And while the Synod’s deliberations
are merely consultative and not ultimately binding, they can hardly
be ignored by the Pope in this post-conciliar era of “shared
responsibility” and collegiality.”