Growing up, when I began to complain about some imminent doom looming over my life, usually stemming from some horribly postponed homework assignment, my father would pipe up with the advice, delivered in his fading but still noticeable Glaswegian accent: “Don’t holler until you’re stuck”. In other words, calm down and worry when the worst actually happens, not before..
I bring this up because I've noticed the Catholic blog world heating up recently in the face of the upcoming Synod on the Family Pope Francis has called for October. Many are predicting doom and gloom based on, I believe, rather tenuous and questionable assumptions.
The fact is, we don’t know what to expect. The most recent news stories I can find date back to February of this year save for one story that Pope Paul VI will be beatified at the close of the synod and a story yesterday about a meeting with the press held by Cardinal Baldiserri, Secretary for the Synod of Bishops, about which see below. Very little that I can see has been formally announced as far as the agenda, goals, etc that Francis would like the synod to pursue, other than the infamous survey, whose results, as far as I know, haven't been released to the public. I do find some significance in the timing of Pope Paul’s beatification, since he is famous for issuing the encyclical Humane Vitae which strongly reaffirmed Church teaching on the sanctity of marriage and dignity of the human person. The encyclical was issued at a time when everyone expected Paul to “update” Church teachings on these issues. Very interesting. I also find interesting the handling of the LCWR in the statement issued concerning them by the CDF at the end of April; the sisters are not getting the treatment they expected from the Vatican after Pope Francis’ election. Also, very interesting.
Finally, Cardinal Baldiserri held a news conference earlier this week and had some important points to make, cautioning the press against jumping to conclusions. Here is a quote from a story on the Catholic News Agency site:
“Regarding the possibility for the synod of bishops of changing the doctrine of the Church,” Cardinal Baldisseri said, “I underscore that the First Vatican Council’s document ‘Dei Filius’ affirmed that ‘understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding.’”
The cardinal then continued: “And I also remind you that John XXIII said in the inaugural speech of the Second Vatican Council that ‘authentic doctrine … should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.’”
If these statements are any indication, there's at least some of the bishops who understand that changing the doctrines of the Church can't be done in the name of finding “a deeper understanding”, and that studying a question is not the same as determining to change anything; it's study.
Forecasting is always a dangerous business, panic about some future event is even more futile, especially when based on assumptions, statements that may never have been made and other fantasies. Much can happen to change the expected course of events between now and October. Let’s everybody calm down and try not to holler before we’re stuck. Oh, and prayer is never a bad idea.