Still 100% Catholic, and 100% Christian.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Popes and Antipopes

Fresco at Siena: Election of Antipope Paschal III
by Spinello Aretino (b. 1350 – d. 1410)

In recent days I have received so many messages, from so many people, asking me about the possibility of an antipope on the Chair of Peter. Under normal circumstances I might have been surprised, but considering what just went down in Rome with the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, I was (sadly) not surprised at all. The question was put forward so many times that I had to seriously contemplate the "what if" possibility myself.

Before I go on here, I probably should clarify that I do not believe Pope Francis is an antipope. I'm not saying that, and I'm not even suggesting that. Nor am I giving credibility to those who are saying that. I want to broach this topic simply because, with all the doubts and rumours floating around, it needs to be discussed in a reasonable way with some common sense.

I also should probably state something else too. In recent weeks I (like many others) have become very disappointed with Pope Francis. That's a big admission for me, because if you go back through the history of this blog, you'll find that I've been one of his most ardent defenders. Part of this was because I believed the mainstream news media was misinterpreting his message. In fact, I still do believe that. However, I made the mistake of believing that his real message was something closer to that of Saint John Paul II, Pope Pius XI or Pope Leo XIII. I'm sure that the economic writings of those popes do factor into his thinking, but I now tend to think Francis has his own ideas that are a bit different as well. I had thought that Pope Francis was likely the most misunderstood pope in recent history. I have since come to realise that this may be true, but perhaps it was I who misunderstood him. I'm not going to go into the reasons for my change of thought here. I believe I've covered them sufficiently in two previous blog entries: here and here. Suffice it to say, I will no longer be such an unconditional defender as before. Rather, from now on, I will defend the pope when he should be defended, but I may choose to criticise him when he should be criticised. I know there are other Catholic media on the Internet who disagree with this approach, and believe we should keep silent when the pope errors. I respect their perspective, and admire their loyalty. That may work well for them, but it does not work well for me. If I see a priest, bishop or even a pope, doing something that is in clear contradiction of Catholic teaching, I reserve my right (as a Catholic) to speak up and say something in criticism. I also reserve my right to keep silent, as prudence may dictate, from time to time. There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silent. I reserve my right to both.

Having said all that, I will clarify now that I don't exactly know what to think of Pope Francis. I do believe he has surrounded himself with some advisers who are questionable. I think some of the "off the cuff" statements he's made were at times damaging to the Church. I am disappointed with the way he's handled a traditional Franciscan order. I wholeheartedly believe he put the wrong people in charge at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. I agree with Cardinal Burke that his failure to clearly define his own positions on the matters, discussed at the synod, has (up to this point) harmed the synod and the Church. Truth be told, I am worried about the direction he is leading the papacy and the Catholic Church in general. On the other hand, I also believe Pope Francis has done some very good things too. I think he's made some very good decisions (especially on the Personal ordinariates for Anglicans), and has called out some secular powers (especially in the economic realm) which needed to be called out. I admire his courage, and his devotion to Mary. I especially like the way he talks about the devil in his regular sermons, and reminds the Church that the devil is real, and is prowling about, seeking the ruin of souls. I am at times impressed with his personal candour. I like his desire to reform the Curia. I applaud him for encouraging our bishops to sell their mansions and large cars, and I especially applaud him for leading by example on that. So in an attempt to be balanced here, I want to say that I think Pope Francis has good intentions, and is trying to be a good pope. I think he is succeeding in some areas, but is failing in others. Unfortunately, the areas he's been failing in lately, happen to be some of the most important aspects of his job title. I also believe Pope Francis is a man who is not afraid to accept criticism (when it is warranted) and is capable of pivoting when needed, to correct matters that need to be corrected. So all in all, I believe the pope is human, he does make mistakes, and he can correct them. This is important to point out, because we Catholics must all understand that our leaders are human -- even the pope -- and that being human does not automatically disqualify a pope or nullify a papacy. I recall another pope, of recent memory, committing a huge blunder, for all the world to see. When in a misguided and imprudent gesture of inter-religious dialogue, he actually kissed a Koran.  This was a scandalous event to every Catholic around the world, and a confusing one to every Muslim. He shouldn't have done it. I think he later realised that it was a mistake, and he never did it again. That man is now a Saint, not because of his human errors as pope, but because of the holiness in which he lived his life. He is Saint John Paul II, and it is his Catechism, the one he commissioned and approved as pope, that I now use as my standard of Catholic faith. Indeed, it was this contribution he made to the Church, the Catechism, that brought me into the Catholic Church as a convert. So we have to step back and look at these things in perspective. Popes are human. They make mistakes. They can learn from their mistakes, and they can change to correct them. So this is my hope and prayer for Pope Francis.

Many people are under the false impression that popes are always infallible. This is not true. The Catholic Church teaches that a pope is only infallible when he intends to be, by stating so, and speaking from the Chair of Peter (ex cathedra). Just to give you some perspective, this has only happened twice in the last 150 years. Most popes never exercise their gift of infallibility. Yes, they are allowed to be human. We need to give Pope Francis some space to be a human and work these things out.

Now on to this business about popes and antipopes. An antipope is a term that is used almost exclusively by Catholics. The prefix "anti-" comes from Greek origin, and has a few meanings. The most common meaning is "opposite of" or "opposed to."  However, in the context of religious figures, such as the pope for example, it would mean "false" or "impostor."  So an anti-pope is a "false pope," or an "impostor pope," meaning not the real pope. (NOTE: an anti-pope is not the same as an anti-christ or the Antichrist. I've already explained in my book Catholicism for Protestants, that it is impossible for a pope figure, whether real or false, to be the anti-christ. It makes no logical sense.)  Now an anti-pope is not just some kind of theoretical thing. It really can happen, and indeed, it has happened before. There are examples in history when men have sit on the Chair of Peter who were not the true and actual Successor of Peter. In all cases, the matter was eventually corrected. Probably the worst example in history came in AD 1378-1417 with the Occidental Schism (or "Western Schism") when three men reigned as "pope" simultaneously. Only one of them was the real pope (Gregory XII), while the other two were antipopes (John XXIII and Benedict XIII). The schism was so great that it eventually had to be resolved with an Ecumenical Church Council (Council of Constance, AD 1414-1418) in which the two antipopes were deposed, and the real pope abdicated (resigned or retired) for the good of the Church. A new pope was elected, and the crisis was resolved. There have been other antipopes throughout Church history, but this was probably the most serious case.  We haven't experienced any serious antipopes in recent Church history. There have been a few non-serious antipopes in recent history, but I say non-serious for a reason. Nobody takes them seriously. The most recent one is Pope Michael, who lives with his mother in Jackson County, Kansas. You can watch a full feature-length video on him here. While this may seem humorous at first, keep in mind that this person is a real antipope, who has opposed the papacy of three legitimate popes: Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis. This may seem like silly business, but this man does have a following (small as it may be) of people who he is leading into error. Part of what makes this humorous is the location of the man and the circumstances surrounding him. Imagine if you will that instead of Kansas, he lived in Paris, Berlin or even Rome! How many more followers would he have then? Imagine, if you will, that instead of speaking with an American English country drawl, he spoke eloquently in three or four different languages! How many more followers would he have then? Imagine, if you will, that instead of operating within the sphere of a few radical traditionalists, he was actually and ordained priest, and rose to the level of bishop, and even cardinal, before being declared "pope!" How many followers would he have then!?! My point here is that while antipopes can start out as a joke, they can turn into something much more serious depending on the circumstances.

Then of course we must address those circumstances that led to the creation of this Kansas antipope -- Pope Michael. There are groups of people whom I have labelled "Catholic Fundamentalists." Some people like to call them "Radical Traditionalists" or "Rad-Trads" for short. These are Catholics who operate OUTSIDE of the Catholic Church. Unlike regular Traditional Catholics, who stay within the Church, love the traditional Latin liturgy, and promote clarity of Catholic doctrine; Catholic Fundamentalists (or Rad-Trads) often separate themselves from authorised Catholic jurisdictions. These groups are called "sedevacantists." It's a word that comes from two Latin words: sede meaning "chair" and vacanti meaning "vacant."  Literally translated, the word means "vacant chair." In other words, these people believe there is no pope. In fact, they believe the last pope was Pius XII, who died in 1958. These people believe the Chair of Peter has been vacant ever since then, and that every pope since Pius XII has been an antipope, including the current Pope Francis.

Now any rational person, who understands Catholicism, can see this sedevacantist conspiracy belief system is absolutely nuts! For if it is true that the Chair of Peter has been vacant since 1958, it means we have no legitimate cardinals anymore! Without cardinals we have no simple way to elect a new pope. The papacy is essentially dead. Unless, of course, you happen to have found a way to elect a new pope without cardinals, which is what a small group of sedevacantists did in Kansas, giving us the antipope -- Pope Michael.

Now don't get me wrong. There are many good and holy people who are sedevacantists. I've met more than a few. However, you have to understand, these people are living in a mental construct that makes no logical sense when you get right down to it. After talking with these people, it isn't long before you discover that their arguments (creative as they may be at times) are rooted primarily in emotion. They just can't understand how the Catholic Church could be so messed up today unless there is a conspiracy of some kind. They wrongly assume that the problems in the Church must be due to the lack of a legitimate pope, and so they rationalise their sedevacantism. When you stop and think about it. The antipope in Kansas -- Pope Michael -- is the only logical resolution to the 1958 sedevacantism conspiracy theory. That's how people fall for it. That's why the antipope in Kansas has any kind of a following at all. Most sedevacantists realise this is ridiculous, and don't follow Pope Michael. Yet they still have a problem and they know it. If there has been no legitimate pope since 1958, how do we get a new one now?

That's their problem, because thankfully, I am not a sedevacantist, so I don't have to worry about it. I believe all the popes elected in Rome since 1958 were real popes, as do 99.9% of all those who call themselves "Catholic."  The question has been raised however, in more than one recent message to me, "what if" we get another antipope in our lifetime?
The first thing we have to do is understand how to identify an antipope. It's not always easy. It could involve heresy, but it doesn't have to. For example, you could get a perfectly orthodox Roman Catholic as an antipope. It's happened before. In such cases, there would be something wrong with the election process. In ages past, sometimes conclaves were put under political pressure from the state. This can result in the election and instalment of an antipope. Or it may have nothing to do with the election process at all. It could simply be a failure, by the man who was elected pope, to fulfil the role of his office. This could be done by extreme corruption or heresy. That's not to say that legitimate popes can't be corrupt. They can be, and we've had our share in history. However, the surefire giveaway of an antipope is known heresy. You see, it is possible for a legitimate pope to believe heresy. It's even possible for a legitimate pope to act on heresy. Yes, it's even possible for a legitimate pope to speak about heresy in candid "off the cuff" remarks. However, it is IMPOSSIBLE for a legitimate pope to actively teach heresy to the faithful while exercising his pastoral role of the entire Church as pope. This is what the Holy Spirit guards the legitimate pope against. So, if we have a man in the papacy, who issues an OFFICIAL encyclical, or edict of some sort, that mandates the belief in a heresy, then we have an antipope. 
Here's the good news about that. When it comes to identifying an antipope, it is NOT the responsibility of the laity. Granted, lay Catholics should be watchful of such things, but in the end, it is not our responsibility to decide who is an antipope, anymore than it is our responsibility to decide who is a legitimate pope. Those responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of Catholic bishops -- particularly cardinals and archbishops. Our responsibilities as laity, deacons and priests, is to simply look to our local bishop or ordinary for spiritual guidance. Granted, we should compare everything our leaders say with the Scriptures and the Catechism of course, as we should always be diligent, but we must understand that the role of identifying an antipope is their burden to carry -- not ours. It would be inappropriate (and reckless) to take this burden upon ourselves. We have not been given the responsibility, or the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to make this determination. By judging for ourselves if the man in the Vatican is an antipope, we are behaving like Protestants, by taking spiritual matters (of great importance) into our own hands. If you're worried about the man in the Vatican being an antipope, you need to look to your local bishop or ordinary for guidance. Does he believe he's an antipope too? Do his brother bishops believe he's an antipope? If not, then there's a good chance you're wrong, and your fears are unwarranted. 
If an antipope should arise anytime in the near (or distant) future, the problem will be resolved in some similar way to how it was resolved in ages past. In a worst case scenario, an ecumenical council of the whole Catholic Church will be called, as we saw with the Council of Constance in AD 1414-1418. A more likely scenario would be an emergency conclave by the majority of cardinals. They will simply declare the current occupant of the Chair of Peter an antipope, and elect a new pope. That's it. Done. That's all there is to it. Now I would expect such an act would be followed by some general confusion for a while, but as soon as the dust settles, the majority of the world's bishops would realign with the new pope, and the antipope would eventually be forced to resign due to political and religious pressures. In these days of lightning-fast mass communication, I imagine those political and religious pressures would accumulate rather quickly, forcing a quick resignation as a result. If not, well, we'll just have two "popes" for a while, until things start to sort themselves out. In time the antipope will be easy to identify, as well as the authentic pope.
What do faithful Catholic laypeople do during this time? The answer is simple. We pray. We offer rosaries. We visit the blessed sacrament. We attend mass. We go to confession. All and all, we just do the same thing we always do. That's how we handle it. Then we wait, watch and see. If there is a schism, we prayerfully wait, watch and see who the authentic new pope is. Then once that is known, we align ourselves accordingly, if possible. If it's not possible, we just wait, watch and see some more. In time, the schism will end, because Jesus promised the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church.

I think what has so many people worked up is simply the times in which we live. Modernism, and it's bastard child moral relativism, has taken over the Western world since the 1960s onward. Modernism and moral relativism have not only transformed our society, but they have also infected all of Christianity as well. Many mainline Protestant denominations have completely succumbed to its influence. This explains the reason for the rise of Evangelical Protestantism. Evangelicalism is really nothing more than an organised exodus from the mainline Protestant denominations. Those denominations went liberal during the 1960s through present, and as a result, many of their members bolted to more conservative Evangelical churches. My family is a perfect example of this. My father was a Lutheran, and came from generations of Lutherans before him. My mother was an American Baptist (a more traditional type). Both left their background to become Evangelicals in the 1990s. Why? In part, it was an exodus from their previous denominations going liberal. We must keep in mind, that the larger Evangelicalism gets, it only reflects how rapidly mainline Protestant denominations are shrinking due to liberal modernism. The Catholic Church has not been immune from the influence of liberal modernism either. Indeed, it would seem it's affected some of our theologians for about 100 years now. Then about 40 to 60 years ago, it got into our seminaries, and from there it's blossomed into every diocese in the West. However, not all priests and bishops have been entirely corrupted by it. As we saw in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, there was still a majority willing to stand up for authentic Catholic teaching. I think the same can be said of most Catholic bishops, who up until now have been a silent majority. Considering what happened at the synod, I don't think they'll be silent much longer. The Extraordinary Synod on the Family may have been a turning point in 50 years of liberal tyranny within the Catholic Church. There may still be a long fight ahead of us, but I think October 13, 2014 will be remembered as the day the faithful Catholic remnant began to fight back.

We are living in a tumultuous time in Church history, and Western history too, because Western history is Church history. This is a tempest, a great storm, that will sink many ships (Christian denominations), but the greatest ship (which is the Roman Catholic Church) will not sink. It may get tossed about by the waves. Some of its crew may even be swept overboard, but I tell you, this Barque of Peter will not sink! It cannot sink, because we have the assurance from Christ himself that it cannot. (The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.) If you're getting seasick, or are having difficulty hanging on, then get down below deck. Bury yourself in prayer, study, reparations and the sacraments. You'll be safe there. In time this storm, like all others before it, will subside. Yes, this may be the worst storm we've seen in a long time (since the Arian heresy), but even that storm abated eventually. No storm can last forever. When the sun finally pierces the clouds, and the waves settle, this great Barque of Peter will find safe harbour again. Some smaller ships (Protestant denominations) will sink,  but this great ship will not. We have our Lord's assurance on that. So please everyone, just settle down, get back to basics, and start praying for our Lord's victory in his Church. A storm is always most intense just before it ends.


Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Social Media and Catholic Bishops

Michael Voris explains the importance of the NEW Catholic Media.

There is no doubt now that social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are what rescued the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family from a clearly heterodox direction. High ranking orthodox prelates within the synod realised, after the publication of the midterm relatio, that the synod process had been hijacked, and was being directed (orchestrated and planned) from the top-down, in an attempt to 'rail-road' an agenda that was counter to the historic and orthodox teaching of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith. The orthodox bishops within the synod quickly realised that they were surrounded on all sides, with the orchestrators of modernist heterodoxy to their front, and the liberal mainstream press to their rear. Neither would give them a fair chance to get their message out. So they turned to the bloggers, and small independent media outlets, to get their message out to the public, and this in turn reverberated on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Within a very short period of time, social media proved just as effective (if not more effective) at getting the message out, as the standard mainstream media.

Unlike the mainstream media, which is generally passive, with social media comes social action. Bloggers are engaged reporters who are unencumbered with the supposed 'objectivity' of regular journalists -- many regular journalists not really being 'objective' anyway. It is no secret that the mainstream media often promotes a very left-leaning slant on the news. Conversely, many bloggers, and small independent news outlets, are willing to counterbalance that with a more conservative, or traditional, right-leaning slant in their articles. Another advantage is that unlike large media outfits, they tend to be very fast. One can expect an interview to be released to the public within hours to minutes after taking place. Whereas large media outlets take much longer -- hours to days -- due to the editing process (which may not go in a one's favour) as well as set broadcasting and print times. Lastly, large media now depends heavily on small media. Yes, you heard me right, many large media outlets now quote, cite, and sometimes even link to small media outlets (such as blogs and independent news sources) to develop their own stories. So in going to small media, one can potentially reach the entire media, if the story is big enough. How many times have you heard a major news story about some famous actor or actress sending out a controversial "tweet" on Twitter? It happens all the time.

So with that in mind, we now move to the present time and the years ahead. This is not 1970. Nor is it 1980. It's not even 1990. This is the 21st century, and the good news about that dear bishops is this. You now have a tool at your disposal that your predecessors did not have and could only dream of. You now have social media, and that means you are no longer prisoner to the whims of the mainstream media. It also means you have a voice, a powerful voice, that can reverberate around the world (depending on how big the story is), and it can be carried by people who are friendly to your message!

Dear bishops, social media is your friend. It is your ally. All you need do is learn how to use it correctly, and I'm going to tell you how to do that right now. Here we go...
  1. Set up an official Facebook fan page. If you're computer savvy you should do this yourself to retain full and absolute control. If you're not computer savvy, that's okay. You should find a trusted person to do this for you. It should be a close friend -- somebody who will never betray you. It should not be a mere employee. Once the Facebook fan page is set up, you now have your first outlet. The advantage of using Facebook is unlimited text. You can 'cut and paste' entire speeches to it, make long statements, and even post photos and illustrations.
  2. If you don't like Facebook, that's okay, you can skip it. Because the next thing you should do, regardless, is set up a Twitter account. Again, if you are computer savvy you should do this yourself to retain full and absolute control. If you're not computer savvy, again that's okay. You should find a trusted person to do this for you. It should be a close friend -- somebody who will never betray you. It should not be a mere employee. The advantage to Twitter is you can pick up an unlimited number of followers rather quickly, and messages you broadcast tend to travel much faster than Facebook. However, you are limited to text size. Basically, whatever you "tweet" has to be in one or two short sentences. Of course, you can avoid both Facebook and Twitter if you like, so long as you follow through with step number 3 below.
  3. Get to know your local bloggers. A simple Google search will reveal Catholic bloggers in your area, and a cursory review of those blogs will quickly reveal what kind of bloggers they are. You should know rather quickly if they are orthodox and reliable sources of information. You should also be able to tell rather quickly if the blog has a decent following. (HINT: unorthodox, liberal Catholic blogs usually don't last long. They're generally not successful.) Keep the principle of subsidiarity in mind. One can always go to a large blog with millions of followers, located in another region, but if you're a small diocesan bishop far away, that blogger may not be as willing to carry your message, especially when some major cardinal is speaking at the same time. If you stick to local bloggers, they are usually thrilled to carry your message. No worries, because if your message is important enough, it will be cited by larger blogs and media outlets later on. The nice thing about the Internet is that when it comes to information, the size of the blog, or media outlet, no longer matters. Once you have identified two or three local blogs to your liking, contact the bloggers. Usually the blogger will leave an email address somewhere on his blog. Or if he's a Catholic, he's probably a parishioner in one of your parishes. You could simply contact him through that parish priest. Whatever method of contact you choose, make it a point to have a short conversation with him, either by telephone or in person (personal human contact is important here), and ask if he would be willing to publish press releases, important messages, or interviews on rare occasions when needed. I guarantee you, the average Catholic blogger will be thrilled to hear this, and will most likely agree. The key to making all this work is to give the blogger something special or exclusive, that people won't generally find in the mainstream news for a while. This is the 'commerce' of blogging. Bloggers need something special (exclusive) for a short time, to break a new story, to help drive traffic to their blog. If you offer them this, that is more than enough payment for their services. So offer your bloggers a detail or two that you don't release to the mainstream press. They'll be very thankful you did.
  4. Small Catholic media outfits are highly dependent on local bloggers for tips, so working with your bloggers is essential. They're usually well connected with small Catholic media outlets. For example, this blogger (yours truly) has some connection to ChurchMilitant.TV, and has appeared on one of their shows twice. You can be sure that any big news this blogger receives from his regular ordinary, or local bishop, will be passed along as a 'tip' to that small media outlet. The same goes for other Catholic bloggers. Each has their own special connection to some kind of small Catholic media. Once the story hits small Catholic media, larger Catholic media, and sometimes even the secular press, will take interest as well.
As the video above points out, the NEW alternative media has become essential in combating the forces of liberalism, modernism and unorthodoxy. Some Catholic priests have seen the value of this themselves and taken to the Internet with their own blogs and podcasts. Two prominent examples are Father John Zuhlsdorf and Father Dwight Longenecker. Both have enormous followings and have done little more than regular commentary on the latest happenings in the Catholic Church and the world. Assuming a bishop doesn't already run his own blog, it would be unfortunate for him to miss connecting with those bloggers already established within his diocese. As recent events in the Vatican proved, these connections are becoming more and more essential.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The Great Synod Scandal

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Ludolf Bakhuizen, painted in 1695

This week has been a very trying one for Christian families around the world, particularly those families that seek to live in harmony with the Catholic Christian faith. On Monday, October 13th, 2014, on the 97th anniversary of the miracle of the sun at Fatima, the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, led by Pope Francis and several liberal cardinals in Rome, dropped a bombshell on the world in the form of a draft relatio that appeared to question basic Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. The press received this document before many of the bishops did, leaving us the still unanswered question of: 'who was responsible for that decision?' Headlines rang around the world, as the unholy 'Synod of the Media" kicked into high gear. The Times reported...
'In a marked shift in tone likely to be discussed in parishes around the world, an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican released a preliminary document on Monday calling for the church to welcome and accept gay people, unmarried couples and those who have divorced, as well as the children of these less traditional families.' 
- New York Times, 10-13-2014
The document itself issued statements that shook faithful Catholics too their knees, questioning the very teaching of the Catholic Church on some of its most basic doctrines related to the family. In Paragraph 46 for example, the document appeared to instruct pastors to deal with divorce and unlawfully remarried persons in such a way that avoids "any language or behaviour that might make them feel discriminated against."  What does this mean? In the following paragraph, it seemed to leave the reception of communion for such people open-ended and unanswered, but cited an ambiguous "law of gradualness", which clearly suggested that reception of holy communion should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. However, in view of Paragraph 46, we got the definite impression that communion should be permitted so that they should not "feel discriminated against." While Paragraph 48 negatively critiqued those who question communion for the divorce and remarried.  While the document itself seemed disjointed, the general impression was clear. Divorced and remarried persons should receive holy communion, whether an annulment is attained or not.

The document continued with even more explosive language. Paragraphs 50 through 52 were by far the most controversial and dealt with the topic of homosexuality. The document appeared to clearly and boldly challenge official Church teaching by almost championing homosexuality. It radically called upon the Church to "accept and value" the homosexual orientation. The section appeared to suggest, no, not suggest but assert, that homosexual temptation (the temptation to sodomise people) is something to be "accepted and valued." Yes, you read that right, see it for yourself below, the temptation to commit the sin of sodomy (the homosexual orientation), a sin that if committed, cries out to heaven as an abomination, is to be "accepted and valued."
'Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?'
-- Paragraph 50, Synod 14, Relatio post disceptationem
As one can imagine, this lit of a fire storm in the press and in the synod. All over the world, the message was carried, and now the damage is done -- virtually irreversible. The expectation of the world is that the Catholic Church will soon accept homosexuality and divorce. Whether or not it does is no longer an issue. The expectation is there and people are already beginning to act on it.

If the Extraordinary Synod on the Family was supposed to help Catholic families around the world, it, in effect, accomplished the exact opposite. If anything, we are more harmed by the synod. Already pummelled on every side, by pressures unseen in 2,000 years of Church history, the release of this synod document was nothing short of a stab in the back. Speaking as a family man, a faithful Catholic husband and father, assailed for this by post-modern Western culture, the mainstream media, the national government, and now the local city government; my reaction to the Synod's midterm relatio was the familiar response of another besieged man centuries ago: Et tu, Brute? Et tu? I'm sure the same sense of betrayal was felt by many other Catholic husbands and fathers around the world. It would be difficult to plunge the knife in deeper.

This was a trying week. We learnt that the bishops responsible for the compilation and release of the draft document were hand-picked by none other than Pope Francis. We heard report after report from Cardinal Walter Kasper, who supposedly has the pope's ear, that the Holy Father is behind all this, that he wants this to go forward, and that the synod fathers were merely acting upon his will. It should be noted that this comes from the same man who also said the synod fathers pay no attention to the African bishops because of their taboo and backward beliefs. It is a statement the cardinal now denies, even though it was recorded. Perhaps this should lead us to now take Cardinal Kasper's words with a grain of salt, with the understanding that his recollection of recent events appears to be selective at best. If the poor man cannot recall a rather profound (and racist) statement he himself made just a few days ago, how can we possibly expect him to accurately recall conversations he had with the pope weeks to months ago?

Events at the synod deteriorated rapidly following the release of the midterm relatio. Reports surfaced of "shouting" from the floor over a dispute about the publication of conversations related to the small group follow-up debates, with one bishop allegedly "pounding his fist on the table." The pope, stone-faced and sombre through much of the proceedings, finally capitulated, granting the publication, and then placing an African bishop (a critic of the document) on the panel to draw up the next one.

Through all of this, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, an American traditionalist, canon lawyer, and Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura (the equivalent of 'Chief Justice' on the Vatican's 'Supreme Court'), became quite vocal, expressing his concerns to the press about the nature of the process. From Burke (and others) we learnt that the sum of all fears had taken place at the synod. The whole thing was intended to be choreographed, orchestrated, and manipulated in such a way as to produce a pre-desired unorthodox outcome. Burke did not accuse the Holy Father of making this happen, but he did say that the pope's failure, to make his own position well known, was bringing great harm to the synod process and to the Church in general. Burke also confirmed rumours of his soon-to-be demotion by Francis to an obscure position outside the Vatican. While this is certainly within the right of the pope to do this, it does raise some eyebrows, especially since Burke has done such excellent work in the past, and was hand-picked by Pope Benedict XVI for that position after proving himself worthy under fire in Saint Louis, Missouri. Unless it's something personal between Francis and Burke, the move signals a strong deviation from the Vatican trajectory set by the Benedict and John Paul papacies. For his outspokenness, Burke may soon find himself exiled to the most remote region in the world, but he has done the Church a great favour in exposing the fa├žade that was unfolding in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

If there is one thing the first, draft relatio of the synod will be remembered for, it will be the overreach of liberal prelates within the Catholic Church, in an attempt to impose their unorthodox (indeed heterodox) views, related to marriage and sexuality, upon the rest of the Church. Where Pope Francis fits into all of this remains to be seen yet, but one thing is certain. His reputation has been severely damaged. All over the world, many members of the clergy are upset with him for his handling of this situation. Some have even gone public with their disappointment by writing open letters to the pope and publishing them on the Internet. Some more traditional Catholic laypeople are even beginning to call into question the legitimacy of his papacy. (On a personal note, I've even heard the term 'antipope' floated around here and there, by people who don't normally say such things.) Francis has a lot of damage control to do over the next year, and perhaps the best way he can do it is by actually taking Cardinal Burke's advice and challenge. He needs to come clean with the world and reveal his official position (as pope) on these matters of family, marriage and sexuality. 'Off the cuff' casual remarks simply will not do any more. The pope must begin acting like the Vicar of Christ by defending orthodoxy on an official level, both in word and deed.

By Saturday, October 18, 2014, the controversial paragraphs of the relatio had been completely removed, and a revised (orthodox) version of the document was voted upon, and passed, by the majority of synod bishops. The second phase of the synod now begins, as bishops take the document back to their dioceses and use it as a reference point for discussions back home.  In October of 2015, the bishops will return to Rome for the third and final phase of the process, the Ordinary Synod on the Family. Only God knows what surprises lay in store for us then.

On a personal note, I have two reflections to offer on this topic.

The first has to do with the synod itself. How could this happen? How did we get to where we are today? I blogged on this extensively in my previous post: The Crisis and the Storm. In summary, the events that transpired in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family did not come about by chance. They were actually a product, of a long chain of events, beginning in the decades before the Second Vatican Council, and gathering momentum ever since. The revolutionary changes in the Church, that came after the Second Vatican Council, created such a weakened moral state within the laity that it was only a matter of time before this "tyranny of relativism", as Pope Benedict XVI put it, worked its way right into the college of cardinals. We can expect more of this to come. The overreach of liberal prelates at the synod may have been put down for now, but a more general overreach will continue to remain a threat until this older post-conciliar generation of clergy is retired.

The second has to do with what we, as faithful lay Catholics, should do in response to everything that has happened. I am convinced that the timing of this scandalous event was no coincidence. October 13th is the most important date in the Fatima message. What transpired at the synod was nothing short of a fulfilment of the Fatima warnings. Our Lady told the three seer children that more souls go to hell over sexual immorality than any other sin. The synod revealed that some members of the Church hierarchy, including some cardinals, are prepared to virtually sanction sexual immorality. Had they been successful in their push, the papacy of Francis, as well as the unity of the entire Catholic Church, would be at stake. For now the crisis is averted, but the danger remains. So with that in mind, what are we, as faithful Catholics, to do in such a time as this?  I'll tell you. We must do two things. One, we must be good Catholics. We must go to confession and mass regularly. We must follow the teachings of the Church, and make an effort to know what those teachings are, as well as understand them. Second, we must take Our Lady's rosary before the tabernacle of every parish church in the world. We must pray the rosary daily in this time of great distress, and then as often as possible, visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and say our rosary there.  In all of this, we must offer our intentions up for the two causes of the bishops and the family.

Our Lady of Fatima told us that, in the end, her Immaculate Heart will prevail. That will happen. Until then however, our duty is clear. The time of sleep is over. Catholics must be awake, alert and ready for spiritual combat. The mainstream press is reporting the final synod document (which removed the controversial paragraphs and restored orthodoxy) as a "setback" for the pope. I don't know if it's really a setback for the pope or not, since the pope has not yet officially told us what his beliefs and intentions are. I do think, however, that this was a huge setback for the mainstream media and liberals within the Church, and all I can say to that is... THANK GOD!


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