On October 17, 2015, Pope Francis announced how the Synod on the Family is going to conclude. In the few days just before the end of the work by the assembly of bishops, they have reached an impasse, and the way out of it, according to the Pope, would be the decentralization of the Church.
This impasse is due to the division among those within the hall: between those who refer with firmness to the perennial Magisterium on marriage, and those “innovators” who want to overturn two thousand years of Church teaching, but above all, to overturn the Truth of the Gospel. It is, in fact, the Word of Christ, the natural and Divine law, that a valid marriage, celebrated and consummated [ratum et consummatum] by the baptized, cannot, under any circumstances, be dissolved by anyone.
A single exception to this would annul the absolute, universal value of this law, and if it were to fall, the entire moral edifice of the Church would collapse. Marriage is either indissoluble or it isn’t and a disassociation between the principle and its practical application cannot be admitted. Between thoughts and words and between words and facts, the Church insists on a radical coherence, the coherence the martyrs have borne witness to throughout history.
The principle that doctrine doesn’t change, but its pastoral application does introduces a wedge between two inseparable dimensions of Christianity: Truth and Life. The separation of doctrine and praxis is not of Catholic doctrine, but of Hegelian and Marxist philosophy, which turns upside down the traditional axiom according to which agere sequitur esse. Action, in the perspective of the innovators, precedes being and conditions it; experience does not live the truth but creates it.
This is the sense of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn’s discourse commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Synod, the same day Pope Francis spoke. “The faith cannot be represented, only witnessed,” stated the Archbishop of Vienna, reaffirming the primacy of “bearing witness” over that of doctrine. “Martyr” in Greek means witness, but for the martyrs bearing witness, it meant living in the truth, whereas for the innovators it means betraying it, by reinventing it through experience.
The primacy of pastoral practice over doctrine is destined to have these catastrophic consequences:
1) The “virtual” Synod, which had already happened at the Second Vatican Council, is destined to prevail over the real one. The message of the mass-media which will accompany the conclusions of the work will be more important than the contents of the documents. The Circulus Angelicus C’s Relatio on the first part of Intstrumentum laboris asserts clearly the need for this revolution in language: “Like Vatican II this Synod needs to be a language-event, which is more than cosmetic.”
2) The post-Synod is more important than the Synod itself, since it represents its “self”- fulfillment. The Synod, in fact, will entrust the fulfillment of its objectives to pastoral praxis. If what is changed is not doctrine, but pastoral care, this change cannot come about in the Synod, it has to happen in the everyday life of Christian people and thus outside the Synod, after the Synod, in the parish and diocesan life of the Church.
3) The “self”-fulfillment of the Synod comes with the insignia of experience in particular churches, that is, of ecclesiastical decentralization. Decentralization authorizes the local churches to experiment with a plurality of pastoral experiences. However, if there is not one praxis coherent with the one and only doctrine, it means that there are many, all of them worthy of experiment. The protagonists of this revolution in praxis will then be the bishops, the parish priests, the Episcopal conferences, and the local communities, each one according to its own freedom and creativity.
There emerges the hypothesis of a “two-speed Church” or, again using the language of the Euorcrats in Brussels, to “variable geometry.” Faced with the same moral problem it will be regulated in different ways according to situation ethics. To the church of “Catholic adults” of German language and belonging to the “First World,” the “quick march” of “missionary witnessing” will be allowed; to the church of “under-developed” Catholics, the Africans or the Poles, who belong to the “Second or Third World,” the “slow march” of attachment to their own traditions will be allowed.
Rome would remain in the background, devoid of all real authority, with the sole function of “charismatic impetus.” The Church would be “de-vaticanized,” or better still, “de-romanized.” The Roman-centric Church will be substituted by a poly-centric or polyhydric Church. The image of the polyhedron has been used frequently by Pope Francis “The prism,” he stated, “is a unity, but all its parts are different; each has its own peculiarity, its own charisma. This is unity in diversity. It is on this path that we Christians do what we call by the theological name of ecumenism: we seek to ensure that this diversity may be more harmonized by the Holy Spirit and become unity” (Discourse to Pentecostals at Caserta, July 28th 2014 [taken from Vatican site]). The transfer of powers to the Episcopal Conferences was already foreseen from a passage in Evangelii Gaudium where it is conceived as “subjects of specific attributions, including authentic doctrinal authority.[…]Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and its missionary outreach” (n.32). Now Pope Francis enunciates this “principle of synodality” as a final outcome of the meeting in progress.
The old heresies of Gallicanism and Ecclesiastical Nationalism are appearing again on the horizon. The primacy of jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff, in whom resides the supreme authority of the Church, over all pastors and over all the faithful, and independent of any other power, is, in fact, a dogma of faith, promulgated by the First Vatican Council. This principle guarantees the unity of the Church: unity in government, unity in faith, and unity in the sacraments. Decentralization is a loss of unity, which leads inevitably to schism. Schism is, in fact, the rupture which inexorably occurs when a central point of reference is missing, a unitary criteria, on the doctrinal level as well as those of discipline and pastoral care. The particular Churches, divided on praxis, but also on doctrine which praxis comes from, are destined inescapably to be in conflict and produce fractures, schism, and heresies.
Decentralization not only damages the Roman Primacy, but also denies the principle of non-contradiction, that: “A thing cannot be A and not A at the same time and in the same sense, be what it is and not be what it is.” It is only on basis of this primary, logical, and metaphysical principle that we are able to use our reason and grasp the reality which surrounds us.
What happens if the Roman Pontiff renounces, even partly, the exercise of his power to delegate it to the Episcopal Conferences or individual bishops? A diversity of doctrine and praxis among the Episcopal Conferences and among dioceses is created. What is prohibited in one diocese will be admitted in another, and vice-versa. The common-law husband or wife will be able to approach the Sacrament of the Eucharist in one diocese and not another. However, sin is–or it isn’t. The moral law is the same for everyone or it isn’t. And it is either one or the other: or the Pope has primacy of jurisdiction and exercises it, or, in actual fact, someone else governs other than him.
The Pope admits the existence of a sensus fidei, but it’s precisely the sensus fidei of bishops, priests, and lay folk that is scandalized today at the strange things they hear coming out of the Synod Hall. These strange things offend common sense even before they offend the sensus Ecclesiae of the faithful. Pope Francis is right when he affirms that the Holy Spirit doesn’t only assist the Pope and bishops but also the entire faithful (on this point: Melchior Cano, De locis Theologicis (Lib. IV, chap. 3, 117I). The Holy Spirit nonetheless is not a spirit of novelty; He guides the Church, infallibly assisting Her Tradition. Through fidelity to Tradition, the Holy Spirit still speaks to the ears of the faithful. And today, as in the times of Arianism, we may say with St. Hilary: Sanctiores aures plebis quam corda sacerdotum, “the ears of the faithful are holier than the hearts of the priests.” (Contra Arianos, vel Auxentium, n. 6, in PL, 10, col. 613).