For reasons I cannot quite grasp, the Catholic blogging world suffered a serious setback following the resignation of His Holiness Benedict XVI. We saw a demonstration of this setback over the past few weeks as many Catholic bloggers - even those who were quite sensible during the pontificate of Benedict XVI - lost their heads over the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops which concludes today.
So far as I can tell, the reason for this setback has not so much to do with the election and the pontificate of His Holiness Pope Francis as it has to do with the politicization of the Church by her members. Simply recall how many bloggers were adamant that this synod was the "Synod of Doom" and would destroy the Church because Pope Francis and the Synod were bound and determined to change both Catholic doctrine and discipline.
N.B.: These claims were repeatedly made despite the fact that Pope Francis never said any such thing. People interpreted his words in this manner, but he himself never said it. Nor have Synod Fathers recommended any such changing in their final document which they submitted yesterday to the Holy Father Several in the media, both secular and Catholic, are claiming the Synod Fathers recommend changes, but the burden of proof is on them; their claims are not substantiated in the document. By a strange twist of their own manipulations all along, they have to insist that the synod is changing things, or else everyone will see that their narrative about Pope Francis has been false from the start and they lose all credibility. Frankly, they shouldn't have any credibility anyway.
All along the way, far too many Catholics ignored the fact any Synod of Bishops - whether ordinary or extraordinary - only meets "to discuss the questions for consideration and express its wishes but not to resolve them or issue decrees about them unless in certain cases the Roman Pontiff has endowed it with deliberative power, in which case he ratifies the decisions of the synod" (canon 343). Pope Francis, of course, never endowed this synod with deliberative power, nor did he ever indicate a possibility that he might do so.
Several days into the synod, the highly respected John L. Allen, Jr. wrote of what he called "the dirty little secret" about the media coverage surrounding the synod:
The dirty little secret is that we’re not really covering the synod at all. For the most part, we’re covering people telling us about the synod, which is an entirely different enterprise.To actually cover the synod would mean being inside the hall during the discussions, being able to develop our own impressions of what’s being said, to gauge the reaction, to watch body language and intonation and atmosphere, and to get an overall sense of emerging themes for ourselves [more].
Too many people ignored this wise caution and took for Gospel truth everything reported in the media, despite the many contradictory reports from day to day.
Simply consider this: On October 8th, we were told the Synod Fathers said the Instrumentum Laboris - the document governing their work - was not too Western in its approach. Two days later, Bishop Thornton said the document did contain too much of a Western perspective. The next day, Cardinal Ouedraogo seemed to agree with Bishop Thornon, saying that while the document focused on Western difficulties confronting the family, his small group focused on issues confronting the family in Africa, implying these were not addressed in the Instrumentum Laboris. How is one to make sense of this if even the Synod Fathers cannot agree on what was happening within the synod hall?
These confusions and contradictions led to widespread panic and fear mongering, rather than to deep prayer. This was most unfortunate and demonstrated those stoking these fears viewed the Church - or at least the synod - not so much in terms of faith as in terms of politics. They forgot that a synod cannot change doctrine or discipline, that a synod only makes recommendations, recommendations that the Holy Father may or may not accept. The various impressions of what was happening with the synod hall simply could not be conflated together into a unified narrative. John L. Allen, Jr., alone noted three different narratives claiming to come out of the synod.
Now that the synod is (almost) over, I hope Catholic bloggers will regain their heads and get back to the work of imbuing the Internet with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is time to stop seeing Pope Francis as the enemy and to see him for who he is, the Vicar of Christ on earth.
It is time to renew our trust in the promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit "will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13) and that the gates of hell "shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). During the synod, several people told me such trust was both simplistic and naive, but such has, of course, turned out to be well placed.
It is time to renew our confidence in the doctrine of papal infallibility, that the Pope cannot err when enunciating the teaching of the Church on matters of faith and morals.
It is time to stop to insinuating views of others without any corroborating evidence by their own words.
It is time to take up our abode in the pierced side of Christ like the dove who makes its whom in the clefts of the rock (see Song of Songs 2:14).
It is simply time to calm down because, as Tim Stanley wrote, "nothing of substance has changed."