The synod of bishops that has just finished revealed two certainties. The first one: there is hope in the Church peripheries. The second: that the most hopeful peripheries are not those that one might expect. It is not Latin America, from which Pope Francis hails, and where the Church has assumed the social function of fighting poverty but has lost sight of the rolein once had of formingthe consciences when the Jesuits established themselves there and fought slavery with ‘reducciones’. The hope does not come from Asia either, a mature continent full of traditions, loved by Pope Francis, where the challenges are rather survival and religious freedom. The Church’s hope comes from Europe’s peripheries, in the East, where religious sentiment and culture fought hard against Communist totalitarianism. The Church’s hope also comes from Africa, a continent often deemed immature, but faithful to the Church of Rome and active in applying her teachings.

Bishops from Eastern Europe and Africa have been the most active in the revolt that has taken place at the Synod of Bishops. A peaceful –but strong– revolt. A revolt which followed the publication of the ‘relatio post disceptationem’, the synod’s midterm report. Cardinal Petr Erdo, General Rapporteur of the synod, had kept the relatio balanced, stressing at the opening of the evangelization the need for better-formed priests and faithful. But the very same Cardinal Erdo then distanced himself from a text it was not completely his own, and which generated an intense discussion in the synod’s hall right after he read it.

Going beyond the polemics on the so-called opening regarding same-sex unions and with respect to divorced and remarried catholics, what was really missing in the relatio was reference to the Gospel. The relation was just a snapshot of reality, a faithful portrait of the current situation where, in the end, there was no space for Christian hope. With that ‘relatio’, the Church had given up shaping the world, and had decided to allow itself to be shaped by the world. This perspective had been effectively summarized by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, during a briefing with journalists: «We cannot choose our faithful, we should go toward them.»

This was the setting of the relatio post disceptationem. The relatio recalled the limits of Liberation Theology. Id est, the limits of a perfect sociological analysis that is not able to go beyond the current situation. So much so, that the Marxism applied by Liberation Theology as a tool of analysis theorized about the class struggle and revolution,but in order to generate a new equilibrium rather than to change the people’s heart. Christianity, on the other hand, really goes beyond sociology. It is the Gospel, with its mission of love and its teaching based on truth, that can really shape the world and make it better.

Even the perspective behind the relatio denoted an understanding of a Church whose vision would be limited. Far from highlighting the beauty of the Christian life and the great examples that Catholic families provide to the faithful, the synod’s midterm report focused on the irregular situations, underscoring the need for a new, merciful approach. «As if the Church was not merciful before, and now it is,» said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, president of the Polish bishops’ Conference.

In fact, all that the relatio dealt with was a Church in need of a new approach. Some claimed that this new approach could be achieved even by eventually changing the doctrine. «The Church can have a change of mind. For example, we know that the Church at the beginning was in favor of slavery, and latershe was not anymore,» said Victor Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, vicepresident of the Commission for the Synod’s Message to the People of God, and Pope Francis’ ghostwriter.

This is a dangerous thesis, and also a false one. From St. Paul on, Christianity has always fought against slavery. So much so, that the first to speak about human rights were the Dominican Fathers Bartolomé de Las Casas and Francisco de Vitoria: sent to America, they coined the expression “human rights” and stressed they were universal, thus rejecting the way the ‘indios’ were treated by the conquistadores.

Of this contribution to international law, as well as many other Catholics’ contributions, there is no record in a large part of all the books written about the history of international law. In fact, almost all of these books have been written after the Enlightenment, with the purpose of finally getting rid of the Church’s teaching. The years of Enlightenment introduced a prejudice against the Church that continues today.

It continues particularly in South America, where the colonial powers pushed the Pope to abolish the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits): they were guilty of having established missions in South America, and teaching the ‘indios’ how to be independent. The movie ‘The Mission’ recounts this story well, which seems to be forgotten.

In fact, Pope Francis’ Argentina is the country that has lived through, more than any other, the new colonization, that of secularism. In only one year, Argentina introduced in its legislation gay-rights bills that allowed gay marriage and in-vitro fertilization, as reported by the 2012 Report on the Social Teaching of the Church issued by the Van Thuan Observatory.

African Bishops seem to be the most aware of the historic risks. It is because Africa is still a colonized continent. There, the Catholic Church is the most important institution working to create conditions for development, in the context of the common good. The Catholic University that has been established in Congo, the other Catholic university in Ethiopia, the health care system that is 70 percent Catholic (and that is now confronting the Ebola outbreak) tell the story of an Africa saved by Catholic ideals. And the Africans are very faithful to these ideals.

African Bishops put the challenges of the future on the table. The challenges do not deal with the pastoral for divorced remarried, or homosexual couples. For the first case, there is a pastoral praxis, put into practice and managed by confessors; for the second case, there is a 1986 instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which already addresses the issue.

The challenges of the future are those that arise from colonization by secularist ideas. The real assaults on the family – African bishops spoke about this – are those driven by states and international organizations. The latter are committedto the development of poor countries, but at the same time they link the delivery of aid to the introduction of laws based on gender ideology, undermining the family.

This is how gender ideology is developed: through processes of soft law that can only be opposed with a lot of skill and knowledge.

Skill and knowledge are needed to defend against assaults on religious freedom. Religious communities have the right to their freedom, something that Eastern European countries know well. Not by chance, countries from Eastern Europe were the only ones that sided with Italy when the latter appealed against the European Court verdict that forbid having crucifixes in Italian classrooms.

African and Eastern European bishops have been the most active in defending the doctrine of the Church. Cardinal Wilfried Napier, very angry for the way the midterm report had come about, understood that its content had been picked-up by media, and that any modification or change of approach would have been described as a step back. In his own words, it was an «irredeemable» situation. He also pointed out that «the synod is not convening to speak about abortion, contraception, same sex marriages. It was convened to talk about family.»

And Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum and moderator of one of the small groups that has criticized the relatio, reiterated to Catholic News Agency the teachings of the Church about homosexuality and denounced pressure groups behind push to change the Church’s teaching.

Many synod fathers feared that a powerful lobby found its way into the synod and outside the synod, to undermine the teachings of the Church. The publication of the relatio opened the flood gates to the so-called resistance, culminating in the vociferous publication of the reports of the small groups.

After the first week of assembly, the synod fathers broke out in ten groups to analyze the text of the relatio and make their proposals and observations. Generally, all the proposals that gain a supermajority of two third are admitted, and the Pope later synthetize them in a post-synodal exhortation. This synod introduced a new methodology, according to which the synod’s secretariat, together with the general rapporteur, were tasked with writing a final report, which would become a sort of blueprint for the next synod. And even the proposals that did not gain a supermajority had been published – having being made public by the Pope the result of each vote.

The publication of the reports has shown that the majority of synod fathers were on the other side to the midterm relatio. The synod of the media, so well orchestrated and ready to hail with a hooray any doctrinal change in the Church, had been finally surpassed by the real synod.

It is yet to be known who had ultimately drafted the midterm report, which was so controversial and made even more controversial by mistakes in translations. Those that were suspected to have the role of steering the synod in a particular direction came to the fore when the decision was made not to publish the interventions of the synod’s fathers. Then, the number of suspects increased when Pope Francis appointed six prelates to assist Cardinal Erdo in drafting the relatio synodi, the synod’s final report – surprisingly, among the six, there was no one from Africa – the Pope later had to rectify  the mistake by including the commission Cardinal Napier and archbishop of Melbourne Hart. Suspicions still aroused when it was rumored that Cardinal Erdo was only able to introduce very minor changes to the relatio he had received back Sunday evening, Oct. 12. The Pope – it is rumored – had requested the Cardinal to give him the text Saturday, Oct. 11. It is yet to be known who had worked on the text while it reportedly was in Pope’s hands, making it shorter than Cardinal Erdo’s, deleting any mention of sexual disorder, sexual education, and the Gospel.

Given that Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, Special Secretary of the Synod, has been indicated by the same Cardinal Erdo as  the drafter of the report, one of the bishops has said he recognized «the hand of Cardinal Ravasi» – President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and president of the message. Many of the bishops have seen Victor Fernandez’s hand in it (apparent in some inaccuracies of the Italian original). But the «guiding group» includes almost all the cardinals of the Council of Cardinals. Cardinal Marx was one of the most tenacious proponents of a change in doctrine. Not by chance, he was called to brief journalists in one of the very last press conferences of the synod.

In fact, this appeasement in the face of the prevailing culture contrasts with Paul VI, whose beatification was scheduled to crown this synod of bishops. A modern Pope, with a missionary vision, who had been able to keep the Church on course at a very difficult time full of controversy. A Pope who had kept his faith, and that had the faithful do the same, issuing the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” the very last of his pontificate. It was 1968, and his pontificate extended for another 10 years. However, after Humanae Vitae, Paul VI did not write any other encyclical. «He did not want his magisterial acts to be instrumentalized, he wanted to lead the Church with balance in that difficult time,» recounted Cardinal Paul Poupard, who had been among Paul VI’s collaborators. And then he added: «The first telegram that arrived in the Secretariat of State after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae was that of Dom Helder Camara. He thanked the Pope because, with that encyclical, he was protecting children and helping the Third World countries.»

Yes, the very same HelderCamara who lived in the favelas, cited as a champion by all the Liberation Theologians and Third World advocates asking for a greater opening-up of the Church. Today, Helder Camara’s heart seems to have been lost, while merely the cold sociological analysis has remained.

15 Responses to Synod of Bishops, hope in the peripheries

  1. Lionel Andrades scrive:

    SSPX is still part of the problem : communique on the Beatification of Pope Paul VI

  2. Johannes de Silentio scrive:

    A riveting, excellent analysis. Bravo!

  3. Laicus scrive:

    I beg to differ with the view that we are caught in a dilemma wherby either the Church is shaping the world or the Church is shaped by the world.

    In my humble opinion, something is missing in that view, or rather, someone : I mean God.

    In my view, the world and the Church are both shaped by God, because this is what is meant when we say that God is the Creator. Thomas Aquinas used the expression “creatio continua” (continuous creation) with that meaning.

    As Pope Francis recalled in his interview published by Civilta Cattolica in September 2013, Ignatius of Loyola invited the Christians to “seek and find God in all things”.

    We can find signs of God in the the “things” because these things are part of God’s created world. And the “things” can teach us about God.

    We can find a similar invitation in Matthew 25:35, where we are taught that we can meet Jesus Christ when we meet with the poor, in the world.

  4. yan scrive:

    To say the Church did not support slavery is to overlook inconvenient facts in an attempt to re-write history. You are dishonest or ignorant. St. Paul did not write against the institution of slavery. The Church waffled on who could be enslaved and when down through the centuries until Las Casas and Suarez: that’s a lot later than St Paul. Just ask Mr. Google if you don’t know when they lived.

    You are equivocating on the word ‘slavery.’ The Church always supported the aspiration to freedom by slaves within the context of the existing order, but it did not support the abolition of slavery, considered as a social institution in itself.

    In the end such equivocation in defense of the Church redounds to its detriment as people see that your arguments are in bad faith. The Church changed its teaching on slavery. Period.

    • This requires a long response, but I will try to sum up things as much as I can. True, the Church at the beginning has accepted the slavery as an institution, which did not mean it was not against. It means that the Christian revolution is a different one, and starts from the heart of man, not from an attempt to change society.

      Jesus never talked about justice and peace, about overturning the laws of the State. The teaching of Jesus is not, first of all, the teaching for a new society, but for a new man, a new way to conceive God and humanity. From this new conception, a new civilization may arise. There is no wish to take the power over with the scope to eliminate evil from earth, and this is the biggest difference with secular revolutions.

      After Jesus, the slavery had not ceased, and it would not have been possible: the major part of the Roman economic system was based on slavery and its sudden abolishment would have also caused a violent rebellion by those who hold the power.

      But the Christian message gave its contribution to abolish slavery.

      According to the Italian enciclopedia Treccani, Christianism developed the notion that the slave himself is a human being and “though accepting the slavery as a social institution and as an indispensible item of the economy.” The fact is that the first Christians had not the power to overturn the social order. They could indeed recommend that the slaves were treated well.

      St. Paul wrote about freedom mostly in terms of interior freedom, and recommended that the slaves may be treated as brothers. According to the book “Pastoral letters” by Norbert Brox, the fact that Paul continually addresses to slaves is intended to communicate them the message that “they can shape to conform to the purest evangelici deal, and they are also able to contribute to the splendor of the overal Christian life”. (I translated from the Italian, it may be a rought translation.

      In the 4th century St. Gregory of Nyssa openly denounced the slavery as contrary to the law of God. St. Ambrose suggested to free the slaves. St. John Chrysostom decurie the economic basis of the slavery and exhort the masters to teach the slaves a job, in order to make them self sustain and then free them. St. Augustine firmly opposed to slavery.

      The French historians Jean Andreau and Raymond Descat underlined in their book on slavery (Slaves in the Greek and Roman world) that St. Augustine care “in combating the abusing of slavery represents very well the active intervention of the ecclesiastic hierarchy for this purpose.”

      Two Popes, Pius I and Calistus I, have been slaves. In the 7th century the Church canonized the British slave Bathilde. And the tombs of the Christian slaves were not different from those of the free men in the catacumbs, a clear sign that slaves were considered equal.

      True, when the first emperor took the power, the right of slaves remained a little behind. But Costantine worked with the twofold goal of freeing the more Christian it was possible and to improve their conditions. And Justinian affirmed that slavery was “against the natural law”.

      There had been several councils of the Catholic Church that dealt with combating slavery

      The Councils of Orange, Orleans and Epone stated that a slave who is refugeed in the Church must be protected; Council of Verberie and Compiegne stated that a marriage between free people and slaves was valid is contracted with full consensus; Councils of Auxerre, Ruen, Wessex and Berghamsted advocated for the rest of slaves in Sunday; the suppression of the slaves trafficking was discussd in the Council of Chalon-sur-Saone; the Council of Clichy forbid the reduction of a free man to slavery, while the Lugdunense council decided that who attempted the freedom of people had to be excommunicated.

      As Rodney Stark in “The Victory of Reason” put it, “the slavery ended in the Medieval Europe “only because the Church extended its sacraments to all the slaves and then was able to forbid the slavery for Christian (and Jewish). In the context of Medieval Europe, that prohibition became a universal abolition,”

      The same Rodney Stark analyzed the slavery in the colonial era, and stressed in his “For the Glory of God” that “spirito f times was – with the exception of Catholic Church – favorable to the slaves trafficking”

      In his document “In Supremo”, Pope Gregory XVI denonunced with strenght the slaves trafficking and the Christians who had taken advantage by it.

      I think I have provided several examples that the Church has never supported slavery.

      If you want to point out that many Christians, priests, bishops had not followed the Christian message – and even a couple of Popes did not: Pope Innocentius VIII had accepted from King Ferdinand some one hundred of slaves – and have had a positive opinion on slavery, well, it is true. But we are not talking about Christianity. As Cardinal Ratzinger put it: “All the sins of Christians in history do not come from their faith to Heaven, but from the fact they do not believe enough in Heaven.”

      • fredx2 scrive:

        You are absolutely correct. The church has always ameliorated slavery. A cherry picking of church history by progressives has allowed them to claim otherwise, but a careful examination of history, shows that the church has, for the most part, played an incredibly important role in eliminating slavery.
        The church has always separated “slavery” (servitus) into two types: Just title slavery and unjust title slavery. What we consider slavery is unjust title slavery, and the church has always stood against that. Just title slavery was things where people were considered to be justly held in servitiude, such as for punishment for crimes (before there were prisons, they just put people into slavery instead, that way they did not have to provide for their upkeep) For prisoners of war, there was only two real options: kill them all, or make them slaves. They could not afford to feed thousands of mouths when they could barely feed their own. So prisoners became slaves too, and the church would support that, rather than see them massacred. And Just title slavery included those who bonded themselves into slaver, by choice, because it was actually a stop up in the world. A peasant who could not feed himself would become a servant in the house of a rich person to better his life.
        But as soon as racial slavery appeared, the church was solidly against that.
        The problem comes in this area: In the new world, Charles V gained the right to appoint bishops from the Pope. So the bishops in the new world were Kings men, not church men, really. So they engaged in the ownership of slaves and often ignored the Pope’s insistence that all slaves be treated well, and they allowed unjust title slavery to take place. So the church become besmirched with their deeds. But the church itself has always stood against racial slavery.

        • Jack Gordon scrive:

          “A cherry picking of church history by progressives has allowed them to claim otherwise….” You’re quite right. As Nicolás Gómez Dávila succinctly put it: “Falsifying the past is the method the Left used in pretending to produce the future.”

    • Joseph Klapatch scrive:

      1198 Trinitarians founded by St. John of Matha and St. Felix of Valois, established hospitals for slaves at Algiers and Tunis in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries;

      1218 The Order of Our Lady of Ransom (Mercedarians), founded by St. Peter Nolasco, ministered to slaves throughout northern Africa and Europe, one of their vows “To become a hostage in the hands of the infidels, if that is necessary for the deliverance of Christ’s faithful.”

      1435, Pope Eugene IV wrote “Sicut Dudum” condemned slavery in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.

      1462 Pope Pius II declared slavery “a great crime”

      1537, Pope Paul III wrote “Sublimis Deus”, and later two follow on documents condemning slavery

      1639 Pope Urban VIII forbade it

      1741 Pope Benedict XIV forbade slavery

      1815 Pope Pius VII demanded of the Congress of Vienna the suppression of the slave trade

      1839, Pope Gregory XVI wrote “In Supremo” condemning slavery

      1888 Pope Leo XIII addressed the Brazilian bishops, exhorting them to banish from their country the remnants of slavery

      1888 Pope Leo XIII in the Canonization of the Jesuit Peter Claver, one of the most illustrious adversaries of slavery, branded the “supreme villainy” of the slave traders.

  5. Bob scrive:

    An impressive response, Andrea. Well done.

  6. Laicus scrive:

    I quote Wikipedia’s article on Bartolomé de las Casas :

    “In his early writings, he advocated the use of African slaves instead of Natives in the West-Indian colonies; consequently, criticisms have been leveled at him as being partly responsible for the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade (…) In this early work, Las Casas advocated importing Black slaves from Africa to relieve the suffering Indians, a stance he later retracted, becoming an advocate for the Africans in the colonies as well. This shows that Las Casas’s first concern was not to end slavery as an institution, but to end the physical abuse and suffering of the Indians” :

    Now I shall translate the French Wikipedia about Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (a 17th century Roman Catholic Bishop and writer) :

    “In the 5th “Warning to the Protestants” he refutes the theory of the implicit or explicit contract between the prince and his subjects (…) and enunciates the famous statement : “To condem that status [slavery] would not only condemn Jus Gentium, where servitude is allowed, as appears from every law ; but that would condemn the Holy Spirit, who orders the slaves, through the mouth of Saint Paul, to remain in their condition, and does not obligate the masters to free them”.

    • fredx2 scrive:

      You point out that two individual churchmen took positions on slavery that were not in accord with Catholic teaching on the matter, that is all. Since the secular rulers often even appointed the local bishops, often local bishops were more the King’s men than they were the Pope’s men. Richeliue, Cardinal Woolsey, Thomas A Becket for example was made Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry II, not the Pope.
      You confuse what sexular bishops did with what the actual stance of the church was. Gregory IX issued a bull condemning slavery, and the American bishops twisted its meaning. Just as today, when the pope speaks about abortion, and certain American bishops claim that abortion is no big deal, and should be just part of a seamless garment, in which they can ignore abortion.
      But the fact remains, the official church teaching has been agaainst slavery.
      The fact that Las casas gooded up for a while in an attempt to save the indians again, says nothing about the church’s position on slavery.
      Remember: at all times no matter what, the church’s position was that slaves should be treated well – and that one rule ameliorates almost all of slavery’s sting.

  7. The messenger scrive:

    “The Church can have a change of mind. For example, we know that the Church at the beginning was in favor of slavery, and later she was not anymore,» said Victor Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina, vice president of the Commission for the Synod’s Message to the People of God, and Pope Francis’ ghostwriter.”

    The Pope’s Ghostwriter????

    Then he should be fired!

    This Victor Fernandez is twisted! So we know that from the beginning, the Church was against anal sex, and later this should change?

    This Fernandez person is equating freedom from slavery as a good just like anal sex behavior as a good.

    This is the Holy Father’s Ghost writer?
    I don’t understand this, what is going on here???

  8. Bill K scrive:

    Getting back to the Synod, when is the Pope going to have his people post the final document of the SYNOD 2014, on the Vatican web site in all major languages including English ?
    As of this post, it is only posted in Italian.
    In addition – why doesn’t the Pope REQUIRE via Motu Priprio that all Seminaries throughout the world – require the reading from cover to cover of an approved Catholic Bible and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” within the first 2 years of study ?

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