I am fully cognizant of your fears, we must always guard against diminution of the truth and light of the Gospel. After all the path is “narrow” and the “road” hard that leads to life, so we must never shy away from presenting the Good News as a challenge, as it invariably is and should be to every sinner (which includes all of us).
Nonetheless I think I can also see where Lombardi is coming from. If we accept Vatican II (as we must since it was a valid ecumenical council), it achieved something quite extraordinary: no dogma or doctrine was changed, yet the understanding and presentation of it did evolve, the latter quite dramatically. We all know the dogmatic statement, “nulla salus extra ecclesiam” and it is sacrosanct, yet that did not prevent the church from recognizing ‘seeds of truth’ and the presence of Christ even amidst the sin and error present in other religions. The understanding of the doctrine was broadened by preceding decades of theological insight which was endorsed by the Council Fathers.
Was there anyone at Vatican II, among the gathered bishops, who did not believe that outside of Holy Mother Church there can be no salvation? Of course not.
Likewise, do you believe that there is any bishop at the Synod who honestly does not believe in the indissolubility of the sacrament of matrimony, the sinfulness of extra-marital and homosexual acts and so forth?
I hope your answer to that is, “no” for nobody is having a rendezvous with heresy at the Synod.
I feel that we are fundamentally erring in our judgement of this Synod if we see “conservatives” and “progressives” at work. In a Catholic context, such political verbiage is quite meaningless.
There are different viewpoints on how to properly understand, present and apply certain teachings; but disagreement dogmatically and doctrinally is not possible. We should not see disagreements in this light. Both the so-called “conservatives” and “progressives” have valid points, as far as I can tell.
I wish to remind people of what Saint Pope John XXIII once stated in an important encyclical of his:
“…All men, then, should …] be joined in mutual and just regard for one another’s opinions…For discussion can lead to fuller and deeper understanding of religious truths; when one idea strikes against another, there may be a spark…”
- Saint Pope John XXIII, AD PETRI CATHEDRAM (On Truth, Unity and Peace), 1959
Consider what Cardinal Erdo said at the Synod:
Bishops have referred frequently to the theological concept of the “law of gradualness,” which encourages the faithful to take one step at a time in the search for holiness.
It’s an age-old concept for the church, but it has been out of favor for the past two pontificates which focused on making clear church teaching on hot-button issues. Francis, though, has said that with doctrine now well-known, the church must now focus on being more welcoming and forgiving.
**The concept has been applied to couples who are living together but not married, with priests urged not condemn them but rather help them see how marriage in the church can deepen their bond. Cardinal Peter Erdo, a top synod organizer, said the concept should even be applied to married couples concerning artificial contraception.
“There’s the ideal which we love, that we don’t want to weaken, but there’s the concrete reality of people who sometimes can’t yet arrive at the ideal of perfection, but they have the possibility of growing toward a possible good,” Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University in Argentina, told reporters Wednesday**.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said “there are absolutely valid, important and even holy elements” in families that fall short of the Christian ideal of marriage in the church.
I will stick my neck out and state that I do not think what Cardinal Erdo and Lombardi are suggesting, understood within a proper theological framework, is in conflict with doctrinal truth.
I think it is possible to find significant “elements of love and holiness” in family situations and domestic relationships which - while lacking the fullness of truth found in a sacramental, marital relationship in which both partners engage in sex that is fully open to life - represent a “step” in the right direction and can be appreciated for those elements of truth even if we can never recognize them as ‘good’ or ‘ideal’.
Thus I think that pastors can work with individuals in such situations according to a law of gradualism, in a spirit of mercy and compassion.
If we simply say that such people are “living in sin” and try to compel them to make an immediate transformation, while this is objectively true (and I would never dispute it), we may in fact close these people off from any hope of “progression” in the faith, by alienating them from the Church.
I am prepared to be called a moral relativist I am philosophically opposed to moral relativism, however all I would say is that I do not think examining the application and presentation of a doctrine is this way need conflict with the doctrinal truth in question.
Sometimes, it might actually aid its effectiveness.