Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
From Rome, George Weigel has been sifting through the interventions of the Synod Fathers, and is disturbed by a particular thread of the discussion.
Without precisely saying so, some Synod Fathers believe that “pastoral accompaniment” includes the “tacit blessing” of cohabitation and other arrangements that fall short of the Church's vision of marriage and family life. This approach, writes Weigel, in an Oct. 15 post on First Things, calls into question the “universal call to holiness” and threatens to create a vast class of “Second Class Catholics.“
How else can we interpret “the claim by some members of Synod 2015 that the Church’s teaching on chastity, marriage, and the family is simply too difficult to live out, and therefore some Catholics—perhaps many Catholics—should be exempt from it (and thereby exempt from the universal call to holiness). Those given this pass by their local bishops may, it seems live with the Church’s tacit blessing in relationships long considered obstacles to moral and spiritual health. The exempt may receive the sacraments without being fully in communion with the Church in their manner of life. ... They may, in sum, live as if the universal call to holiness were not universal, but something for the saints alone.”
Weigel rejects this ill-defined, but persistent, line of argument.
“First of all, sanctity, as Vatican II insisted, is for everyone. Why? Because it’s only by becoming, with the help of God’s mercy and grace, the saints we were baptized to be that we fulfill our Christian and human destiny,” he writes, and points readers to the upcoming canonization of Blessed Louis and Blessed Zélie Martin, parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. He continues:
The second problem is that deconstructing the universal call to holiness into a call issued only to the few creates an entire, vast class of Second Class Catholics: people whose leaders think them incapable of greatness and immune to the attraction of heroic sanctity; people who thereby come to think of themselves that way. Is that the way of 'pastoral accompaniment?'
Is that any way to be the 'Church permanently in mission' for which the Holy Father insistently calls—by telling people they’re just not good enough? It seems a most unlikely evangelical program."
Indeed, the creation of a “vast class of Second Class Catholics” poses other dangers, as noted by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. During his Oct. 10 intervention, Archbishop Chaput urged his brothers to reject proposals to allow national episcopal conferences to alter Church discipline on marriage.
“We need to honor the many differences in personality and culture that exist among the faithful. But we live in a time of intense global change, confusion and unrest. Our most urgent need is unity, and our greatest danger is fragmentation.”
In his intervention, Archbishop Chaput also probed the ambiguous meaning of "inclusive" pastoral practices, and warned his brothers against adopting language and practices that could sow confusion within the Church.
If by 'inclusive' we mean a Church that is patient and humble, merciful and welcoming – then all of us here will agree. But it’s very hard to include those who do not wish to be included, or insist on being included on their own terms.
To put it another way: I can invite someone into my home, and I can make my home as warm and hospitable as possible. But the person outside my door must still choose to enter. If I rebuild my house to the blueprint of the visitor or stranger, my family will bear the cost, and my home will no longer be their home. The lesson is simple. We need to be a welcoming Church that offers refuge to anyone honestly seeking God. But we need to remain a Church committed to the Word of God, faithful to the wisdom of the Christian tradition, and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ.