Last year’s Synod on the Family was the low point in my Catholic faith.

It wasn’t the dueling cardinals and their clashing press comments that got to me. What pushed me close to despair was the fear that the Church might actually walk away from Jesus.

After I converted, I found a few of the Church’s teachings difficult to accept. But I hung in there and slowly came around to acceptance and a profound gratitude for the Church’s fidelity to Christ down through the centuries.

I have always understood that the members of the priesthood, including those in the papacy, are fallen men. I knew from many experiences in my life that they were capable of all sorts of sin. I didn’t expect anything else of them.

That’s how I got through the sexual abuse crisis. I was not, as many Catholic commentators said on television last week, “ashamed” of my Church because of the sex abuse crisis. I was angry with the bishops who allowed this to happen. I never, not for one moment, felt the inclination to excuse them by saying that they had “made mistakes.” Mistakes don’t involve lengthy court action, pay-offs and conspiracy to suppress evidence. Those actions were considered and deliberate. They were not blunders or momentary lapses.

But this never made me doubt the Church itself. I expected that human beings would do bad things. I don’t put my trust in princes, not even princes of the Church. I believed that, whatever wrong-headed things individual men in the Church hierarchy might do, the Church itself was a trustworthy teacher of the unchanging truths of Christ Jesus.

I was called to the Church by Christ in the Eucharist. I accepted difficult Church teachings and got past the scandal by believing that the Church taught truth, even when its leaders erred on a personal or professional level. But when Cardinals in last year’s Synod began yakkity-yakking about changing one of the sacraments; a sacrament that was instituted specifically and directly by Our Lord, it challenged that belief. 

I thought then, and I think now, that these men who did this were using about one-half their brains. It’s clear to me that marriage is the basis for Holy Orders. The theology of Holy Orders is tied to the theology of marriage. Both of them are sacraments instituted by Our Lord. If one of them is conditional and up for grabs, then the other is also.

I could not see how these clerics could be so blind. If they trample on Jesus’ teachings on marriage, then Holy Orders, and their own authority, come tumbling down alongside it.

More to the point, no one — no one — can unsay what Jesus said. After 2,000 years of consistent teaching, no one can unteach what the Church has taught. Marriage is between one man and one woman. It is ordained of and by God. That teaching runs straight through Scripture, beginning in the first chapters of Genesis. Old Testament polygamy was a deviation from God’s teaching which came from the Israelites’ intermarrying with the pagan culture around them. It was part of their fall from grace which culminated in putting their children through the fires before the Baals.

Are we now going to mimic them in reverse, by first putting our children through the fire of abortion for the Baals of modern life and then trying to re-write God’s clear teaching on marriage to allow us to fit in with the culture around us? Doesn’t following Jesus always mean that we are different from the world around us?

Evidently, I was not the only person who felt dismay and confusion because of the Synod’s quarrels. Nearly 800,000 people from 178 countries have signed a petition asking Pope Francis to clarify the Church’s teaching on the family. Over 200 cardinals, archbishops and bishops are among them.

The petition was delivered to the Vatican Tuesday morning.

I did not sign this petition. In fact, I did not know about it. But if I had known about it, I would have signed it.

I am hungry for leadership from my Church on this matter. I am dismayed by the scattered comments from bishops, followed by an echoing silence, after the Supreme Court decision last summer. The Supreme Court eviscerated marriage as a legal construct in these United States. In a very real sense, marriage has no legal definition in this post-Obergefell America.

We have all been tossed over the side of the boat with the baggage, and we have been left to tread water and wait for rescue from our Church. I feel bereft of leadership on this grave moral matter.

I do not quarrel with Pope Francis’ tactful approach while he was here in the United States. He wanted to call lost people home. Based on articles I’ve read, he evidently feels that his support for traditional marriage should be obvious. What he doesn’t seem to fully understand is how hungry the people in the pews are for his direct leadership in this matter.  Marriage has become a holocaust to the culture wars. We need marching orders.

What we do not need is a re-play of last year’s synod with its myopic focus on strange and dysfunctional families while it ignored the imperatives of supporting and sustaining that which is healthy and life-giving in genuine Catholic family life. I’ve read that the Synod fathers are being aggressively lobbied by various interest groups, who are trying to influence their actions. We need Peter to make sure this doesn’t succeed. 

I have felt for a long time that our leadership in the Church does not “get” the pressures that families are under to conform to a destructive and anti-Christ model that has been fashioned by media moguls and nihilists. I don’t think they understand or know the battering that Christians are taking in their interactions with the larger culture.

The one thing I do know is that they are not acknowledging this and providing us with the spiritual leadership we need to get through it intact.

I hope that Pope Francis recognizes this petition as the plea for help that it is. I hope that he understands the confusion and hunger for direction that has inspired it.

It is a holy and Christ-like thing to invite the lost sheep of the world home to Christ. God’s mercy is real and it’s the pope’s job to make it clear that this mercy is for everyone. But those sheep who are already in the fold and trying to stay there need love, mercy and guidance, too.

The greatest mercy to those of us in the pews would be clarity of understanding and purpose. We are ready to step out and evangelize the world. But we need leadership to do it. We need the pope to speak out on the matter of marriage, to affirm to us that Jesus Christ is indeed the same yesterday, today and forever.