The Personalist Project


The Synod is over!  The Synod is over! Relieved or dismayed, euphoric or alarmed, we can take a deep breath and relax. (No, not really: now it’s time to begin sifting through the results and preparing for the real Synod.)


The commentary has ranged from distraught to elated, but one recurring idea is that it’s been good to get things hashed out: that it’s a good sign we haven’t settled for a bland, generic document-generating process. Over at Shoved to Them Rebecca Frech even has a post entitled “Why I’m grateful to Cardinal Kasper,” 

She argues that a rousing debate about important questions is a wholesome and necessary thing, recalling the words of her high school teacher when Rebecca declared herself an agnostic: “Congratulations. Learning to question is the first step towards true faith.” And “You cannot truly believe something you haven’t first truly questioned.”

Addressing these questions is preferable to pretending no one’s asking them or that we all agree on the answer. This is not to say that consensus can or should wield veto power over Revelation. But a gathering that addresses hard questions is better than one that sweeps them under the rug and spawns generic platitudes.


We have been given a gift, if we are willing to see it. We have had the weaknesses in our teachings and approach laid bare for all the world to see. We can see where we have fallen short. Because I can guarantee you that if there are cardinals and bishops asking these questions, then there are scores of the laity wondering the same things. 

The “weaknesses in our teachings” may be going too far. At the least, it risks being misconstrued. But certainly our own understanding and articulation of why those teachings make sense could use work.

Some have said that last week’s pandemonium, like the HHS mandate and the push for gay marriage, was good because it forced us to examine why we believe what we do and to articulate our reasons for those who don’t.

Is that plausible? All the reasons in the world won’t convince propagandists disguised as dialogue partners.


But there are grounds for some hope. Look at the bad publicity hormonal contraception has gotten lately, from unlikely sources like The TelegraphHolly Grigg-Spall (whose “writing has featured in the UK Independent and Times newspapers and the Washington Post. She has contributed to the Ms. Magazine blog, re:Cycling, the F Bomb, Bedside Manners, and Bitch magazine. She lives in California, USA”) and TV host Ricki Lake  If everybody had bought the conventional wisdom that contraception was a lost battle, these breakthroughs might not have occurred.

Being thankful for persecution is something we’re exhorted to do by Scripture, or course (“Count it all joy, brethren”), but even if we can’t muster supernatural joy, we can still see the importance of identifying and articulating what we believe. If we had done so sooner—especially with regard to gay marriage and contraception—we wouldn’t be playing catch-up now, and maybe fewer credulous innocents would imagine that divine law ceases to apply in the bedroom, or that marriage is just a celebration of two people with "feelings for each other."


At the very least, we wouldn’t just now be putting together our arguments, as the government goes about fining people for refusing to collaborate in abortions and threatening them with jail and ruin for not buying "marriage equality." 

I remember learning in college some of the American Founders' arguments for harnessing factions rather than eliminating them. All that robust conversation and clashing of views was a feature, not a bug--at least, for all who wanted to avoid forced uniformity.


And I remember back when my sister was considering going to the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing in 1995. Scores of non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) were descending on China, but none were from China. China had no NGO’s—because in a totalitarian system, a non-governmental anything is an oxymoron.


But a church is not an NGO or a political system. And synods address truth, not just prudential matters or how to express things. Even the most "pastoral" decisions are based on doctrine, not shifting sands. On the other hand, this is not a council or an encyclical. They're hammering out working documents, and a final one won't appear for at least a year. 

What do you think? Does all this "transparency" do more harm than good? Is it a sign of health or deterioration?

Comments (1)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Oct 22, 2014 9:24am

I'm all in favor. I think it's a great gift for the faithful to get to see, in real time, the way the teachings of the Church are worked out in human terms.

It's always been messy. It's always been politically fraught.

The only thing that has distressed me surrounding the Synod is the reaction to it among traditionalists, which has struck me as depressingly faithfuless. (Don't we believe the Holy Spirit is at work? Don't we trust fully that the Church will not fall into error? Don't we really see the Pope as the Vicar of Christ?)

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