A Tale of Two Synods
by Christopher A. Ferrara
June 29, 2016
On June 16, 2016 — the very date of the “debacle at the Lateran” involving Francis’ comments on marriage and cohabitation, the subject of my previous three columns — the Orthodox Church of America approved the following statement of its moral teaching:
The Orthodox Church in America teaches and maintains as a sincerely held religious belief that God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman, and that all intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral, and therefore sin…
Granted, the Orthodox Church permits divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances, thus departing from the Gospel, but at least it is willing to state forthrightly that all sexual activity outside of marriage is immoral and a sin.
Nowhere in Francis’ post-synodal “apostolic exhortation” Amoris Laetitia (AL), however, nor anywhere in the documents of the “Synod on the Family,” will we find any such declaration. Quite the contrary, and quite incredibly for a Roman Pontiff, AL systematically proposes excuses for immoral and sinful sexual relations outside of marriage, which (as my previous columns discuss) Francis even dared to depict at the Lateran as “true marriage” among cohabiting couples in Argentina. To quote two salient examples from AL:
Hence it can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace (AL 301).
[I]t is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end (AL 305).
While AL is supposed to be a document addressed to “challenges” facing the family today, not a single line in its 256 verbose pages is addressed to the challenge posed precisely by sexual relations outside of marriage, which have undermined the foundations of our entire civilization, leading to its imminent ruin. Instead, believe it or not, the document’s sole reference to social degeneration on account of endemic sin relates to the environment and social injustice:
Nor can we overlook the social degeneration brought about by sin, as, for example, when human beings tyrannize nature, selfishly and even brutally ravaging it. This leads to the desertification of the earth… and those social and economic imbalances denounced by the prophets, beginning with Elijah … and culminating in Jesus’ own words against injustice…. (AL 26)
In fact, the one and only form of conduct AL expressly declares to be sinful and without excuse is, of all things, slander: “We often forget that slander can be quite sinful; it is a grave offense against God when it seriously harms another person’s good name and causes damage that is hard to repair.” (AL 112)
But isn’t sexually immoral behavior “a grave offense against God” that “causes damage that is hard to repair” — indeed, often impossible to repair? One will search the entirety of AL for even a hint that this is so. Yet AL is supposed to be a “defense” of the family against threats to its existence. What greater threat to the family is there than illicit sexual behavior, from fornication, to contraception, to divorce itself, all of which strike at the very heart of God’s divine plan for the family?
Despite its tribute to marital love and the family in its opening chapters, a fair reading of the document as a whole shows that it was written precisely to induce an accommodation to sinful behaviors that have become endemic in our once Christian civilization, essentially counseling “live and let live” when it comes to cohabitation and adulterous “second marriages,” which AL dares to describe as being characterized by “proven fidelity, generous self giving, Christian commitment…” (AL 298)
This “live and let live” theme is nowhere more apparent than in AL 92, where we read:
That is why the word of God tells us: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be.
Here Saint Paul is deceptively enlisted to support the idea that God Himself tells us that everyone has “a right to live in this world, just as they are.” Nonsense. What Saint Paul really teaches in the full context of Chapter 4 of Ephesians is that men must reform themselves in the grace of God, cease sinning, including sins of the flesh, and live in righteousness:
This then I say and testify in the Lord: That henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind
Having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. Who despairing, have given themselves up to lasciviousness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness.
But you have not so learned Christ. If so be that you have heard him, and have been taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus: To put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind:
And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth. Wherefore putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbour; for we are members one of another. Be angry, and sin not. Let not the sun go down upon your anger.
Give not place to the devil. He that stole, let him now steal no more; but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have something to give to him that suffereth need.
Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but that which is good, to the edification of faith, that it may administer grace to the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God: whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption.
When even a synod of the Orthodox Church says forthrightly what a Roman Pontiff and his Synod seem incapable of uttering, but rather seem intent on obscuring and excusing, we know that this is the final battle of which Sister Lucia warned Cardinal Caffarra: the battle between the Church and the devil over marriage and family in the midst of what she rightly called “diabolical disorientation” in the Church.
But Catholics can take heart that this final battle can only be a prelude to the glorious restoration Our Lady promised us at Fatima: “In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”