Papal alarmism—which we could call “watchdogism"—is opportunistic, and such opportunism is bound tightly to the progressive-versus-conservative political narrative. Even some brilliant and otherwise luminary public figures in the American Catholic conversation have become unhinged by the tussle that just concluded in Rome. They had no reason to be so certain in their predictions and in the anxiety they encouraged. And the confusion they’ve sowed is far greater than any harm done through the ugliness or actual effects of the “social media synod” itself.
Post-synodal Catholic and conservative media teem with writers and commenters who are scurrying to back out of their own pre-synodal soothsaying. At first, we were led to believe that Kasper’s proposal was a near certainty for adoption. Then, when reports indicated that most cardinals rejected it, we were told that the synod would be rigged so that it was adopted in some form anyway.
Now, when it showed up exactly nowhere in the final synod report, we’re reminded that Francis is prone to making bad pastoral judgements (remember that morally tone deaf speech to Congress just last month?) and that a lax, even indefensible or heretical, post-synodal exhortation by the pope is—sound familiar?—almost certain.
What Francis Will Do
Here’s my prediction: As we’ve always expected at Ethika Politika, Francis will confirm the ancient teaching of the Church on the nature and dignity of marriage and will likely confirm its practice concerning the Eucharist. If he does so, you won’t catch so much as a whiff of an apology from those who’ve hitched their wagon to the ideology of watchdogism and who are now squirming to recast their commentary as not opportunistic, popularist alarmism, but instead the fruit of filial piety.
Whether the German and Austrian bishops, and their allies around the world, choose to find latitude in either the relatio finale or the coming exhortation to justify their schismatic urges is an open question. They’ve been at this much longer than the past two years, and it’s even perhaps likely that they will. But that matter is of serious concern to very few. (If Ross Douthat’s salivating at the prospect of “a bitter civil war” is salutary then it’s only in the context of real schism, and not of intramural maneuvering and editorial one-upmanship. That he’s been argumentatively fair to his antagonists is too little too late.)
At least one Austrian that I know of got it right concerning the final resolutions of the synod: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Wittgenstein was hardly a Christian apologist, but neither are Catholic intellectuals (at least those who wish to remain either Catholic or intellectual) very well suited for playing politics. Concerning alarm at the synod—at worst an obscure, intermittent, and ritualized quasi-street fight—many American Catholics have shown that they cannot speak well. And for that reason, they should, instead, have remained silent.
Andrew Haines’ German Challenge to Catholic Practice Goes Poorly, Again
John Haldane’s Francis, Benedict, and MacIntyre?
Peter Smith’s The Making of a Great Reformer
Ted Martin’s Holy Communion for the Divorced and Remarried?