~~Welcome to the latest addition to Dignity/New York’s web page – a blog entitled “ABBAKUS”. The name comes from an acronym I created for myself some years ago – meaning: “Abba Akus” – a Greek phrase for Father Akus, reflecting my clerical background; “Ab Akus” – a Latin phrase indicating “form the mind or thought of” Akus – what we would call today a “blog”; and finally “abacus” – the Chinese counting device reflecting my professional career as a math teacher. So it is personal; but I though “cute” (meaning it will get attention).
The idea originated after I gave a sermon on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary times a couple of weeks ago, where I talked about the up-coming Synod of Bishops, which I believe is going to be a very important moment in the history of the Roman Catholics Church.
[The sermon has been posted under the heading “Liturgy – Sermons” above; you can go there and read the notes I used for it.]
I had mentioned this in the sermon because that was the week that the Vatican released a 75 page document, “the Instrumentum Laboris”, which will be the basis of their discussion.
[This document has also been posted under the heading “Education” above; you can go there and work your way through the document; although as a Church document that can be rather laborious.]
A number of members of Dignity felt that it might be good to start a blog on our website devoted to this event – where we could keep in touch with; ask questions about; comment on the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops.
Some basic information: The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops will take place at the Vatican October 5-19. The attendees will be as usual, Heads of the various Vatican Departments, Heads of various Religious Rites within the church, and rather unusually, the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences. This last group brings up my first observation.
Each country with at least a sizeable Roman Catholic population has a Conference of Bishops. It simply is the aggregate of all the bishops in that area. They elect one of their members to be the Conference President. These are the men (yah, sorry, no women, yet) who will be attending. But what is unusual is that both the structure of National Episcopal Conferences, and the President of an Episcopal Conference are NOT canonical positions within the formal structure of Canon Law. They are seen simply as pragmatic administrative structures. And they were highly opposed and undermined by both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI. By choosing these Bishops to attend this conference Pope Francis has introduced a new element into the structuring of the Church. These men have these positions because they were ELECTED (not appointed by the Vatican) to REPRESENT their countries group of bishops. We seem to have, at least in the most tentative ways, an introduction of representative, freely elected government structures into the ecclesiastical structures we are used to dealing with.
The issues to be discussed are the Family, although when you look at the Instrumentum Laboris you will see that this means all the “hot button” issues of our day, mostly dealing with “sex” or “bedroom” issues: abortion, contraceptives, in-vitro fertilization, pre-marital sex, cohabitation, same sex unions, divorced and remarried Catholics. This leads to my second observation.
These are in fact the issues that Pope John XXIII had tabled at the Second Vatican Council. He wanted special committees to be created to deal with these issues and offer advice. Of course, the first one of these Commissions, the Artificial Birth Control Commission, appointed by Pope Paul VI, is the most infamous.
There is an interesting history involved here. The Commission met; they studied the issue; they were going to advise that the church allow artificial birth control. Pope Paul VI was unsure. One of the cardinals had a meeting with him, Archbishop Wojtyła from Poland, who told him…”You are the Pope. You decide. Don’t listen to this commission.” We all know what happened. Pope Paul VI issued his Humanae Vitae encyclical and the Second Vatican Council collapsed (in practice). It marked the end. People simply stopped paying attention to what the Vatican had to say on anything; and the church went into decline. All the hopes and aspirations of the Second Vatican Council were deflated. Actually, Paul VI never issued another encyclical after that because he was just so shocked from the reaction and response.
An interesting side line. In preparation for the Synod, the Japanese bishops passed around the questionnaire that they were to complete that would serve as the basis of the Instrumentum Laboris. What they found out was that no one in Japan had even heard of the Encyclical.
And in fact, the results of almost all of the Bishops pre-Synod surveys have found that over 85% of Catholics simply ignore what is in this encyclical. The problem is one that the Church seems to fail to understand. The church DOES allow birth control. It’s just that it’s supposed to be done the natural way. The position of the encyclical is that you can’t use science to accomplish this goal. And this is what people simply don’t understand. Why not? That’s like saying you can’t use vaccines to stop and infection; you have to let the body’s natural immune system do it only. Most people feel that the position of the Church is simply ridiculous.
By the way, it’s interesting to notice that the proponents of this approach use the word “contraceptives”. They don’t want to use the phrase “artificial birth control” because it highlights the fact that what they are objecting to is science, and not the right to control birth.
But now we are in a pickle. What are the bishops going to do with Humanae Vitae. If they continue to up hold its teachings, the world will laugh. If they change their position they will have to deny the infallibility of the encyclical. So while I think Pope Francis is trying very hard to revive the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, I think he has put himself into a real corner. It will be interesting to see what happens on this and on the other issues.
As you can see, this Synod is going to be important for the future of the Church. Sr. Joan Chittister, noting that this synod is probably the most important since the Council of Trent, commented in an editorial in the National Catholic Report (July 3, 2014):
“Trent’s 150 anathemas were a mistake that lost the church half of Europe, divided the Christian community for 400 years, plunged Catholicism into the dark ages of thought, and left the Christians witness adrift in ‘the scandal of division’. From where I stand, it looks as if we have been given another opportunity to do it right this time. The only question is whether the bishops who were entrusted with gathering the answers of the laity to these questions will start at all. Let alone go all the way.”
While she may be over-stating it, I do believe that this meeting can be viewed as a “mini-Vatican III”, where the issues NOT dealt with at Vatican II and subsequent dismantling of the decisions reached there by both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XV will have a chance of being resolved and revived the hope of Vatican II to be restored to the Christian and Catholic community.
More later …