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“Discernment Of Spirits” At The Synod

October 28, 2015 Frontpage No Comments

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By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

It is not a good thing that so many of us get our news these days from the Yahoo homepage that greets us when we turn on our computers in the morning, rather than a newspaper from the local newsstand. But it is a fact of life. I know that I browse the headlines that Yahoo offers even before going to my email each morning. It is too convenient a service to ignore. Yahoo gives us lots of daily junk about the Kardashians, but it also offers in capsule form the major stories of the day from the wire services.
The problem is that whoever it is that puts together the Yahoo homepage gets to set the agenda for millions of Americans, even more so than the editors of the major newspapers and network news directors in years past. Look around the commuter train: All those people looking down at their cell phones are flipping through the news accounts that Yahoo provides them.
In recent weeks, rumors and leaks about what is happening at the Synod of Bishops on the Family taking place in Rome have been all over Yahoo. They don’t paint a pretty picture.
The question is whether they accurately depict what is taking place, and whether they place the rumors and leaks in context. I have read stories on Yahoo about Archbishop Jan Paul Lenga, former bishop of the Diocese of Karaganda in Kazakhstan, warning that the “smoke of Satan” is present at the synod and about Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia expressing his “anxiety” and “worry” that the synod is about to radically change the Church’s teachings on marriage.
Perhaps the most unsettling Yahoo story focused on “revelations” that “13 cardinals — headed by Australia’s George Pell and including New York’s archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan — penned a letter to Francis expressing grave concerns about the way the synod was being run and warning that Rome could go the way of ‘collapsed’ Protestant churches that abandoned core Christian beliefs.”
As reported earlier in The Wanderer, the contents of that cardinals’ letter and who signed it have been the subject of ongoing controversy.
Regardless, time will tell about any possible dangers to core beliefs, remembering, of course, that the gates of Hell will not prevail.
But, for yet another take on what’s going on at the synod, consider the article in the Jesuits’ America by Fr. James Martin, SJ, on October 9. Martin contends that the leaks from the synod that strike many as “confusing signals” are simply reflections of a process that Jesuits, such as the Pope, call “group discernment, or communal discernment,” a process, Martin admits, that can seem “messy, confusing, and even chaotic” to those unfamiliar with it.
“Discernment,” Martin continues, “is the term used by Jesuits and their colleagues to describe the way that decisions are made in a prayerful way. St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder, lays out many of these methods in his classic text The Spiritual Exercises. At heart, the process begins with the belief that God wants a person, or a group, to make good, healthy and life-giving decisions; and through the ‘discernment of spirits’ sort out what is coming from God and what is not.”
What does “discernment” look like in practice? Martin writes, “At the heart of every group discernment is the idea that everyone should be…radically free to follow God’s will wherever it may lead.” This means that the participants in the group should free themselves from “disordered attachments,” including “fealty to things, ideas and people” — including previously accepted beliefs and figures in authority — “that prevent one from thinking, speaking and acting freely. The most essential element of group discernment is this absolutely radical freedom.”
Martin acknowledges that this freedom may “create tension among those who feel that any movement away from the status quo is in opposition to fidelity to the church or that change itself would cause confusion.” This fear, Martin claims, must be rejected: “Group discernment calls for a willingness to be open with one’s thoughts and feelings, and also to be open to another person’s thoughts and feelings, no matter how threatening they may seem,” since “in group discernment it may be the least likely person or group through whom the Spirit moves most strongly.” It well may be, he continues, that the Spirit is moving in opposition to “those who feel that those with the most authority, learning, or experience naturally have the correct ‘answer’.”
It is for this reason, Martin asserts, that we should not overreact when we hear leaks about things said at the synod. Many of these early positions taken by participants will be rejected before the synod ends; they will not be part of the final report. We must have patience: “The Spirit blows where it will. It takes its time for people to offer their reflections, for questions, for discussion, for clarifications, for prayer and discernment. The Holy Spirit cannot be rushed.”
Martin adds that St. Ignatius stressed, “An essential element of group discernment is group prayer, but also private prayer — and large blocks of it.”
Does this mean that “anything goes” during the discernment process? No, Martin says. He stresses that St. Ignatius “indicates in the Exercises that prior commitments and fidelity to church teachings are essential”; that the participants should be devoted to discovering the fullness of Catholic teachings in a manner that will be best understood by modern men and women. The participants cannot be in service to a competing ideological or philosophical belief.
It is at this point that things become problematic or worse for many Catholics. How can we feel confident that the participants at the synod are proceeding with a “prior commitment and fidelity” to the teachings of the Church, when recent years have given us so many examples of members of the clergy who have demonstrated their opposition to what the Church teaches?
We have seen Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee retire in 2004 after it was revealed that he had used $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to settle a lawsuit accusing him of sexual harassment of a male lover.
We remember how Pope John Paul II in 2003 found it necessary to remove Hans Hermann Cardinal Gröer from office because of allegations of sexual misconduct with young students in his care. In September 2005, Juan Carlos Maccarone, the bishop of Santiago del Estero in Argentina, was forced to resign after pictures were released of him engaged in sexual activity with another man.
More recently, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, because of allegations from three priests and one former priest that O’Brien had engaged in improper sexual conduct with them during the 1980s.
And just a few weeks ago, Fr. Krzysztof Charamsa, a Polish priest and Vatican official, came out publicly as an active homosexual with a male partner. Charamsa condemned what he called the “institutionalized homophobia in the church,” calling for a change in the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex.
And just this past week, according to crux.now, Archbishop Basil Cupich of Chicago said, concerning Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, that there are some ideas surfacing in the synod hall about “penitential paths” in order to integrate people back into the life of the Church.
“[Archbishop Cupich] pointed to the so-called Kasper Proposal, an idea floated by German Cardinal Walter Kasper that would create a pathway to Communion for the divorced and remarried, and he expressed support for the theology behind the idea, published in a book last year,” reported crux.now.
LifeSiteNews reported: “When asked by LifeSiteNews if the notion of accompanying people to ‘the Sacrament’ who had a clear indication of conscience to do so also applied to gay couples in the Church, Cupich indicated an affirmative answer.
“‘I think that gay people are human beings too and they have a conscience. And my role as a pastor is to help them to discern what the will of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the Church and yet, at the same time, helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point. It’s for everybody….”
So, I ask this question sincerely, without an axe to grind: How can we feel confident, given the above history and with some of the statements that have come from certain synod fathers?

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