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Is Pope Francis Bypassing The German Bishops?

July 13, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By SHAUN KENNEY

Pope Francis writes a letter to the “people of God” in Germany as the Amazon Synod warms up for its October meeting. One topic of interest that Francis continues to draw attention to is the twin errors of Neo-Pelagianism and Gnosticism, both of which are concerns drawn from the work of Pope Benedict XVI.
The distinction is drawn from an emphasis on faith and rules. Too much emphasis on rules, and one falls into the trap of Pelagianism. Too much emphasis on faith, and one falls into the trap of gnosis or hidden knowledge.
It is easy for folks to put either Neo-Pelagianism or Gnosticism in the traditional roles of the right or the left, with those rules-based traditionalists squaring off against those sandaled progressive hippies with their guitars and tambourines.
Yet the disease can transition to the other side. Consider the ossified bureaucracy that seems to swarm around every Catholic charitable institution with its miasma of political leftism masquerading as Catholic. If there is anything more emblematic of the Neo-Pelagian mindset, it is the “but this is how we’ve always done it!” mentality that plagues the Church.
Similarly, we can see Gnosticism among our own tribe when we find ourselves looking for a Catholicism that becomes a museum of saints rather than a hospital for sinners. These are the folks who hush crying babies in the pews who have just as much a right to be there as we do.
I can recall a time one Sunday evening when a gentleman, dressed in suit and tie, scolded a Hispanic gentleman who showed up to Mass in paint clothes. The priest at the time overheard it, waited for the suit to leave, and calmly talked to the painter. Afterward, the priest explained to us that the painter worked two shifts to provide for his family, and that he came as he was — forced to work on a Sunday by guys like that man in the suit. It made me feel ashamed to think of how we treat Sunday as a day of rest by going to Walmart, restaurants, and so forth — relaxing at the expense of those who must work?
Francis emphasizes that the tension between rules and faith is relaxed by grace, and it is within the idea of synodality that grace and the direction of the Holy Spirit prevail. Not with a sense of uprootedness, but rather with an openness to grace.
Would that every member of the synod were actually of that spirit! Francis too seems concerned about the potentiality for the hijacking of the synod in this letter, again specifically written to the “people of God” in Germany, where the bishops have been the most insistent upon the introduction of married priests within the Western Rite. To this point, Francis levels the charge of Gnosticism, or rather that entrenchment that insists “we” have it right and “they” have it wrong. Thus the Gnosticism of the German bishops seems to be the target of Francis’ concern, that rather than synodality there is a more political element at play.
It has been mentioned before that the German bishops are frightfully concerned about the Kirchensteuer — the “church tax” that fuels the Catholic Church in Germany in lieu of donations. This tax is apportioned by the German people as they register as either Catholics, various Protestant denominations, or none of the above. As the politics and “reform” of the 1970s has produced a counterfeit Catholicism, future Catholics have rejected the counterfeit almost entirely. No small wonder why these same relics of the 1970s would continue to use the very methods that produced the crisis in the first place, if for no other reason than it is the only trick these ponies know.
Thus Francis is left trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube, so to speak. Having bet on the goodwill of those who have expressed very little in exchange, Francis is trying to demonstrate that the Holy Spirit will preserve this or any other synod from error so long as men of good will and right intention participate in the experiment.
The problem, of course, is that we do live in the world. We are plagued by heresies, Neo-Pelagian and Gnostic alike. Some of those mistakes are hidden even from our own hearts. Yes, grace does supply where our intellect fails, but we should be wise enough to understand that the political religions of the postmodern era are not content to leave Catholics be. They are, in a word, totalitarian — and they have the hearts and minds of our laity, our priests, and even some of our bishops.
All the more reason to pray mightily for the Church during such times. Pope Francis, in bypassing the German bishops, is half-cautioning and half-pleading his case. If the synod goes sideways, then Francis’ radical bet of the good will of his brother bishops will fundamentally shake his notion of synodality. Alternatively, if the synod reaffirms the celibate priesthood, then Francis will reaffirm 1,600 years of tradition.
Who wins? Let’s hope the Holy Spirit does, because we have been down this road once before in the time of Martin Luther, and Christendom certainly let the Holy Spirit down that time.

A Transient Place

“I hope you hugged your kids last Tuesday.” Which isn’t the way you ever want to start a conversation that begins with, “What happened in such-and-such part of the world?” Yet there it is.
When I was a young man of the age of 12, I picked up a book from the shelf in the middle school entitled Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank. While I don’t remember much of the book itself (other than that it was good enough to capture my attention), I do remember the opening chapters. Two brothers raised in Florida listen to the same pastor every Sunday, a fire and brimstone character who appends much of his fulminations with the catchphrase “Alas, Babylon!” before condemning the enemies of God to everlasting perdition.
Later in life, one brother stays home while the other becomes a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. The two of them agree on a pre-established code for impending doom: the words “Alas, Babylon” in remembrance of their preacher’s doomsday predictions.
Of course, the book begins with a telegram from one brother to another with those precise words, and shortly after the telegram a nuclear war erupts. The community survives only to discover that the United States won the nuclear exchange only to be utterly reliant on Third World countries such as Brazil and Venezuela.
In moderately unrelated news, Vice President Mike Pence’s plane was abruptly turned around from an event in New Hampshire a few weeks ago. President Donald Trump abruptly stopped a bombing campaign that was 10 minutes away from starting a war with Iran a week before that. In Murmansk, we have Russian submarines catching fire and killing 14 after an American submarine (more accurately, a drone) was reportedly scuttled in the exchange. Russian President Vladimir Putin also abruptly changed his schedule at the same moment Pence was turned around.
One mentions all of these things not to alarm anyone, but to remind us that the world is a transient place. We are pilgrims in a strange land as Catholics, and for those of us who remember what it was like to grow up with a Soviet Union, it is a strange reminder that we really are still a few minutes to midnight every day — and unlike the Cold War, we live in a world that is just as tense and far more unpredictable.
“Behold, I have come as a thief in the night,” reminds Christ, “Blessed is the one who watches and keeps his clothes ready, so that he may not go naked and people see him exposed” (Rev. 16:15).

Why You Believe

Some good news with regards to my friend who continues to struggle with alcoholism. Yes, he is in treatment and has been for the last four weeks with the Veterans Administration, with another two weeks to go.
At the moment, he is getting to the root of his dependency issues. One of the things he mentioned specifically was that core values — truly core values — are something that the psychiatrists typically target in any sort of treatment program. Not just why you believe what you believe, but why you believe the “why you believe” and so forth.
It all seems rather intense. That’s the sort of breaking down of a person that one might see in dystopian science fiction novels or Chinese internment and re-education camps. Or, in another sense, for those of us more familiar with religious forms, a confessional.
Still, I have a great deal of hope that this is going to turn out for the best. For that, I have you to thank, because I truly am convinced that your prayers have been the difference between this path and something much darker. So if you ever wonder whether prayer works? Why yes…it most certainly does.
St. Louis de Montfort and Venerable Matt Talbot, pray for us!

Write To Me!

First Teachers encourages readers to submit their thoughts, views, opinions, and insights to the author directly, either via e-mail or by mail. Please send any correspondence to Shaun Kenney c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 or by e-mail to svk2cr@virginia.edu.

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