Rorate Caeli

"Is there still a sense of sin among the Synod Fathers?"

 Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana
 October 14, 2015

The work at the Synod is confirming the existence of a strong clash between two minorities inside the Catholic Church. On the one side we have a maniple of Synod Fathers determined to defend traditional morality and on the other we have a group of “innovators” who seem to have lost the Catholic Faith. Between the two minorities, there is, as always, a soft and wavering centre, made up of those that don’t dare defend nor attack the truth and are moved by considerations linked more to their own personal interests than doctrinal debate.

The innovating bishops had their voices heard mainly in two of the 14 minor circles during the discussion on the first part of Instrumentum laboris: the Angelicus C and the Germanicus. Let’s look for a moment at a central passage in the Circulus germanicus report, which had the new Archbishop of Berlin, Monsignor Heiner Koch as spokesman and as  moderator, the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

The German Bishops firmly hope that in the final document negative language will not prevail, i.e. language which distances and condemns, of a “forensical” style (“eine negativ abgrenzende und normativ verurteilende Sprache (forensischer Stil)”), but rather, positive language of the evolution in the Christian position, which may implicitly express what is incompatible with Christian positions (“eine positive, die christliche Position entfaltende Sprache, die damit implizit zur Sprache bringt, welche Positionen christilich inkompatibel sind”). “This  also involves the willingness (cfr. Gaudium et Spes) to welcome the positive developments of society”.  (“Dazu gehört auch die Bereitschaft (cf. Gaudium et Spes), von der Gesellschaft positive Entwicklungen aufzugreifen”).

To understand what lies hidden behind this ambiguous language, we need to re-read the central passages of an interview which Cardinal Christoph Schönborn released to Father Antonio Spadaro of the Civiltà Cattolica last September 26th . The Archbishop of Vienna, asserts that it is necessary “to become conscious of the historical and social dimension of marriage and the family.”

 He explains: “Too often we theologians, bishops, priests and custodians of doctrine forget that human life occurs in conditions imposed by society i.e. psychological, social, economic and political conditions, in a historical context.  Until now this has been missing in the Synod. […] We should look at the many situations of cohabitation, not only from the angle of what is missing, but also from the angle of what is already promised - what is already present. […] Those who have the grace and joy to be able to live sacramental marriage in faith, humility, reciprocal forgiveness, with trust in God Who acts daily in our lives, know how to discern in a couple, in a civil union, in a cohabitating couple, elements of true heroism, charity and reciprocal giving. Even if we have to say: “It is still not the full reality of the sacrament”. Yet who are we to judge and say that there are no elements of truth and sanctification in them?” […]

In this regard, I cannot hide being shocked at how the purely formalistic manner of discussion  uses the hatchet of the intrinsece  malum […]. The obsession of the intrinsece malum has so impoverished the debate that we are deprived of a large range of argumentation in favor of  uniqueness, indissolubility, openness to life, and the human foundation of the Church’s doctrine. We have lost the taste for  discussion on these human realities. One of the pivotal elements of the Synod is the reality of the Christian family, not from an exclusive point of view but an inclusive one. […] There are also situations in which the priest, the one who knows the people in the internal forum, may arrive at saying: “Your situation is such, that in conscience, in yours and mine as your pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church”. […] I realize I’m scandalizing some by saying this… But one can always learn something from people who are objectively living in irregular situations.  Pope Francis wants to educate us in this”. (Marriage and pastoral conversion.  Interview of  Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, by Antonio Spadaro S.I., in Civiltà CattolicaQuaderno n° 3966 del 26/09/2015, pp. 449-552).

This interview should be read in parallel, with the one from another Synod Father, of Germanic cultural formation, the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Bruno Forte, special-secretary to the  ordinary general assembly of the Synod. In his declarations to Avvenire on September 19th, 2015, Monsignor Forte said that Instrumentum laboris, manifests:sympathy for everything that is positive, even when, as in the case of cohabitation, we are faced with an incomplete positivity. The criteria of sympathy towards a cohabitating couple is dictated by the presence in their union of a desire for fidelity, stability and openness to life. [And] when one grasps that this desire can be crowned by the sacrament of matrimony. On the contrary, when the cohabitation is episodic, everything appears more difficult and it then becomes important to find the path that encourages new steps towards a more significant maturation. […] When there is an irreversible cohabitation, above all if there are children born from the new union, to go back would mean failing in the commitments undertaken. [And] these commitments require moral duties that should comply in a spirit of obedience to God’s will, which asks for fidelity to this new union. When these conditions are present, then an increasingly deeper integration into the life of the Christian community can be considered. Until what point? We have already said it. It’s up to the Synod to propose it and the Pope to decide.”    

As is evident from the interviews cited, the approach to the problems of the family is of a purely sociological nature, with no reference at all to principles that transcend history. Matrimony and the family for Cardinal Schönborn and Monsignor Forte are not natural institutions that have been part of the life of mankind since the beginning of civilization: institutions which have certainly come into being  and dwell in history, but as they are rooted in the very nature of mankind, they are destined to survive, in every place and time, as the fundamental cell of human cohabitation. They retain that the family is subjected to the dialectic evolution of history, assuming new forms, according to the historical period and the “positive developments in society”.

The “positive language” which the Circulus germanicus cites, means that there must be no condemnation expressed by the Church, because we need to grasp the positivity in evil and sin. Properly speaking, for them, sin doesn’t exist, since every evil is an imperfect and incomplete good. These aberrations are based on deliberate confusion between the metaphysical and moral  concepts of good and evil.  It is clear in fact, that from the philosophical point of view, God Who is the Supreme Good, did not create anything that is evil and imperfect in the universe.  Yet, in created things we also have human freedom, which renders possible in a rational being, moral estrangement from God. This aversio a Deo in the rational being is an evil that is properly defined as sin. Nevertheless the notion of sin is absent in the Cardinal’s view, just as it is in the special secretary’s.

 By denying the existence of the intrinsece malum, Cardinal Schönborn is denying moral truths like those according to which “there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object” (John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et paenitentia, n. 17) and rejects in toto the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, promulgated precisely to reaffirm the existence of absolute morals, against the resurgence of “situation ethics”.  In this perspective, not only is the notion of Divine and natural law as the root and foundation of moral order dissolved, but also the [very] notion of human freedom. Freedom is in fact the primary subjective root of morality, just as the natural and Divine law constitutes its objective form.  Without the Divine and natural law, good and evil cease to exist, since the natural law is what allows the intelligence to know the truth and the will to love the good.  Freedom and  law are two inseparable entities in the moral order.

Sin exists because absolute morals exist. Sin is an absolute evil because it opposes the absolute Good, and is the only evil, because it opposes God Who is the sole Good. The origins of every situation of adversity and unhappiness in man are not of a political, economical and social nature, but go back to sin -  both original and actual - committed by men.   Man “ sins mortally[…] when he consciously and freely, for whatever reason, chooses something which is seriously disordered  (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Persona humana, November 7th 1975, n. 10 par. 6).  Among the sins that exist, according to Holy Scripture,  are those that cry out to Heaven for vengeance, like the sin of sodomy (Gen. 18, 20; 19, 13), but there is also the violation of the sixth commandment, which prohibits any sexual union outside of marriage.  No “positive language” is admitted to bless these unions.  Pius XII said that “perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin” (Radio Message October 26th 1946).

Yet, what happens when it is churchmen themselves who lose the sense of sin, and with this, the Faith itself ?

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]