As the Synod begins

In the conversation about marriage and family life that Pope Francis initiated over a year ago within the Catholic Church, we have heard a lot about what is and isn’t faithful to church teaching. More “progressive” figures, such as Cardinal Kasper, have proposed new pastoral approaches for our consideration, while more “conservative” minded figures, like Cardinal Burke, have rejected them as being unfaithful to Scripture, tradition, and Church teaching.

Having spent a good portion of the last several years exploring the thinking and the story of Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, I have to say the current situation has a very familiar ring to it. Murray got himself into trouble with the highest authorities in Rome for suggesting that, despite what might seem to be the case, support for the idea of religious freedom as a human right was not contrary to Church teaching and is in fact a true and important element of that teaching. He was criticized for contradicting the magisterium and Scripture. His work was condemned as erroneous by the Vatican’s doctrinal authorities.

And then, a decade later, he was dramatically vindicated in almost the weightiest way possible: through a declaration of an ecumenical council of the Church.

Just because someone — even someone with great ecclesial authority — thinks a proposition is contrary to Church teaching does not mean it is. It may be, of course. Some ideas are. But to treat as a villain — as a certain Catholic cable news channel has done for going on two years now — faithful pastors and theologians who work hard to offer new pastoral approaches in ways that is faithful to the Gospel and to the Church is wrong and does a disservice to the Church and to the truth.

Come, Holy Spirit, upon the Synod. Enlighten those participating in it with your holy Wisdom.

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