Many Catholics believe the Synod on the Family will drive home the final nail in the coffin of orthodoxy. They believe that, when the Synod is over, from that coffin will emerge some hideous new zombie Church, which progressive Pope Francis will envelop in one of his famous Marxist hugs. Together, Frankie and Zombie will personally cater all the gay weddings they can find, and couples who have three or more annulments under their belts can claim a discount on renting the Sistine Chapel for their next few weddings.
Many Catholics look at the Synod, and they know that the Church is going to change. They know it.
Are they right? Let’s step back a few decades, to the last time everybody knew what would happen in the Church.
In 1963, Pope John XXIII called a Pontifical Commission to examine the Church’s ban on artificial birth control. After he died, Pope Paul VI expanded the commission to include doctors, theologians, lay women, bishops and cardinals.
The members of this committee were chosen by the Pope, and everybody knew what that meant: the Church was obviously revving up for something big, something new. The commission members debated, studied, and solicited testimony for several years; and then in 1966, they came out with a report that concluded exactly what everyone was expecting: It said that the Church should do a 180 and allow artificial birth control. The official report said that birth control was not intrinsically evil, and that the Church’s ban on it should be lifted.
There was rejoicing in some quarters, wringing of hands in others, as everyone assumed that the Pope would agree. Everyone assumed that life as a married Catholic would be dramatically different from then on, in keeping with the times. Laymen thought so. Priests thought so. Everyone thought, “This is it. This is the big change we’ve all been [hoping for/dreading].”
And what happened?
Humanae Vitae happened. BOOM. Rather than assenting to the Commission’s recommendation, Paul VI issued the glorious encyclical which firmly and passionately reasserts the Church’s constant teaching on human sexuality, almost miraculously predicting the societal ills that would follow if the world embraced artificial contraception. The encyclical thrilled some, enraged others, and immediately began sowing the seeds for John Paul II’s flourishing Theology of the Body, which is only now beginning to take root in the hearts of many Catholics.
In 1968, everyone knew the Church was going to change.
Everyone was wrong.
I expect — no, I believe with all my heart — that the same will happen in the next few years regarding the issues of divorce and civil remarriage, and same sex marriage. The Pope has reaffirmed countless times that he is a “son of the Church” and will uphold and defend her doctrine, no matter what the rumors imply (and Cardinal Kasper — CARDINAL KASPER — says so, too).
Now, this is not to say that everything will be fine. Most Catholics, including those present when Humanae Vitae first came out, ignored and continue to blithely ignore the Church’s teaching on contraception. It’s likely that Catholics who are in favor of same sex marriage will continue to be in favor of same sex marriage, no matter what happens at the synod, and no matter what the Pope says, infallibly or otherwise.
But will the Church change her teachings on marriage? No, she will not. I would bet my life on it. Sometimes when everyone knows something, everyone is wrong.
So, listen to rumors if you like. Debate about the ins and outs of various meetings and interviews, and feel free to wince, as any normal human being would do, as we witness sausage being made. Above all, pray — pray for the pope, pray for the bishops, pray for a change of heart for those in dissent, and pray for courage for those who are faithful. Pray for the Church. Pray for all of us. Prayer is always the appropriate response. But as you pray, don’t panic.
Remember, everybody knew what was definitely going to happen in 1968. Everybody was wrong.