Pope Francis and the Synod: No need to be confused

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In a recent article, John Allen likened the recent extraordinary Synod on the Family to a suspense movie – and maybe it’s so. With the world’s spotlight focused on it, the Synod became for many a moving picture full of drama and emotion with an ending that was anything but predictable.

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It’s been a while, but the film hasn’t ended; the suspense continues. Even now, opposing voices continue to resonate. Invariably all fall, in varying degrees, on the “movie director” who set everything in motion: Pope Francis.

Perhaps with reason “conservatives” express feelings of deep concern, even anxiety. Some mention pressure groups pushing to change Church teaching. A cardinal remarked recently that now “the Church is like a ship without a rudder.” A prominent American layman issued as well a heartfelt lament that despite the more somber tone of the final document, “the lasting worldwide damage is done.”

Perhaps with reason “liberals” are disappointed but… / or hopeful. One online news website quoted a cardinal very vocal about allowing divorced Catholics to receive Holy Communion as more than hinting that the Pope is supportive of his views. Another called the final document a “diluted family document,” deploring that “Pope Francis…the Vatican’s great reformer and modernizer suffered a setback.”

All these suggest that the Synod was and is much more than a discussion on the Family: it has become a crucial lens through which Francis is being scrutinized as Pope. Is he the “progressive” who conservatives fear will redefine Church doctrine, or is he the “conservative” with whom the progressives will end up getting disappointed? And should we be concerned?

Here are some data:

• Because the Family is in crisis, he called for a Synod on the Family.

• Desiring sincere openness, he exhorted bishops to speak “without polite deference, without hesitation . . . (but also) listen with humility and welcome.”

• Desiring fairness, he placed two “conservatives” on the drafting committee when there was a perception it only had “liberals.”

• Desiring transparency, he ordered a full disclosure on the Synod: discussion, final text, votes, and all.

• He beatified Paul VI, a pope attacked for his conservative ideas, to cap the Synod.

• He called for mercy as he rejected both “traditionalists” and “progressives”. He still does.

• In the end, he made “one of the finest” speeches of his young Papacy, addressing all concerns and meriting a four-minute standing ovation from everyone.

Is it possible he’s neither progressive nor conservative? Thus perhaps the confused mix of reactions during the Synod and its aftermath is due to a failure of understanding who Pope Francis is?

Perhaps there’s reason to think he’s one or the other. But what if he’s simply the Pope taking to heart the Petrine ministry to which he was called? If we take him at his word on everything he has said from the beginning of his Papacy until now, would we not see a person simply allowing the Holy Spirit to work, fearless of where He leads?

So maybe this Synod is indeed like any suspense story where we need to pray to allay our fears. But maybe it’s one where we don’t have to be so anxious about how things will turn out.

(Robert Cortes is an instructor at the University of Asia and the Pacific doing his PhD in Social Institutional Communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.)

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