These are harsh winter days for those who thought there were springtime signs for reform in the catholic ecclesial institution. May they not lose their hope, or their breath!
On Saturday, October 28, the synthesis of the first phase of the “Synod on Synodality” of the Catholic Church, the fourth in the 10 years of this papacy, was made public. Expectations were high after two long years of free reflection and after so many proposals for deep reforms received from the five continents, and after a whole month of recapitulating work in the Vatican by some 500 qualified persons from all over the world. Revolutionary proposals were expected which could give a decisive step forward towards abolishing the macho clericalism and homophobia installed in the catholic ecclesial institution.
So much greater has been the disappointment. In the 37-page synthesis, there is not a single word about the access of women to the priestly power of the male clergy: it is simply requested that “investigations continue” on the opportunity of female diaconate, which in any case would be a diaconate of mere function, deprived of the diaconal ordination reserved for men. Likewise, there is no mention whatsoever of the blessing of homosexual marriages, let alone of their sacramental character! Not only is it not asked that their love be recognized as a sacrament of Love, but it is not even proposed that it be blessed. This is very hard. Freezing-cold winter. Regarding a possible dispensation from obligatory celibacy for priests “in special contexts”, it is simply stated that a “deeper reflection” is necessary. And no step forward has even been suggested related to readmitting married priests to the priestly ministry.
Synod means “walking together”, but after two years no progress has been made, except if we consider that talking about synodality is progress. It is something, some will say. But, was it worth so much waste of words and money, so many expectations raised to stay where we were? The most conservative sectors breathe a sigh of relief. “The game is still on”, say the more progressive ones to encourage themselves, and they remind us that this document will go back to the parishes where everything began, and a second phase will open, one more year, and then everything will depend on the Pope, and Francis will be able to freely adopt irreversible reforms… Indeed, everything depends on the Pope; neither four synods nor as many as may come will prevent everything continuing to depend on the next pope. The Catholic Church will continue spinning in circles, like this synod, like its round tables which were its most novel aspect this time. But the Spirit of Life blows irresistibly, stronger outside than inside any religious system. It never repeats itself.
Then, we have witnessed another winter episode: on Tuesday October 31st, Bishop Omella, president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, and its secretary general called a press conference to discuss the Gabilondo Report on sexual abuses committed against minors by the Catholic Church between 1940 and 1990: according to data and estimates, there are more than 200,000 minors assaulted by religious people, and more than 400,000 including minors assaulted in religious settings (religious schools, for example). Some statements made in this regard by the leadership of the Episcopal Conference are astounding.
1) They said: “The extrapolation of the data obtained in the survey does not correspond to the truth”. You are right, Bishops: the numbers are most likely much greater. “Leave them alone – said Jesus-. They are blind, guides of the blind” (Mt 15,14). And also: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you have a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you can see to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Mt 7,4-5).
2) They also said that it is not fair to focus on the Church when this is a scourge that affects the entire society (family, schools, leisure-time associations, etc). This was not the time to take the opportunity to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Church is more responsible than anyone else, since no institution claims –like she does- to be the supreme reference and guarantee of the values and the light that must guide society. Jesus was right when he said: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees have sat in Moses’ seat. Obey them and do what they tell you, but do not imitate their example, for they do not do what they say. They bind heavy and unbearable burdens, and lay them on the backs of others; but they do not lift a finger to bear them”. (Mt 23,2-4)
3) And they stated they were willing to compensate the victims, but only if public administrations and other institutions involved in abuses were likewise willing to compensate all victims in all areas. It is as if they said: “We will not do justice if others do not do it”. This is where the ecclesial institution ends up, she who presents herself as the teacher of truth and holder of the keys to do goodness. It is incredible. Today Jesus could say: “Do not do what they do, and not even what they say, because they justify not repairing the damage done as long as it is not repaired by all”.
In spite of all this, those who hope for the true springtime of the Catholic Church will be able to continue to hope, because hope does not depend on achievement, nor does it consist in waiting for something to happen. Neither does hope imply that this clerical institution may endure with certain reforms, but to be completely abolished and reborn, if that will be the case, in another form worthy of the communion of life. True hope consists on breathing, feeling and behaving in a way that all wounds are healed and a brotherly humanity is born like spring in the community of all the living.
Aizarna, November 4th, 2023
Translated by Mertxe de Renobales Scheifler