Musings – Concerning the Synod

synod-of-bishops-pope-francis

I have had a number of people ask me for some comments on this piece that appeared in the National Catholic Register. I am working on a significant article that examines the waves of disunity and strife that are now being felt throughout the Church and throughout Christendom. As usual when I write something that is a little complicated, it takes longer than what I ever expect. (Actually, it is easy to write a long, complicated piece: what is hard is to take complicated issues and analyze them with clarity and direct simplicity. I prefer the latter approach, but let me tell you, it takes a while to put together a good short piece!) I do expect I will have it up later tonight.

Meantime, as you look to the synod currently taking place, there are a couple of pieces that I think are worthy of serious consideration in contemplation of the direction of the Church. I think everyone senses that somehow, this is a seminal moment, without fully knowing why. The first steady piece is by Fr. Mark A. Pilon in the Catholic Thing. He discusses what he calls the “Francis Problem.”

The next piece, by Kevin Tierney in the Catholic Exchange somewhat understates, I think, the importance of this synod, but it throws a much needed dash of cold water on the overblown expectations on the scope of what the synod can do, either to reform the marriage tribunal or to undermine the teaching of the Magisterium. I think it far more important in terms of the trajectory of the hierarchy then he does, but I think it is a lot closer to reality than what most commenters and observers are doing. This is NOT our journey on the matter; it is just the meeting to lay out a route going forward. Whether its conclusions match or confound any of our desires, there is a lot more that must happen beyond this synod before whatever it recommends becomes the teaching of the Church.

About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
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30 Responses to Musings – Concerning the Synod

  1. Vladimir Repka says:

    Yes, it is much better to spend time in prayer than to lose time discussing the Synod and what it should do. Both authors are right at their conclusions – pray or prepare for something useful. Thanks Charlie for both links. It is the same as with discussions with New Age followers, the time you discuss is better spent in prayers for them and their conversion… May the Holy Spirit lead all the Synod participants towards greater unity within the mankind on our common way to the Light, our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.
    Vladimir, Slovakia

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  2. Observer says:

    I think something that the Kevin Tierney article leaves out for consideration is that the current status quo itself, leaving things the way they are simply because at least the basic rules haven’t changed, continues the real and purposeful neglect of the reality of the Church today. And this reality is shown by that elephant in the Parish Churches each and every Sunday…..every pew without exception empties out for receiving the Eucharist when that time simply “pops up”. If the emphasis at such a synod is to be the debate on who is worthy of reception of Communion….and only one group is circled….well, how does that speak to those of all various “problems” that should, by law, keep them from reception as well? The poor Body and Blood of Christ is being stretched, bartered, and used for judgement with a very uneven set of scales. There has been such confusion caused by decades of simple cowardliness in presenting teaching beyond a list of permissions and non-permissions that to this day the only offensive act announced prior to Mass is neglecting to turn off one’s cell phone! If there is only one more superficial attempt to relax a rule here or there or consider another foundational arena such as the psychological one (as in the annulment process) then the same misunderstandings will hold….people will continue not to have a real informed conscience that includes the heart, and those who have had no qualms about reception of the Eucharist no matter the unrealized state of their souls will continue in their distance from the truth, or they will add to the bleeding of souls away from the Church to search for another more “welcoming” spiritual surrounding. I am surprised at the people who stand so adamantly against this divorce and remarriage question based on the very words of Christ in scripture when they never seem to object to the huge mess contained itself in all these decades of mere ticket punching approach within the varied conditions of the permitted (by same) annulment tribunals offering so often just as ridiculous defense of rationalization within that same scriptural reference!

    I do think it’s this challenge of no longer refusing to acknowledge the huge mess whose creation has been just as much the fault of the legalists that Pope Francis and even Cardinal Kasper are at least no longer wishing to hide from. Even the reports against Kasper have neglected to admit that his thinking is not in general but more targeting this particular focus group that hasn’t been able to get its “tickets punched” for all kinds of varying reasons and who in fact have a conscience that is comparable to those who haven’t had as much difficulty within the established tribunals.

    There are those today who simply accept the notion that the Church will simply become a much smaller one made up of the justified due to the world’s culture of today having such a greater influence upon souls. But how can this surrender be so easily accepted at a time when all are given the mandate of stepping far outside of their comfort zones to evangelize such a pagan world and at a time of an accepted and taught “unprecedented period of Mercy”???

    Just some thoughts….hopefully at least a few cents worth:)

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    • charliej373 says:

      Well, Observer, a few thoughts…

      First, an analysis need not be comprehensive to be useful. And one need not tackle all problems for it to be good to tackle a problem. In fact, efforts to solve all problems often end by making all worse, while more limited efforts often do, indeed, improve a problem.

      Second, many of the ills today were caused by the adoption of a therapeutic culture in the Church rather than one of faith. The poisoned results have been seductive because they offer so much short-term relief, but actually poison the faithful. It is not compassionate to offer more of the same soothing poison now for the short-term relief it will give some in order to aggravate the long-term problem more.

      Third, I agree with you it would be nearly unconscionable to do nothing to improve matters, particularly when much of the hierarchy was complicit in adopting the therapeutic culture that created these huge problems. One cannot leave the lambs who were mangled in large part because of their shepherds failure to die in misery.

      I thought Pope Francis was on the right track earlier this year when he noted that because of the cultural breakdown – and the myths that preponderated from it, as many as 50% of all marriages may not actually be sacramentally valid if put to the test. An administrative approach that acknowledges the hierarchy’s responsibility in this even as it gives relief for some of the results of a culture gone mad for several generations is useful.

      Cardinal Kasper, on the other hand, with his ongoing attitude of doctrine-be-damned and dismissal as mere legalisms what Jesus has to say on the matter, scares me. If he had his way, for the first time in 2,000 years, doctrine would be altered. That is a formula to destroy the very Church that has been the mainstay in nurturing human dignity since it was founded. Do that, and all there is is the will to power and despair. He may be a compassionate man, but he is an arrogantly foolish one. No wonder Benedict rejected his half-baked theories for so long. I hope – and suspect – that Pope Francis was initially drawn to Kasper’s vaunted compassion, but will probably see that his actual formula for reform is a formula for destruction. And I suspect that Kasper’s running around pre-synod crowing like a rooster that HE speaks for the Pope, that HE is the intellectual instructor for the Pope on this matter will hasten that discovery and his own well-earned retirement to a much more quiet post where he can’t do much harm. When I was in politics, we sometimes had someone we had vested confidence in suddenly start going around with the same sort of narcissistic crowing as Kasper is doing now. My response was to let them get far enough ahead of themselves and then cut their legs out from under them. The Pope is his own man – and I really doubt he appreciates Kasper taking his early confidences and trying to make himself into Francis’ Rasputin. I would be surprised if this ends well for Kasper.

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  3. Matthew says:

    A few points: As one who counts himself on the “trad” side of things, I am pleased to see others waking up to the problems that are created by “superstar” popes – ultra-montanism revisted.
    Second point: I was for a long while critical of the annulment process until it was my good fortune to become very good friends with a layman who is a canonist on a tribunal. He is solid and orthodox. After clearing up many of the falsehoods that many, even the devout, have regarding the process, I found that the process, while not perfect is far better than it is often portrayed in the Catholic press. For example, I was astounded to read the comment over at Fr. Pilon’s post from a man claiming to be an ordained deacon who said that no one was standing up for marriage in the annulment process. Does he not know that there is a “Defender of the Bond” whose entire job in the annulment process is to poke holes in the case being made for the annulment?
    In the area of annulments I find that many people speak who don’t know a whole lot.
    But I suppose that is true in many areas and a sin of which I have been guilty mself.
    Talk less, Listen more.
    There is a reason “SILENT” and “LISTEN” have the same letter.
    Matthew-

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    • charliej373 says:

      Nice addition to the thoughts here, Matthew. Thanks for this!

      Like

    • MM Bev says:

      Now there is some real wisdom in your comments. As I have watched and listened to those struggling in the past thirty years regarding the Sacrament of Marriage and Annulments and what to do and what not to do, all I have really heard is an incredible amount of what seems to be unsolvable, excruciating pain. I have no idea how this problem can be solved. I really think that only Jesus can. In Tierney’s article at the end, I think he said that maybe the problem won’t exist next year. And maybe by 2018 in a fresh start for mankind that will be true. I only know that it is a huge boil that needs to have the poison lanced out, but don’t know how that should be done. I’m just grateful the only task I have is to listen. It’s quite painful most of the time, but it does induce praying, which is good for me to do. I wish the different groups wouldn’t be quite so willing to spew forth ideas for the public when the reality is that the timing is all wrong. Or maybe it’s as much the media’s fault for printing all of it.

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      • Fran says:

        I agree, Bev, that this is a problem only Our Lord can solve, it’s such a tangled, painful mess. So that is what I am asking for (with Our Mother Mary’s intercession) during this synod. And we know He will take care of it, in His way, and in His time. Doctrine can’t be changed, but Our Lord is ever new, so who knows what He has in mind. I also think as you said, that it is harmful for individuals and groups to “spew forth ideas for the public” about what is happening, might happen, going to happen etc… when what they are really doing is just spewing their own ideas. It reminds me of pre-football game commentary. Commentators talk all about what they think is going to happen, and often what actually happens is nothing like what they predicted.
        Also, I think that Pope Francis, although he’s been questioned as being “incompetent” and other things I’ve read, is very wise telling them all to be bold, and have their say, and in giving Cardinal Kasper the podium, so to speak. He knows what he is doing, so I think we should just let the pope do his job, and “lay our hand over our mouth” like Job. That’s my 2cents, if its even worth that much.:-)

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  4. Observer says:

    Charlie:

    I thought Pope Francis was on the right track earlier this year when he noted that because of the cultural breakdown – and the myths that preponderated from it, as many as 50% of all marriages may not actually be sacramentally valid if put to the test.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    Yes, Charlie, I was thinking of that while writing my comment.

    I thought though that when C. Kasper was directly confronted with the question of changing doctrine he stated that doctrine could not be changed and that he was attempting to focus on those, perhaps even multitudes, if Pope Francis is correct, that are then held bound by both the legalists and those who, more up close and personal to them, tried to combine the law with a type of compassion dealing more with being liked than anything else. It’s a mess that’s for sure but the easy way out is to fall back on the law alone and wash one’s hands of all the complications from all the personal expediency. In fact, I do think Pope Francis, realizing that he probably has a very short time to deal with all the problems, IS trying to take on more than we think is usually prudent. His choice was certainly an amazing and admitted action by the Holy Spirit as even “felt” by those humanly involved in the choice. I’ve not been any kind of fan of Kasper and his approach. I also realize that having experienced an upbringing with the German approach that bluntness is not always to be taken at face value. And I think too that Pope Benedict admitted to this great complicated state of things that had to be handed over to one who would wade forcefully into the quicksand. In his great humility he acted for what he knew he was and wasn’t capable of facing into with the vigor so necessary. From the beginning he did not hide his reluctance but nevertheless carried on….yes, just that “bridge” as he’s been described that we needed for that period.

    The Holy Spirit is being overtly acknowledged these days a lot more that’s for sure. And His Spouse’s activity is just about bursting forth with or without the archaic procedures that have limited or even prevented the Father’s messages through her in the past!!

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  5. Observer says:

    Looks like Mark Mallett sums things up pretty well again:

    http://www.markmallett.com/blog/the-two-guardrails/

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  6. Mack says:

    Recently I read something in St Thomas that I think gets to the heart of this question. He says the New Law is nothing else than the grace of the Holy Spirit, given through faith in Christ. (Summa, II-II, q. 106, a. 1). And then in the next article he asks if the New Law justifies. Yes, he says, it does, because the grace of the Holy Spirit is what justifies us. That’s the primary aspect of the New Law. The second element is the written law, which includes the moral precepts written in the Gospel. Then St Thomas says something that amazed me, “Even the letter of the Gospel kills unless the healing grace of Christ is present within.” (q. 106, a.2) Wow!
    I think he means that unless people have grace in their hearts (ie. souls), they won’t be open to hearing the Gospel precepts. That doesn’t mean we should give them up or say they don’t matter. The real problem today is that so many have drifted away from faith, that unfortunately they don’t care what the Gospel says. People of deep faith are ready to hear and obey the Gospel precepts because of their faith. But when that faith is weak or lacking, then they are not interested in what Jesus told us to do. So teachings like the indissolubility of marriage are widely rejected.
    Thomas’ statement has implications for evangelization. It has to start by bringing people to know and love Jesus. Once they accept and love him, then their hearts will be open to hear and follow the rest. To start to evangelize by first laying out all the moral precepts is not going to work; that could even kill them, as Thomas says. The Church has to proclaim them, of course, but in the day-to-day reality of life, evangelizers need to kindle love for Jesus, and later the rest will follow. If the Church were to make things easy by changing its moral teaching (which it can’t do, anyway), it would not make people holier because they would still be lacking faith.

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  7. Marti says:

    No matter what it is, its seems the Holy Father is undermined in his ability to go forward smoothly without some ‘Bishop, Cardinal, Priest’ coming out and preceding him with controversy. If that isn’t the media, its Catholics themselves. Oh what a tangled web we weave of deceit and personally I smell ecclesiastical freemasonry…

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  8. Gary says:

    As is true in secular life so it is true in the Church, those who have attempted to liberalize the Church see it falling apart, because of their liberality, then have more liberal ideas that further tear her apart. Those who continue to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus unworthily pour condemnation upon themselves, and those who continue to give them the Body and Blood of Jesus commit sacrilege. It is indeed a false charity to give to those who live in obstinate and unrepentant sin the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is then an action that sins against charity and the law. I think Kasper is more concerned about the German Church losing their contributions to Protestant sects to which divorced and remarried Catholics are turning to assuage their guilt.

    This Pope, has said he would act with liberals like Kasper, if he can gather the support of most bishops, which tells me how pliable Pope Francis is. Indeed Pope Paul VI, the smoke of satan has entered into the Church of so many weak knee cleric intellects, that tear the Body of Christ by tickling the ears of the laity.

    How is it that the Polish people were able to become free despite communist domination, yet the West was enslaved by secular domination? We need a Nineveh moment, but who would listen to Jonah anyway?

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    • Kati says:

      “This Pope, has said he would act with liberals like Kasper, if he can gather the support of most bishops, which tells me how pliable Pope Francis is.”

      Gary,
      Where did Pope Francis say such a thing? I also think it would be wise not to automatically assume that Pope Francis is *pliable* in this way. What do you believe are the best ways we can act with the virtues of faith (trust), hope and love in all of this?

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      • Gary says:

        My source is Catholic Culture.
        http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=22807&repos=4&subrepos=2&searchid=1429978

        Cardinal Kasper claims papal support, raps critics in new interview

        Catholic World News – October 03, 2014
        Free eBook: Liturgical Year 2013-2014, Vol. 4

        Cardinal Walter Kasper has said that he had the support of Pope Francis to advance his proposal for allowing Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics. But the German cardinal said that the Pope will not go forward with the proposal unless he sees a consensus of support at the Synod of Bishops.

        In an interview with the Catholic News Service, Cardinal Kasper said that before advancing his proposal at a meeting of cardinals, “I spoke beforehand with the Pope himself; otherwise I would not have touched this problem in my conference.” He said that the Pontiff encouraged him to raise the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics might be allowed to receive Communion.

        However, while he “had the impression” that the Pope is open to a change in Church discipline, the cardinal said that Pope Francis will not act without support from the Synod. The Pope, he said, “wants a great majority of the bishops behind himself. He does not like division within the Church and the collegiality of bishops.”

        Regarding the content of his proposal—which he has defended energetically in a series of interviews during the days leading up to the Synod meeting—Cardinal Kasper repeated his charge that his critics are taking a “fundamentalistic” approach by citing the words of Jesus in the Gospel of St. Matthew (19:9) that “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” He said:

        We have to integrate such a word, one word of Jesus Christ, in the whole context of his message. We cannot take only one phrase and suddenly make all the consequences. We have to integrate it in the whole message of love, and of mercy, of forgiveness, of a new chance.

        The cardinal also said that it is insensitive to characterize 2nd marriages as adulterous unions. “We must be very careful also in our language,” he said, saying that such words insult and offend people to whom the Church should be appealing.

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        • charliej373 says:

          Good citation, Gary – but you said that the Pope said he would act in accord with liberal like Kasper. This article says nothing about what Pope Francis says; only what Cardinal Kasper says about him.

          On a matter you were informed on, you may recall that in 1996, Illinois Governor Jim Edgar said he had Al Salvi’s support for his proposed tax increase. Of course, he did not – and we said so publicly almost immediately. But the governor then went to great lengths, even giving me the wrong location for the meeting, so that Al would not have a staff witness with him. The governor and Al, among the media, were reputed allies…but what Edgar said did not reflect Salvi’s position. To treat hearsay, particularly self-interested hearsay, as gospel is just a form of gossip.

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          • Gary says:

            These are the self interested words of Kasper, except that the Pope has publicly talked about Kasper in glowing terms. Maybe it’s a case of,”keep your friends close but your enemies closer.” I think we all have a sense of foreboding about Mother Church and what the future may bare. Whether the storm is sooner or later I have no doubt it will happen.
            You seem confident the Pope Francis will lead us through it, but he may well be killed as the Fatima prediction alludes to and the Pope who follows him will finally specifically name Russia to consecrate to our Lady and that time of peace will begin. Either way or anyway.
            Our Lady will crush this demonic force that is swaying the world to cataclysm. I hope to see her victory for then God will create in us a new heart a natural heart.

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          • charliej373 says:

            Yes, Gary, and after the primary I spoke of, Al Salvi publicly spoke of Governor Edgar in glowing terms. Still didn’t stop Salvi from rebuking Edgar’s claim, at the appropriate time, that he supported Edgar’s tax increase. You have insight on many things, but I sure think you would do well to think the worst possible of people less often. How would it harm anything to give the Pope, say, the benefit of the doubt until he actually speaks?

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        • Kati says:

          Gary,

          Thank you for sharing what prompted your thinking. However, I had read that as well without coming to the conclusions that you have. I also agree with Charlie’s reply to your post. My main question to you was with regard to what WE should all do in light of so many rumors and comments (most of which are assumptions or outright slanted opinions) flying around.

          So, again, what do you believe are the best ways we can act with the virtues of faith (trust), hope and love in all of this? Actually, I think Charlie answered the question within the framework of the Church as the Hospital with healing. What do you think?

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          • Gary says:

            Kati, I believe in St Therese’s little way. When I am feeling down and I need a quick bite to eat at McDonalds and I see a smiling face I remember that I am suppose to be that smiling face.
            Charlie, Our Lady of Akita and Betania told the nun in Japan and the lay woman in Venezuela that between 1/3rd to 2/3rds of humanity would be wiped away in the coming “storm” . Kinda hard to put a happy face on that. It is not hard to see the trajectory of where it is all headed having watched the deconstruction of the Catholic Church for the last 44 years. One at some point gets to know their code words and their modus operandi. They say one will know them by their actions, and now we are stuck in the Chicago Archdiocese with a Cepich personally selected by Pope Francis and the ouster of Cardinal Burke, whom I personally know and is one of the kindest prelates I have ever met.

            St Malachy’s prophecies concerning the popes who would come said that the our next pope would be the Black Pope, which is also a reference to the head of the Jesuits. Pope Francis is a Jesuit.

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          • Marti says:

            Gary, I am pretty well read in the prophesies of St. Malachy and I have never read this:
            “St Malachy’s prophecies concerning the popes who would come said that the our next pope would be the Black Pope, which is also a reference to the head of the Jesuits. Pope Francis is a Jesuit.”

            You have two prophesies mixed up.

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          • charliej373 says:

            Yeah, Marti, the Black Pope business is from a traditional old Italian prophecy of unknown provenance, but very old, common and widespread. It says that when the White Pope and the Black Pope shall die during the same night then there will dawn for the Christian nations the great white day. It is striking because the head of the Jesuits has traditionally been called “the Black Pope.” Now that we have two living men who have held the office of pope and one of them is a Jesuit, the table is set for that particular prophecy. But it has nothing to do with the prophecies of St. Malachy (which I should note, are also of doubtful provenance, but have indeed been quite striking in many instances).

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  9. Ann Suhrie says:

    Hi Charlie
    Thanks for writing about this. I really would not have given it a second thought if you hadn’t.
    I read this article this morning.
    http://www.crisismagazine.com/2014/kaspers-challenge-distracts-real-problem
    Ann Suhrie

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  10. Mack says:

    One other thing: I was amazed to read recently that the German bishops deny Communion AND deny a Catholic burial to those members of their flock who refuse to pay the church tax (which is the law in Germany.) Their reasoning apparently is that when these Catholics mark down on their tax forms they don’t want to pay it, they are considered as apostate Catholics since they’re saying they’re not Catholic in order to avoid it.
    Now to me, THAT is the real scandal here. Cardinal Kasper, where’s your mercy for them?

    http://amywelborn.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/kaspar-german-bishops-and-the-church-tax/

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    • charliej373 says:

      Mack, I am familiar with the German church tax…but not all details about it. I haven’t seen anything to confirm that policy on burial or communion, but if it is true, it truly is a scandal. I do not think that any church should be supported by taxes. It is a violation of free will, I think. So I don’t have any sympathy for the German system to begin with – except to the extent they let their citizens choose rather than choosing for them.

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      • Mack says:

        Thanks, Charlie, for your response. I did a little more research on this. In 2012 the German bishops did issue a statement saying that Catholics who de-registered with the State so as to not pay the tax, would not be given Communion. Nor would they be given a Catholic burial unless they showed some sign of repentance before death. However, prior to that statement, in 2006, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts said that apostasy cannot be committed simply by deregistering with the state, in order to avoid paying a tax. Apostasy requires real disbelief and renouncing Catholic teaching. Despite that, the German bishops still issued the 2012 statement. But I’m not clear if Rome has upheld that; it doesn’t seem that it did.
        The sad reality is that the Church in Germany is a materially rich Church but a spiritually poor one, with fewer and fewer Catholics going to Mass, etc. It surely needs a spiritual renewal.
        More details on this issue are here:
        http://exlaodicea.wordpress.com/2014/02/26/quaeritur-is-it-a-sin-not-to-pay-church-tax-in-germany/

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        • charliej373 says:

          Thank you, Mack. This is very helpful in seeing how these issues play out in other countries – and issues that are alien to many of us. Very helpful! Let us pray for the renewal of the world – beginning with a flame of love through the Rosary.

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  11. Observer says:

    So far this synod has been an arena for “getting to know you” with a mandate by Pope Francis for ALL of these men to be frank and honest before him and one another….esp. for those who often sit back and keep their thoughts to themselves for fear of offending those in authority…besides the Pope. I think Francis not only wants to end the dangerous milieu of clericalism within the laity but also for the clerics. I think also from his own experience of the third world, he’s observed….not just the liberal thinkers….but the real activists for the poor…. get hammered by both the secular state authorities as well as withdrawal of any backing by the Church higher powers….you know, those who get so involved with the “sheep” that they do wind up smelling like them!

    The over used terms of “traditionalists” vs “liberals” vs “conservatives” vs “progressives” got summed up recently by our Pope when he used the same terms of Christ’s own words….they remind us of those who yell from the sidelines “I played you music on my flute but you didn’t dance”, etc. It’s a manipulation by the clever and hypocritical of the vulnerable within whatever category while no one counters against the hypocrites themselves who are not willing to do anything or take any risk against their own security. Rather, it doesn’t matter what anyone calls him or his decisions he essentially has seen enough to “sniff” out the hypocrites no matter how they adhere to the required number of tassels on their shawls or the opposing generalized knee jerk responses of “inclusivity” or PC language. If in either or all cases the heart is lacking for forgiveness or readiness to serve in humility Francis is pretty good at setting up some way that might invite the person to experience the opposite….for their own betterment and perhaps the new situation and its people (sheep) can effect the shepherd himself rather than the other way round;)

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