October 14, 2014

Having patience for the sausage-making Synod of Bishops

By Very Rev. Robert Barron

The midterm report on the deliberations of the Synod on the Family has appeared and there is a fair amount of hysteria all around. John Thavis, a veteran Vatican reporter who should know better, has declared this statement “an earthquake, the big one that hit after months of smaller tremors.” Certain commentators on the right have been wringing their hands and bewailing a deep betrayal of the Church’s teaching. One even opined that this report is the “silliest document ever issued by the Catholic Church,” and some have said that the interim document flaunts the teaching of St. John Paul II. Meanwhile the New York Times confidently announced that the Church has moved from “condemnation of unconventional family situations and toward understanding, openness, and mercy.” I think everyone should take a deep breath.

What has just appeared is not even close to a definitive, formal teaching of the Catholic Church. It is a report on what has been discussed so far in a synod of some two hundred bishops from around the world. It conveys, to be sure, a certain consensus around major themes, trends that have been evident in the conversations, dominant emphases in the debates, etc., but it decidedly does not represent “the teaching” of the Pope or the bishops.

One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges. If you want evidence of this, simply look at the accounts of the deliberations of the major councils of the Church, beginning with the so-called Council of Jerusalem in the first century right through to the Second Vatican Council of the twentieth century. In every such gathering, argument was front and center, and consensus evolved only after lengthy and often acrimonious debate among the interested parties. Read John Henry Newman’s colorful history of the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, and you’ll find stories of riots in the streets and the mutually pulling of beards among the disputants. Or pick up Yves Congar’s very entertaining diary of his years at Vatican II, and you’ll learn of his own withering critiques of the interventions of prominent Cardinals and rival theologians. Or peruse John O’Malley’s history of the Council of Trent, and you’ll see that early draft statements on the key doctrines of original sin and justification were presented, debated, and dismissed—long before final versions were approved.

Until Vatican II, these preliminary arguments and conversations were known only to the participants themselves and to certain specialist historians who eventually sifted through the records. The great teachings of the Councils became widely known and celebrated, but the process that produced them was, happily enough, consigned to the shadows. If I might quote the great Newman, who had a rather unsatisfying experience of official ecclesial life in Rome: “those who love the barque of Peter ought to stay out of the engine room!” This is a somewhat more refined version of “those who enjoy sausage ought never to watch how it is made.” The interim report on the Synod represents a very early stage of the sausage-making process and, unsurprisingly, it isn’t pretty. Two more weeks of discussion will follow; then a full year during which the findings of the Synod will be further refined, argued about, and clarified; then the Ordinary Synod on the Family will take place (the one going on now is the Extraordinary Synod), and many more arguments and counter-arguments will be made; finally, some months, perhaps even a year or so, after that, the Pope will write a post-Synodal exhortation summing up the entire process and offering a definitive take on the matter. At that point, I would suggest, something resembling edible sausage will be available for our consumption; until then, we should all be patient and refrain from bloviating.

The historian and theologian Martin Marty commented that our debates today about sex and authority are analogous to the arguments in the early centuries of the Church’s life concerning Christology and to the disputes about anthropology and salvation around the time of the Reformation. Those two previous dust-ups took several centuries to resolve, and Marty suggests that we might be in the midst of another centuries-long controversy. I’m glad that Pope Francis, at the outset of this Synod, urged the participating bishops to speak their minds clearly and fearlessly. He didn’t want a self-censorship that would unduly hamper the conversation and thereby prevent the truth from emerging. This does not imply for a moment that Pope Francis will agree with every point of view expressed, and indeed he can’t possibly, since many are mutually exclusive. But it does indeed mean that he has the confidence and the patience required to allow the Holy Spirit to work in his preferred fashion.

Father Robert Barron is the founder of the global ministry, Word on Fire, and the Rector/President of Mundelein Seminary. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.


  1. I sure hope you are correct Father. From my seat in the pew it looks like we are the newest non denominational church on the block

  2. Thoughtful piece as always. One minor correction: the author of the statement about the engine room was Ronald Knox, not Cardinal Newman.

  3. Father. You are wrong. The document is a fit up and nothing more that the sort of undermining of our Faith by a small group of bishops who are in error. Fr. Barron. You own thoughts are not so convincing. As a Rahnerian you think everyone will end up in heaven and you "hope" no one is hell. So you in your own way have cherry picked and idea from a Modernist that you like as well.

  4. Thank you for this Father. Lots to watch and digest and pray about for us all.

    John Fisher, if Fr. Barron "hopes" no one is in hell, he has the mind of God:

    1 Tim:3-4
    This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

    2 Peter 3:9
    The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

  5. " It conveys, to be sure, a certain consensus around major themes, trends that have been evident in the conversations, dominant emphases in the debates,.."

    Major themes? Does it include: the poisonous, consumption of pornography, contraception, the immoral act of fornication (oh, I mean the 'irregular unions of persons), not attending mass every Sunday as a family, IVF treatments, not educating ones children thru high school in the faith, keeping family prayer at home a rarity. etc????
    Major themes on rebuilding the family? I gotta read it again.

  6. You would think the Church would have learned from what happened after Vatican II when liberals did much damage to the Church. They took over the interpretation of the documents because they did not have the changes that they were looking for. Many left the Church including clergy and religious. The Church is still recovering from that and now it seems the very teachings of Jesus are being shown as ambiguous. And once again it seems that the liberal faction in the Church will be the ones to define these important teachings of Jesus. And if they have their way I'm afraid that once again those who looked to Jesus and His Church for Truth will be left confused.

  7. Theology will be the key to get us out of this crisis. If we start teaching the Catholic Faith like we should (in a story telling formula) we can even achieve the unity of faith.

    “And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the KNOWLEDGE of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ; That henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive.”- Ephesians 4:11 - 14

    To receive the knowledge for the New Evangelization go to:


  8. Does the non-bloviating you recommend include the prelates in Rome who are talking out of school and running to microphones? The whole synod seems such a foolishly imprudent exercise at this moment. Frankly I am quite shocked at the whole matter

  9. I might add that I think Cardinal Burke has been helpful in this matteer in trying to clarify Church teaching for the confused faithful. But he shouldn't have to be doing this except that some others are indiscretely alarming the faithful. Cannot these vigorus debates be done in a more discrete manner. And how on earth did the poorly written rough draft see the light of day beyond the synod participants? Again The conduct of this synod has been most troubling and is sending all the wrong messages.

  10. Fr. Barron offered some interesting points about the "messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical arguments" made during Church Councils. While these messy arguments may have been recorded for history, the average pewdweller of those ages never heard about them, and, so, were never scandalized.

    But it is much different in our instant-communication culture. Within minutes of the Relatio being made available by the Vatican Press office, it had been downloaded by hundreds of thousands, and by the end of the day, the MSM had taken it, and splashed headlines across the world, so that the average pewdweller concluded there was a major shift in Church teaching. How does one undo that? If good solid teaching comes from this Synod within a year, you can bet it won't be front page headlines. In the meantime, countless numbers of Catholics will have concluded the teachings have been changed.

  11. An American Cardinal who was elected by his peers to be a leader in this week's work of the synod condemned the Relatio Document stating:

    "The document lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium. In a matter on which the Church has very rich and clear teaching, it INVOKES REPEATEDLY AND IN A CONFUSED MANNER principles which are not defined, for example, the law of graduality."

    So I see that the agents of Satan is USING an Apostolic Exhortation of JP II and twisting it to achieve a destructive end.

    Folks, this is why we need to learn scripture verses, so that the agents of Satan don't have any ammunition:

    "If we say that we have fellowship [communion] with him, AND WALK IN DARKNESS, WE LIE, and do not [practice] the truth." - 1 John 1:6

    So how did the "gradual" approach by giving communion to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden work out?

    "Gradually" destroying the faith and "gradually" becoming a Protestant!

  12. Father Barron with his "contemporary" – Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who believed there is a reasonable hope that all people will be saved. Father is in error for God is just and in his justice we know people go to hell.
    "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few."

    Matthew 7:13-14

  13. If a synod teaches against scripture, the Church's previous teachings and tradition it is heretical. There are examples of these pseudo synods in Church history. We must block our ears when men like that creature Kaspar use their position to spread their guff. Do the maths. The 1960's 1970's brigade are about to retire and this is their last sickening attempt to do what they did at Vatican 11. Kaspar you Modernist and fashion victim of the 1970's. What a man believes is mirrored in how they construct their lives and make society. As a German you think he would get it, as his nation has a history of giving into the times and throwing aside its morals to serve fashion.


    Paul VI Audience Hall
    Thursday, 14 February 2013


    presents insight on how Vatican II evolved during the discussions, with insight concerning the media coverage.

  15. Gee, I guess there's nothing wrong with:

    1. the unheard of censorship;
    2. the appointment of six liberal cardinals for the report when the first ones turned out to be too conservative;
    3. the Pharisaical and scornful conduct of Cardinal Kasper;
    4. Cardinal Kasper's blatant cynicism and (I hate to play this card) racism;
    5. that sinister business with the book in defense of marriage and the dire consequences it had to Cardinal Burke;
    6. the reports that already misguided people are asking for communion in spite of being remarried divorcees;
    7. the fact that good bishops are literally crying because of this mess of a synod.

    Surely it must be to another synod that you are refering.

    "Good God, why should they mock poor fellows thus?"

  16. P.S.: Oh, and don't forger the doctoring of the report by this Bruno Forte fellow. - Everything is coming up Kasper!

  17. Father Barron is right and Christ is still in charge of His Church.We can also trust the Holy Spirit who is alive and active. Let's just do our part and pray.

  18. For all the discussion I refer to my book, once again, at http://www.lulu.com/ca/en/shop/r-david-foster/hesus-joy-christ-discussion-of-the-animation/paperback/product-21307115.html, specifically the section after each of the four episodes entitled "How to Pick Up a Stick", as this is what is happening regarding the family today. But one need not purchase my book because this section is online at https://www.sites.google.com/site/hesusjoychrist/home/hesus-joy-christ/hesus-joy-christ-matthew-s-one-too#TOC-Closing-Notes---as-previously-posted-for-each-of-the-last-four-Discussions . Otherwise, to get on with it in a timely fashion, watch the HESUS JOY CHRIST animation, specifically Matthew's Three Fold, before engaging in the long drawn out unnecessary discussion of the book. Understand the animation and be done with it. The animation is complete at http://vid932008.vhx.tv/ but freely available at https://www.sites.google.com/site/hesusjoychrist/home. And to state it right here, male partial and female whole make up the whole of existence. To balance the two brings new life into existence. Persons are people beyond gender, so this exuberant discussion is fueled by the affections of male partial and female whole, rather than a discussion of the Infinite Person or infinite purpose which is both and beyond. In the absence of fruitful heterosexual relationships that are of a balance of whole and part, society is turning to the balance of whole and part in homosexual or serial relationships. I might suggest the Overview at the beginning of the discussion of each episode of HESUS JOY CHRIST that can be found here https://www.sites.google.com/site/hesusjoychrist/home/hesus-joy-christ/hesus-joy-christ-matthew-s-one-too#TOC-OVERVIEW-from-the-opening-of-the-discussion-of-HESUS-JOY-CHRIST-Matthew-s-Three-Fold- .

  19. Yes indeed, Christ is still in charge as he was during the Arian mess and again in 1968 with Paul VI's issuance of Humanae Vitae but it was too late - all the mixed reports coming from Rome at that time had convinced the faithful and many priest and bishops that contraception, divorce and married priest would be the norm...HV was rejected by the bishops of Canada and much of the priesthood in America..

    Today, we are in the same boat and yes, let us pray that it not be the same.

  20. There is no reason to be smug do nothing and leave it to God. Vatican 11 was an ambush and the majority of good solid bishops did understand what the Modernist minority were doing. Twisting the process of drafting documents, giving false information, creating ambiguous statements. They knew full well the implementation was the key opportunity. Men like that liar Bugnini deceived and twisted producing the texts we use for the Sacraments translated again badly into many languages.
    Out of a false sense of loyalty and obedience to abusive authority of Modernists good Catholics were part of the auto destruction of the Church.