The Ordinary Synod on the Family is drawing to a close, and as always, there was a delightful array of suggestions of conspiracy or collusion to generate a predetermined outcome. To the orthodox Catholics of a traditional bent, the evidence suggested that Pope Francis and his favored Cardinals were engaged in a plot to change Catholic doctrine on marriage by implication via an official allowance of persons who divorced and remarried (without a declaration of nullity for their first attempt at marriage) to receive Holy Communion without changing their lifestyle by leaving their spouse of the 2nd marriage attempt.
To be fair, that’s very much what it looks like in some ways. Pope Francis has consistently promoted Cardinal Kasper’s views on the subject and has hand-picked bishops seen as “liberal” or “progressive” by many Roman Catholic Traditionalists for a voting role at the Synod. Oddly, he has also hand-picked bishops who are very “traditional” or “conservative” for a voting role at the Synod. Why would he have done that if he were trying to stack the vote? As it is, the final votes were very close on some issues folks believe he was pushing. If he felt the need to stack to vote, then why did he take chances by stacking it with people who definitely weren’t going to vote the way he wanted?
Of course, these suspicions weren’t the only suspicions to come out of the Synod. Father James Martin of the Society of Jesus raised suspicions of sexism, unsurprisingly for him. What was interesting is that he had a better reason for that than most people who claim that the Synod was sexist. Most people would claim that it was sexist because there a bunch of ordained male Bishops running the whole thing, that the problem was the dreaded patriarchal hierarchy of the funny hats. But not Fr. Martin.
In his article for America magazine, he pointed out an oddity. Someone who is not ordained was given the option of voting at the Synod. It was a member of a religious order who is a brother, but not a priest. He points out that while some might claim this is merely a distraction, it’s a legitimate matter for discussion. And I agree, though probably not for the same reasons he does. My question is: why was anyone who is not a Bishop voting at a Synod of Bishops? That would be like giving a male layperson like myself a vote at a conference for women’s religious orders.
If a Little Brother of Jesus was given a chance to vote, I think it’s legitimate to ask why a Little Sister of the Poor was not also, given that neither is an ordained Bishop. On the other hand, what would it accomplish to give a celibate woman a vote on family matters? The critique of Roman Catholic synods is often that a bunch of celibates can’t possibly understand family life well enough to be deciding these matters. Why would that change if we changed the voter demographic to include more celibates who happen to be women?
It wouldn’t, which is why Father Martin instead alleges that it would be an important sign, and also that it was a huge missed opportunity. Again, I agree. It was a wonderful opportunity to compound the problem of having people who aren’t Bishops voting at a Synod of Bishops, and also to begin once again the discussion of women being ordained as priests that always goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.
These are the usual suspicions, and unsurprisingly, they are well aligned with the political ideologies of the persons holding the suspicions, which always makes me suspicious.