As I write I do not know what the final synod report will say. One of the drafters described it as being more questions than answers. “The questions will be clear,” said Oswald Cardinal Gracias of Mumbai at a press briefing Thursday. “The answers will not be so clear.”
So, after a two-year rollercoaster ride toward this synod, the Church may be left embracing more questions than answers, which is to say issues that have been considered closed for 2,000 years will likely remain open questions in Catholic life for the foreseeable future.
Absent a strong intervention from Pope Francis to affirm the Catholic teachings, the result is likely to be a profound dislocation in the authority structures of the Catholic Church.
We know that many synod fathers made powerful arguments in favor of the unbroken, distinctive Catholic teaching on marriage, drawn straight from the words of Christ and affirmed by Saint Paul. We now also know, thanks to the modern world, of the many bishops and cardinals who really wish to give Communion to people living in second marriages while their first spouse still lives. We cannot un-know what was on display, thanks in part to Pope Francis’s desire to build a more authentic church, with less hypocrisy, to let us in on the secret, to be frank about where the Church is.
We know from polls and from parish life that many, many ordinary churchgoing Catholics do not support many Catholic teachings. Dissent is not shocking; it has been normalized. A study from the Austin Institute found that on Mass at any given Sunday in the U.S., 40 percent of those in the pews describe themselves as “traditional Catholics,” 40 percent say they are “moderate Catholics,” and the remainder are “liberal” or “other” Catholics. There has been, in America at least, a massive collapse in the transmission belt of basic Catholic teachings, and not only about sex.
Maggie Gallagher is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.