The synod of Catholic bishops and cardinals called by Pope Francis has issued its first recommendations and they’re pretty impressive: that the Church ease off its condemnation of three groups:
- divorcees who marry again without getting a Church annulment
- those who live together outside marriage (officially: fornicators).
The guys in the Vatican are still insisting that marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and that it should be necessary before sexual relations begin, and that it should be permanent, but at Francis’ urging, they are saying “we’ve got to lay off the negativity” that has characterized the past decades, and centuries. Too much bashing, not enough compassion.
It’s ironic that these Catholic leaders are moving toward okaying homosexuality within their Church, because studies have shown that a hefty percentage (up to 50%) of priests are in fact themselves gay, and at least one study claims that younger priests are more than ever likely to swing from that side of the plate. So in effect the bishops are saying: “you know that bad habit a lot of us used to have—it’s actually not so bad.”
But what a schizophrenic Church is being created here! The Bible is absolutely clear in its condemnation of homosexuality. How can you condone it and condemn it at the same time? The same with divorce—it’s crystal clear in the Bible that it’s not allowed except in the case where the spouse had “fornicated” (sometimes translated as committed “sexual immorality”–Matthew 5:32) and we could argue about what that means, but the point is, the Catholic Church plays a kind of shell game when it uses the word “annul” instead of “divorce” –it’s really the same thing in the end. So once again, the Bible says one thing, but the Church says another.
And yet, the Catholic congregants want the more liberal interpretations. All those millions of lapsed Catholics out there are hoping for a reform that will reconcile them to the Church. They are thrilled that Francis is now on the scene, sweeping the musty cobwebs out of the Curia and shining a new light of compassion into the Vatican. But where does that leave the Bible? A criticism from the atheist corner has always been that Christians pick and choose which Bible passages they want to follow while ignoring those that don’t seem to apply anymore. Did God see omnisciently into the future and prepare this Holy Writ for all time or not? There are only three choices here:
1) The Bible must be followed to the letter because God is omniscient. This means we have to start stoning criminals again (see ISIS and the Qur’an).
2) We have to abandon the Bible completely because it’s inconsistent with what we somehow “know” is right and wrong in our hearts
3) We take the Pirates of the Caribbean approach: using the Bible only as “Guidelines”, admitting frankly that we are picking and choosing—which actually brings us back to no. 2. : getting good at reading our hearts, and the hearts of others. This is also called Humanism and is the subject of my book Seven Sacraments for Everyone.
But no matter what you think, isn’t there something really maddening about 200 MEN who ostensibly have never had sexual relations making these decisions?