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What Catholic conservatives need from the Synod — and Pope Francis

A definitive statement by the synod and the pope that slams the door on the openings created by many bishops and cardinals. Hence the "freak out." Will they get it?

Catholic conservatives are in full-scale lobbying mode following the release of a progress report on the deliberations of some 190 cardinals and bishops discussing issues related to the modern family.

If you have been following any news reports about the high-level, two-week summit, called a synod, you have probably seen that the report relayed the fact that in their allotted five-minute talks, a number of bishops (it’s unclear how many) spoke about the need for the church to welcome people who have felt alienated by the Catholic Church’s teachings and attitudes and language.

Gays and lesbians, and the divorced and remarried, and cohabiting couples would be tops on the list, and the report recounted how some prelates called for the church to view what is positive in their relationships, rather than harping on what is negative.

That shift in tone, however preliminary, contained in a “working document,” gained widespread media attention, which indicates how bad the church’s reputation has been on this score. There was really nothing too earth-shattering in there to anyone who knows parishes and parish priests and many bishops and theologians, who deal with people in pastoral situations all the time.

But for hardliners, and more than a few moderates, the opening to gays and the remarried et al seemed like a step onto the slipper slope, or pulling one too many blocks from the Jenga tower that is Catholic moral theology, in their minds. The whole edifice would crumble.

Indeed, the synod report itself warns against “a logic of ‘all or nothing’.”

But that position is where the Catholic Right is coming from, and that also explains the “bonkers reactions,” as Catholic author and commentator Austen Ivereigh put it, to the midterm report in what is going to be a years-long process.

“You realize: they worship idol of clarity,” he tweeted, adding:

Cue the statement from John Smeaton, head of the conservative activist group, Voice of the Family, who on Tuesday wondered why the synod had not been “brought to an immediate end and the organizers dismissed.”

In an interview released Tuesday (Oct. 14), American Cardinal Raymond Burke, former St. Louis archbishop and head of the Vatican court system — and a vocal leader of the increasingly mobilized opposition — blasted the synod report and Pope Francis for not coming out and clarifying that the report is contrary to church teaching.

And that is the bottom line for conservatives at this point: they need a definitive statement by the synod and the pope that slams the door on the openings created by no small number of bishops and cardinals.

Anything less would leave those other suggestions by the reformers out there as legitimate approaches, since they were after all raised and endorsed by a number of high-ranking churchmen. If that happens, the reformers “win,” if that’s what you’d call it.

Will the conservatives get what they want? As Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines said over the weekend, “The drama continues.”

David Gibson