I don’t know a single Christian in public life who has suffered more in defending traditional teaching on marriage than has Maggie Gallagher. She and I have clashed in the past over tactics (but not on basic principles), but I have boundless respect for her in part because I have seen the kind of unshirted hatred she has had to endure over the years. And she lost. She knows that she lost the fight — but when so many others who shared her beliefs but not her courage stood on the sidelines, she fought.
That counts for something. That counts for a lot.
So when Maggie Gallagher expresses great distress over what’s going on in Rome this week, I pay special attention. Excerpts:
After the initial shock, many leading Catholic voices are regrouping to refocus their public response to the synod report, which is after all not a teaching of the bishops (as the New York Timesmisreported), but a mid-session committee report.
As Robert George wrote on Public Discourse: “[The synod] has no teaching authority whatsoever. What’s more, it proposed no changes – none — in the doctrine or moral teaching of the Church.”
Nothing has changed, they tell us.
But something has changed. Pope Francis, by hand-selecting these six men to issue an unprecedented public report on a discussion in mid-process, is sending a strong if indirect signal about how Catholics and our institutions should respond, practically, to the triumph of the sexual revolution, including its latest phase, gay marriage. The synod report, if adopted by the bishops, will change Catholic witness and teaching either on marriage, or on the Eucharist, or both.
She goes on to talk about her very personal reasons for believing in and defending the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. And then:
The “growing majority are in favor of an opening,” said Cardinal Kasper, meaning an opening to the possibility that divorced, civilly remarried Catholics will receivie Communion without first having had an annulment. He added that the Holy Father has been “silent” about his opinion and “has listened very carefully” during the synod. “But it’s clearly what he wants, and that’s evident,” Cardinal Kasper said. “He wants a major part of the episcopacy with him and he needs it. He cannot do it against the majority of the episcopacy.” He added that the pope had told him problems exist “in his family” and that he has “looked at the laity and seen the great majority are for a reasonable, responsible opening.”
This is high drama with the highest of stakes, calling into question whether or not the pope himself believes what the Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years, based on the words of Jesus Christ: a sacramental marriage between baptized Christians cannot be dissolved by any power on earth. And through this public debate, the most anti-clerical of all recent popes is permitting others to call into question (using his own name) the settled Church teaching not only on two sacraments, the Eucharist and Marriage, but ultimately on papal authority. The pope cannot teach that divorce is impossible and possible at the same time. If divorced and remarried Catholics (who are committing either adultery or polygamy depending on your point of view in the Catholic tradition) can in good conscience take the Eucharist, then either Pope Francis is wrong, or the popes before him were all wrong. Either way the idea that we can look with confidence to the Holy Father to guide our lives is exploded.
It’s likely that the pope will not pronounce any change in practice “ex cathedra,” so the doctrine of papal infallibility that attaches to those rare statements will not be formally in question. But the ordinary faith that Catholics are supposed to have and that they once had in the words of the pope will have become impossible. I cannot stake my life on the words of Cardinal Kasper and John Paul II at the same time. If Pope Francis makes Cardinal Kasper’s views his own, I will have to disbelieve one or the other of our Holy Fathers. A schism will have been introduced into the fabric of the Catholic faith at the very heart of what is distinctively Catholic.
Read the whole thing. Gallagher emphasizes that the people who comfort themselves by saying nothing to see here, move along are flat-out wrong. This is consequential.