Synod wrap-up of sorts

Given the sometimes intense debate that surfaced during the two-week synod, the final document is probably an honest reflection of where they stand — which is that for every bishop ready for daring change, there’s another worried about abandoning Catholic tradition.

(John Allen at Crux)  Even without preceding “intense debate,” I would hope that every bishop would be “worried about” abandoning the Church’s tradition even when enticed by “daring change.” But that’s just a starting point.

Apart from Herr Cardinal Kasper, whose pants remain on fire as of this writing, I can’t keep up with the personalities of the Catholic Cardinals and Bishops who contended in a Synod that now is concluded. (Cardinal Burke has been cast as the anti-Kasper, and that may be true.) I also am going to set aside, at least mostly, any complaints about clumsy press coverage.

But a comment by an Orthodox friend plus the John Allen report have provided some fodder for Orthodox rumination.

That tracks with what Pope Francis told the bishops in a 10-minute speech at the end, saying that the Catholic Church needs to chart a middle course between “hostile rigidity” and a “false sense of mercy.”

The Church, Francis said, must neither “throw stones at sinners, the weak and the ill,” nor “come down off the cross” by accommodating itself to “the spirit of the world.”

(John Allen again) That attitude by the Pope (apart from the metaphor “come down from the cross” applied to the Church) may be why some people from My Team say, admiringly, that Pope Francis talks like an Orthodox Bishop. Let me explain.

The Orthodox have a “middle course between ‘hostile rigidity and a ‘false sense of mercy.’” It is called Oikonomia. The linked Wiki stub won’t tell you much, so let me expostulate.

In the Orthodox Church, for instance, various Bishops take different approaches on how to receive converts from other Christian traditions whose Baptisms might not quite measure up to Orthodox practice. That’s maybe the most-discussed use of oikonomia and its opposite, akriveia.

But I think it’s also oikonomia that a repentant divorced person may be allowed to remarry, though the order for a second marriage is relatively somber. The ability to allow remarriage puts a lot of weighty responsibility on the local Priest and Bishop who assess whether the salvation of the spouses would be promoted by them marrying despite at least one previous marital failure. There’s no absolute ban on a second, or even a third, marriage. (I understand that oikonomia stops short of permitting a fourth marriage, though.)

This is not as tidy in theory as Rome’s categorical ban, but whoever said life was tidy? And whoever said these days that Rome’s theory isn’t riddled with exceptions via the process of annulment? I assure you that oikonomia does not come across within the Church as “divorce and remarriage are perfectly fine.” Permission to remarry isn’t automatic.

It seems that on divorce and remarriage, the Roman Church doesn’t know how to do oikonomia, which is a retail, subsidiarist approach to healing the soul versus a top-down wholesale blanket rule – or a top-down decree that it’s all adiaphora. There’s either a rigid ban (and I’m not saying “rigid” because the topic du jour is sex) or it’s party time. And given Rome’s public prominence, and the scholasticism that probably led to the splendid theory that a valid sacramental marriage is indissoluble by any power on earth, that’s a very hard box to get out of.

That the box is hard to get out of is one of the major impediments to reunion between Rome and Constantinople. For Rome to say “we were wrong” on a biggie like divorce is to call into question its Magisterium.

If I had a solution to this conundrum, I’d be off bottling and selling it, not blogging about it. The obvious Orthodox answer is for Rome to drop its pretensions of infallibility and the other things that keep it and Orthodoxy separate, but I’m not holding my breath, and I can only imagine how the press would spin that as proof that the whole Christian enterprise is a bankrupt racket.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, others (including Herr Cardinal Kasper) have thought along these lines before, though I was unaware of it when I wrote. Here’s the refutation that made me aware. My take-aways from the refutation are that the Orthodox practice is indeed ancient and that the Latin practice, which even is referred to as a doctrine the denial of which earns anathema, will be every bit as hard as I intuited for more reasons than I knew.

UPDATE 2: John Zmirak (H/T Rod Dreher) articulated my intuition what’s at stake differently than I did, albeit from a very polemical Latin position I reject:

If the pope permits divorced couples who now live in extramarital relationships to receive Holy Communion without repenting and promising celibacy, he will be sanctioning one of two things: adultery or polygamy. Marriage is, by Christ’s command, indissoluble. That was taught infallibly by the Council of Trent. If the pope denies that doctrine, if he re-shapes one of the seven sacraments so radically, he will be proving something that the Orthodox have been saying since 1870: That he is not infallible on matters of faith and morals.

That might not sound like such an enormous sacrifice; the Church got along quite well without that doctrine right up until Vatican I. But by flouting the Council of Trent, and proving that Vatican I was in fact mistaken, the pope would be doing much more. He would be demonstrating that such Councils themselves lacked divine authority — that they were not like Nicaea or Chalcedon, the early Councils that built up Christian doctrine. Instead Councils such as the Lateran, Trent, and Vaticans I and II, would be merely local Western synods, exactly as the Orthodox have been insisting since 1054. In other words, the pope would be proving that Roman Catholic assertions of papal authority are grossly exaggerated, and that the Eastern Orthodox have the better claim as the heirs of the twelve apostles.

There’s an irony here, since the Orthodox have permitted the quasi-polygamous “Kasper option” for more than 1,000 years. But the Orthodox make no pretense of wielding infallible authority. They accept the early Councils of the Church (which took place well before 1054) and argue among themselves over how to apply them. They could be wrong.

And on marriage, the Orthodox are wrong. But Rome has no such wiggle room. The claims of the papacy are brave, expansive — and empirically falsifiable. If Rome adopts the Orthodox practice of marriage, that will falsify them. The mouse will have died in the maze.

If this happens, it would not prove that Luther or Calvin were right. Instead it would show that papal claims are false, that God has not left the Church with a central authority for the interpretation of doctrine, and that the Orthodox model is the only viable choice for sacramental Christians.

I obviously object to stuff like “quasi-polygamous,” but I think that’s what Zmirak must say to remain true to the Council of Trent.

* * * * *

It’s time to update my prediction that some churches could plausibly be seen as public accommodations and get in trouble for declining to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. A case from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, hot off the presses, ups the ante to fines and jail time:

For years, those in favor of same-sex marriage have argued that all Americans should be free to live as they choose. And yet in countless cases, the government has coerced those who simply wish to be free to live in accordance with their belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

Just this weekend, a case has arisen in Idaho, where city officials have told ordained ministers they have to celebrate same-sex weddings or face fines and jail time.

The Idaho case involves Donald and Evelyn Knapp, both ordained ministers, who run Hitching Post Wedding Chapel. Officials from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, told the couple that because the city has a non-discrimination statute that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and because the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Idaho’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, the couple would have to officiate at same-sex weddings in their own chapel.

The non-discrimination statute applies to all “public accommodations,” and the city views the chapel as a public accommodation.

On Friday, a same-sex couple asked to be married by the Knapps, and the Knapps politely declined. The Knapps now face a 180-day jail term and $1,000 fine for each day they decline to celebrate the same-sex wedding.

A week of honoring their faith and declining to perform the ceremony could cost the couple three and a half years in jail and $7,000 in fines.

 Okay, that’s the inflammatory version from Ryan T. Anderson (a heroic young man, virtually unflappable), a partisan against square circles. So let’s try a neutral source:

Earlier this year, after a federal judge in Idaho held that Idaho had to recognize same-sex weddings, a City of Couer d’Alene deputy city attorney was quoted by a local TV station (KXLY) as saying,

“For profit wedding chapels are in a position now where last week the ban would have prevented them from performing gay marriages, this week gay marriages are legal, pending an appeal to the 9th Circuit,” Warren Wilson with the Coeur d’Alene City Attorney’s Office said….

“If you turn away a gay couple, refuse to provide services for them, then in theory you violated our code and you’re looking at a potential misdemeanor citation,” Wilson said.

A newspaper article carried a similar quote:

“I think that term is broad enough that it would capture (wedding) activity,” city attorney Warren Wilson said.

Similar laws have applied to florists, bakeries and photographers that have refused to work on same-sex weddings in other states, Wilson noted.

“Those have all been addressed in various states and run afoul of state prohibitions similar to this,” he said. “I would think that the Hitching Post would probably be considered a place of public accommodation that would be subject to the ordinance.”

According to the Knapps, the City Attorney’s office repeated this statement in telephone conversations with the Knapps.

(Eugene Volokh) Volokh thinks the city loses this one, and I hope he’s right.

I should note that this isn’t quite so strong a case for the city as my imaginary case from three years ago, “The Never Give a Sucker An Even Break Resort, Casino and Wedding Chapel” which “has hosted spontaneous, drunken celebrity weddings.” I’ll be thrilled if my prediction that commercial wedding chapels lose, hands down, is falsified. But should pentecostal ministers (whose manner of ministry, a wedding chapel, leaves me colder than cold, but those are the cases when principled objections need to remember the principle) need to “lawyer up” to keep their religious freedom?

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.