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Article on the Synod on the Family, by the Australian Ordinary

posted Nov 14, 2014, 3:59 PM by Rochester Ordinariate
by Monsignor Harry Entwistle, P.A.

Reading the media reports of the first session of the Synod of the Family in Rome, those of us from an Anglican background might easily have thought we were back in an Anglican Synod meeting. In that forum we were used to the shrill voices of the liberal progressives telling us about justice, and that anyone who resisted their demands for changes in Church doctrine, orders or morals, were not compassionate and needed to join the modern world. Because Anglican Synods are able to change Church constitutions, beliefs and practice through a majority vote, Synods became a ‘numbers’ game in which the traditionalist voice was easily silenced through ‘stacking’ the Synod membership with liberals.  Fortunately in the Rome Synod, other voices stressed that if Church teaching is revealed by God, it must be compassionate. Unlike Anglicanism and other Protestant churches, Catholic belief is not determined by a majority Synod vote but by the Magisterium of the Church after a long and arduous process. At the conclusion of the Rome Synod, Pope Francis welcomed the robust discussion and noted that despite the diverse viewpoints expressed, no one questioned the fundamental Catholic truths of the Sacrament of Marriage, the indissolubility, the unity, the faithfulness, the fruitfulness, that openness to life that is expressed in Canon Law and Catholic understanding. The period of mature reflection the Pope called for during the next twelve months, will no doubt result in outcomes that are faithful to Church teaching but are in tune with the doctrine of gradualism.

The doctrine of gradualism is defined as “A principle used in Catholic moral and pastoral theology, according to which people should be encouraged to grow closer to God and his plan for our lives in a step-by-step manner rather than expecting to jump from where they are to perfection in a single step.” What the Synod Fathers will probably propose are a series of compassionate measures which will enable remarried divorcees, polygamists, homosexuals and those in forms of unions not recognised by the Church, to gradually move from the position they currently hold, to accepting the teaching of the Church. The people change while Church teaching does not.
In contrast, progressives, whether Catholic or Protestant, also espouse gradualism, but in this case, what gradually changes is not those in irregular situations, but the teaching of the Church. Being compassionate is seen as changing teaching in order to allow those outside of the Church’s norms to be included. The Church’s teaching changes while people’s lifestyle does not. It is this process which we in the Ordinariate experienced in Anglicanism that has led us to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. We therefore support those orthodox Church Fathers who reminded the Synod of the true meaning of the doctrine of gradualism.

Gradualism and Evangelisation
If we do not apply the principle of gradualness in our evangelistic mission, we will not be able to successfully invite lapsed Christians of whatever denomination or none, to come and see for themselves, encounter God in our worship and eventually receive (again) the Sacraments of the Church. Gradualism respects the laws and teaching of the Church, but has an even greater respect for the people for whom the law was made. It believes that often the Holy Spirit needs time to work in a person’s soul before that person is able to accept the full teaching of the Church. It means that sometimes we have to be patient, wait and walk alongside others, not ramming Church laws at them.  Not because the law is bad or wrong, but because our timing is highly unlikely to be that of the Holy Spirit. This attitude is one of mercy and compassion in which God’s law and those who are seeking him are respected, and ultimately leads to their salvation.