What Happened to the Son Who Stayed?

Earlier today the Vatican released its report of the transpirings at the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is still ongoing.  The document has left me feeling both betrayed and wounded by the Church’s leadership, especially Pope Francis.  The report should cause great consternation on the part of all faithful Catholic clerics and layman who have strived for holiness and to live the commandments of Christ and His Church.  Not only is the call to conversion completely absent in any meaningful way from this document–it evidently assumes assumes that conversion is simply about doing your best–, but those who have made great sacrifice to live the Church’s teachings on marriage and family life are all but ignored.

No doubt people will see in this document, as they do in the whole of Francis’ Vatican, a playing out of the Prodigal Son parable in our own day and age.  More than a few commentators have likened Pope Francis to the father in this parable, whose generosity towards the wayward son provoked the jealousy of the son who stayed.  Many homilies have spoken about the different dimensions of this story and often enough a call to reflection is made as to the destiny of the son who remained in his father’s service.  If we are to understand the Scripture in light of our Holy Father’s current pastoral practice, it seems the father slapped the son who stayed and dismissed his years of service.

As for the prodigal son…well, he hasn’t come home yet.




  1. Smokey says:

    Thank you for calling our attention to this growing problem in the Church. There are many faithful Catholics (clergy and laymen) who have stood in defense of controversial church teachings against attack from the liberal media and liberal Catholics. Today, however, they are being told that their views are not in line with Pope Francis. Not only has the son who stayed been slapped and dismissed by his father, he is being told that he has been wrong by his friends.

    • Timshel says:

      I agree with the problem you’ve articulated — people are being told that their views are not in line with Pope Francis. The key question I have is, have they been told this by Pope Francis? I’m concerned that people on both sides of these issues have their own agendas…we should be wary.

      • Didymus says:

        You are correct about being wary. However, the fact that Pope Francis gave the stage to Cardinal Kasper despite his well known 3-decades old argument with Ratzinger/Pope Benedict over this issue is certainly meaningful.

        • Timshel says:

          Certainly. I’m sure it signals a change in approach, but to what end? Perhaps I’m just looking for a reason not to worry about this until *next* October.

          I’m intrigued by Cardinal Burke’s comments about what he would do if the worst came to pass. I think a lot of us are having the same thoughts — what would this mean for me and my faith? me and my work?

          That seems like a conversation over beers…

  2. Didymus says:

    Cardinal Burke has a great response. Well worth reading this interview. One quote: “Some are saying that we need to find the good aspects of de facto unions and homosexual unions. What are the good aspects of unchaste acts? There cannot be.”

  3. Timshel says:

    Fr. Barron characterized this report as “sausage-making”. Sausage-making is the phrase that came to my mind yesterday, although I am perhaps more troubled that he is about the proceedings. He also suggests (paraphrasing a different theologian/historian) that we may be at the beginning of another “centuries long controversy” in the Church. This assessment, oddly enough, is the most hopeful assessment I’ve heard, since we’ve weathered these things before — although I hope that with modern communication and transportation, it won’t literally take centuries to root out whatever heresies may have taken root among our bishops.

    I also love Cardinal Burke’s response to the document and agree with him on pretty much all counts in terms of these teachings. However, two things concern me at this early stage in the what looks to be a year-long exploration of these topics.

    First is the air of adversarial divisiveness. Progressives versus conservatives. JPII versus Francis. Burke versus Kasper. The prodigal son versus the son who stayed. This, it seems to me, is not from God. And while I agree that Cardinal Burke and like-minded leaders, you, me, and others should speak our consciences at the appropriate time, we also need to recognize the impact of that outspokenness. Cardinal Burke is now a hero among people in our own community who view Pope Francis as the antipope. If that is Cardinal Burke’s view, perhaps he should say so — otherwise, saying the work of the current synod is not of God seems irresponsible at the least, especially since the work is barely underway.

    At the same time, if the Kasper contingent is engaged in a PR campaign (beginning with the publication of his book and his pseudohumble quotes about his relationship with Pope Francis) to swing media momentum his way, it appears to be working — and who can blame Cardinal Burke for being aggressive in turn?

    Here’s the second thing that concerns me: it appears as if no one is thinking about modern media and instantaneous communication. This is not a document meant to teach or evangelize — it’s meant to summarize many hour of messy proceedings involving hundreds of foreign dignitaries in 10+ pages or so. From that standpoint, we should not necessarily expect it to do more than it does. However, the very obvious problem is that people today are going to find out immediately about this report and react immediately — so it should have been more circumspect, or not been released at all.

    Instead, the document the synod released is about half gibberish (making me wonder who put the thing in English; maybe I haven’t read enough Vatican documentation to make sense of it.) — grammatically challenged, self-referential, and poetically nonsensical…but we’ve said before our current Holy Father does not have the gift of clarity and precision in language.

    The other half is a mixed bag, in my opinion. Insofar as the document expresses the Church’s traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality, it says we can’t change them and must lead people to the truth. It articulates numerous real challenges to family life, including individualism, self-centered emotionalism, and cultural relativity. It poses a challenge at the end paragraph 11 that we might expect from Pope Francis — and one I can related to personally; indeed we’ve talked about it in our discussions — “This requires that the doctrine of the faith, the basic content of which should be made increasingly better known, be proposed alongside mercy.”

    How do we do that? How do we call a sin a sin, and yet leave room for people to come to Christ? I personally have benefited from the tough love of a couple of priests who stood firmer than I liked on some of these very questions — but I also benefited from a couple of priests who, at formative times in my life and marriage, led me to Christ unworthy though I was…

    All of that seems legit to me, and thinking about how we address these issues across cultures and draw lost people to Christ seems legit, too.

    Then there are the problems. Specific phrases, like “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation” or “Positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation,” are troubling and seem to undermine the language (sometimes in the same sentence) that says the Church is not changing doctrine. Assertions are made and not supported. Terms, like “law of gradualness” and “doctrine of levels of communion” appear to be ambiguously used or misused. Overall, it is written like the minutes to an academic senate meeting — all views are equal, and in an effort to make incorrect views appear equal, the document skews tonally in their favor.

    This approach makes it palatable to the left-leaning media, and enraging to many of the faithful. Is it intentional? I don’t know. Cardinal Burke seems to think so, at least to some extent. Does it signal the end of traditional Church teachings on these topics? I’m certainly not ready to say that yet! Is it a slap in the face and a pink slip to the faithful? To me, that gives too entirely much weight to 11 ambiguous pages at this early date in the discussion and late date in Church history.

    I’m still just a kid in many ways, so I’m asking myself two questions during this next year: How do we sow unity during this time? And if there is a Pope in Rome, what can I learn from him? Veni, Sancte Spiritus!

  4. Spaniard says:

    Timshel, your points about moderating our reaction to this report seem prudent to me. And, your characterization of the problematic linguistics is thorough and spot-on. What a mess is this document, or the translation, or both.

    However, I am skeptical about whether all of the conservative hand-wringing is simply a product of cumbersome translation, naïve/careless source material, misunderstandings, and out-of-context reporting errors. If it was, we should see examples on the other side, correct?

    As I read the “mid-term report” of the synod, I kept thinking back to the relatively clear (and in some cases, quite beautiful) expression of the Faith in the latest Catechism. Do we even need a synod? Do we need texts that read as if they were passed back and forth ten times through Google translate?? Why not simply teach the Catechism, which is quite clear on all of these matters: marriage, divorce, homosexuality, and family life?

    • Timshel says:

      You are right, Spaniard — if this were simply a matter of poor translation and carelessness, your would expect to see problems on both “sides.” I’m not saying the report does not slant the direction “they” (whoever they are) wanted it to slant.I think they put out the report they wanted to; I’m just not convinced of nefarious purposes on the bishops’ part (only on Satan’s) — and I am convinced that putting out any such report was probably a bad idea whatever the reason.

      I guess, in my youthful naivete, I am thinking that perhaps the Pope does not feel the Catechism alone provides sufficient instruction for how to handle, in a practical way, the irregularities we see in the world around us. Could it be that the teachings are clear, but the application less so, particularly where children are concerned? That phrase or something like it comes up more than once in the document — do we take a hard line with the parents and lose the children, who are victims in this?

      I’m not saying I have answers. Maybe we have to take a hard line. But perhaps these questions are worth asking. Perhaps the Holy Father is pushing the Church to ask them — either by intentionally pushing the envelope on language, or by letting this play out. And perhaps the Holy Spirit is guiding the process after all.

      • Meddlesome says:

        Timshel, I think Cardinal Burke articulates well that these questions are not new and what we are seeing is the unnecessary reopening of a debate from the late 1970s on these issues. Pope Francis obviously sees some merit in reopening these questions, but I don’t think his actions are of the Holy Spirit. His predecessor, St. John Paul II, slaved to bring moral clarity and took the unpopular positions on these very questions–thereby making him an enemy of the then-reigning Catholic intelligentsia, but also spurred great holiness among many and renewed zeal for the truth.

        I find Francis’ decision to open these questions and allow them to fester without providing clear answers in short order to be the ultimate insult to John Paul II. He appears to think he is doing his predecessor a favor by canonizing him one month and cutting his legacy at the knees the other 11 months of the year.

        • Timshel says:

          Thanks, Meddlesome — this is a much clearer (to me) articulation of what you see as wrong with what’s going on.

          You wrote, “I don’t think his actions are of the Holy Spirit.” — that’s the nut in this thing right there — how do we tell? And what do we do about it?

      • Timshel says:

        BTW, Spaniard: Your last blog post here (and my comment) seem kind of ironic now…

  5. Didymus says:

    Think about what happens if the Pope issues a document next year that does not endorse any of the more radical things being floated about (communion to remarried Catholics, e.g.). It will be a replay of Humanae Vitae. Then the press set the expectation that teaching on contraception was going to change, and when it didn’t there was a full-scale liberal Catholic revolt in many countries, including ours (sadly including bishops). That seems to me to be a significant danger to this approach – we are unnecessarily watering the seeds of discontent, no matter what happens in a year or two.

  6. Timshel says:

    Men, I yield. If even half of this article is true, I can’t give the benefit of the doubt to the leaders of the Synod. In addition to the great points you all raise, which show a better knowledge and understanding of Church history than I have, it is stretching the bounds of credulity to think that this is something being allowed to play out, rather than being driven.

    So — what do we do? Fast and pray. Anything else? What is due to our Holy Father in a situation like this?

    • Meddlesome says:

      Certainly prayer and fasting is incumbent upon all of us. I strongly recommend we all invoke St. Catherine of Sienna in our prayers, as she shows all of us how to call the Holy Father to task without giving offense to his office.

  7. […] morning, in a motel room outside of Kansas City, I re-read Meddlesome’s post, “What Happened to the Son Who Stayed?” In many ways, that post and the discussion and posts that followed seem to have set the tone for […]

  8. […] the question Spaniard asked and answered in the affirmative just before Meddlesome’s famous “What Happened to the Son Who Stayed?” post (which, I would argue, set the tone for the Junto’s subsequent discussions of the Holy […]

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