First things first

Some weeks ago, I attended a talk by a priest who works at the Vatican. After his talk, there was a Q & A session. The priest requested that we shut off all our recording devices. He said he wanted to be able to speak more freely. So I will describe some of what he said, but I will refrain from identifying details.

This priest had worked with the bishops during the most recent Synod on the Family. The bishops were sorted into language groups. Members of the English-language group included bishops from places like the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Australia. They also came from places like India.

The priest described how some bishops in the English-language group wanted certain issues brought to the forefront. That way these issues would receive special consideration from the whole Synod. And then, of course, the Pope.

Father was careful to say nothing he did not have to say. But from what he did say, I gathered that the bishops in question were from the United States. Moreover, I gathered that what they desired was a harder stance than they perceived Francis was taking on issues like divorce and gay marriage. 

Father related that the bishops from India listened politely to the other bishops, and to their talks on divorce and gay marriage. Then, after they were finished, the Indian bishops began to speak.

According to the priest, these were the things they said: “What you say is important. We, too, want the Synod to discuss these issues. Yet other issues are also important. You must understand something. In our country, we are trying to stop arranged marriages and child brides.”

I don’t know what effect that had on the room full of bishops. But in the room where I sat, it stopped the audience cold.

There is a great myopia on what are called “family issues.” It comes from both directions. If some would rather that marriage equality never be discussed, others want it to become universal church law as of yesterday. Neither stance is mindful of reality. As Fr. Rick LaBrecque recently summed up the global situation for National Catholic Reporter:

If Pope Francis came out today and said, ‘I don’t see anything wrong with gay marriage,’ the rug would be pulled out from under him. You can only do so much at one time. This is a real crisis for the people who sincerely try to follow what they were being told, [like practicing] natural family planning [and having] as many children as you end up with.

Then there’s the rest of the world. He has to take into account Africa. Where are they at? South America, [too]. So I think it’s a temptation for Americans to see everything in the light of their own [reality], and for a worldwide church, it’s not that easy. And I do really think his heart is in the right place and his head is in the right place. And if he’s given enough time, I think some of these things will come.

Some consider Francis a crypto-heretic who runs a “soft” church. Others think his primary expressed concerns, for the poor and the migrant, are somehow a clever cover for “business as usual.” Mainly, I think Francis puts first things first. I think the bishops from India are putting first things first as well. I am trying to do the same.


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