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Could this be the storm before the calm?

"We can talk a lot about God, and in the end, do so without faith", said Cardinal Mueller a couple of weeks before last year’s Synod on the Family in Rome.  And now, a year later, and another Synod about to happen, I am thinking it is the most sensible observation I've noted out of all the soundbites over the last twelve months on those subjects of divorce and homosexual relationships.

And now a Monsignor from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just planted a kind of philosophical bomb in the Synod Hall by calling a press conference to tell the world that he has a live-in boyfriend, and that all priests would if they could ...

It is precisely the kind of happening that could discourage us all into a kind of paralysis or even indifference, at least towards any news or pronouncements from Rome. We know our Faith. Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just ignored the news from the Vatican?

In a sense, this is a salutary truth. We do know our Faith. And we should just get on with the important, difficult but rewarding task of living it, and following our Saviour.

But like every heresy, it is a truth mixed with error. And that is just what the devil wants. Another possible, and I think more likely outcome, is that the bishops who have been speaking in a reckless and unguarded way about faith and morals will now be a little scared and confused. Free exchanges in a closed theological debate amongst theological experts are all very well. It is even part of our tradition, but “careless talk costs lives” and many people (not just immaculately coiffed Monsignori in the Vatican) are jumping the gun. Luther lived to regret his injunction “Pecca fortiter : go, sin boldly!”... We now have a kind of parallel. Cardinal Kasper has opened a bit of a Pandora’s box that the Synod fathers are now almost to certain to close, with a sigh of relief. If and when that happens we will all be left saying something like this: these issues needed a public airing, despite all the fallout. Now we know where we stand, and where God would have us stand.

How can these two men (Kasper and Mueller) come up with such different opinions when faced with the same pastoral realities in Germany? Could it be something to do with the fact that Mueller has actually spent a lot more time with ordinary Catholics and so knows something about the real challenges of Christian life for ordinary people?

Mueller has 8 or 9 years experience in parishes, 16 as a theology professor and then ten as diocesan bishop, all after the Second Vatican Council. He was also a pupil of Gustavo Gutiérrez,  one of the few liberation theologians to stay spiritually close to the poor and to their traditional popular piety and to maintain a traditional sacramental, ecclesial and eschatological view. Gutiérrez is a theologian who has stayed in touch with the people's faith in a way that many other left wing theologians have not. He and Mueller are still friends, which will no doubt surprise people who think of Mueller as a crusty, heartless bigot.

As far as I can make out, Kasper spent just one year as a priest in a parish from 1958-59, then the next 31 years as an academic, before becoming Archbishop of Munich in 1989. He is a man of committees and conferences. Kasper experienced the whole Vatican II phenomenon of the 60s and 70s from inside an academic bubble, probably peopled with a higher than usual percentage of vociferous intellectual Catholics in 'irregular' situations. One supposes that his circle of intimates is composed mainly of liberal theologians and progressive bureaucrats inside the Church.  Like Mueller, he is the protégé of a famous theologian: he was formerly assistant to Hans Kung, the famous progressive theologian who disputes many key Catholic spiritual and ethical teachings and who a year ago announced his intention to commit suicide (perhaps he is losing his nerve ... One hopes so). Kung, unlike Gutiérrez, is a theologian who has completely lost touch with the religion of the poor, if indeed he ever encountered it. His is a religion for cultured middle-class intellectuals. And they are a dying breed.

A final thought: when I was a conservative-minded university student, over twenty years ago, in a Catholic chaplaincy awash with progressive ideas I went to a talk given by Fr Gustavo Guttiérez OP. When it came to the question-time I asked him more questions than all the other questioners put together.

I remember asking him, in a superior tone, “but Father don’t you believe in eternal life?” His answer was yes, but hasn’t eternal life already begun? Isn’t the Kingdom of God already present among us?

The effect of his humble, thoughtful, respectful and wise responses was to give me two very strong impressions: here was a priest, a true priest. And also that here, somehow, in the midst of all sorts of theological questions which I was asking myself, I was in the presence of a saint. I knelt down afterwards and asked him to give me his blessing. And in a fatherly, priestly and kindly way, that is what he did.

Guttiérez and Pope Francis are coming from a similar place. Perhaps Cardinal Mueller and the Holy Father, both men of the people, are closer than one might think. Whatever befall, The LORD is my light and my salvation-- whom shall I fear? Pray, hope and don’t worry, as a good man once said.

As I write this I am listening to the Beatles:

“We can work it out and get it straight. Life is very short and there is no time for fussing and fighting, my friend. ...Try to see it my way. Only time will tell if I am right or wrong.”

Good night, from France.


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