Bishop Geoffrey Robinson's New Book on the Synod and Divorce and Homosexuality
Text of Bishop Bill Morris' presentation
Geoffrey Robinson has written a new book entitled: The 2015 Synod - The Crucial Questions: Divorce and Homosexuality (ATF Press/Catalyst for Renewal, 2015). The book was launched by Bill Morris at the Dixson Room in the Nsw State Library on April 9.
I would like to begin with the book's Epilogue:-
"The promise of Jesus Christ was not that the Church will never make mistakes, but that it will overcome its mistakes, for the truth of Jesus Christ will always be present in the Church – tarnished and even obscured –
but always there to be rediscovered. The promise is that, in spite of many errors in detail, the Church will be maintained in the basic truth of the Song of Jesus, and that the ugliness in the Church will never completely
destroy its underlying beauty. 'The Church's faith will often be weak, its love lukewarm, its hope wavering, but that on which its faith is based, its love is rooted and its hope is built will always endure.' There is a certainty of faith, though it is certainty in something that comes before words. It is the certainty of faith in the teacher and his song! There was a teacher and he sang a song. The teacher was inspiring, and his song of love makes my heart sing – this I believe with certainty. No other certainty can be equal to his certainty, and it is by tortuous paths, and through many uncertainties, that we must humbly and hesitantly seek to return the world to the love from which it came."
Deep within all of us and written on our hearts is our song, which we are called upon to sing in harmony with the song of creation and has credibility when it expresses itself in love of neighbour. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in his book asks us to listen to the song of the teacher, Jesus, so that with a loving, humble heart we can look at the questions raised and participate in the conversation to which Pope Francis has invited us.
In the book's introduction two questions are identified that came to prominence in the Synod of Bishops last October 2014. One concerns the situation of Catholic persons who have grown up to discover that their natural sexual attraction is as Lesbian, Gay, bi-sexual or transgender persons. The pastoral need here is in conflict with Church Doctrine for Church doctrine says that any sexual act other than one between a man and a woman
within marriage and open to pro-creation is disordered and mortally sinful. Whereas, the pastoral need is that heterosexual marriage is not an alternative for such people, they feel not the slightest call to a life of total celibacy that this teaching would demand of them under pain of eternal punishment.
The other question concerns the plight of Catholics whose marriage has failed and who are later remarried. The Doctrine is that marriage is indissoluble, so the couple are held to be living in an on-going and mortally sinful situation. The Pastoral need is that such people feel that they are permanently excluded from Communion and the Church.
The question is asked: Is there a solution to this dilemma?.....for if there is not, and we can't find one, then we will have two large groups of people within the Church whose pastoral needs, we will have to admit, we cannot meet. Can a Christian Church accept this?
To answer this question you need a conversation and that is what Pope Francis has invited us to do and why this book has been written. Francis has shown by word and action that it is "through dialogue, prayer and further study rather than through the muzzling of discussion" that a greater understanding of these questions will happen. Pope John Paul II, before he became pope wrote in "The Acting Person" that moral growth in any community requires a creative tension between two poles: solidarity and opposition. (paradox of life) He said: "the structure of a human community is correct only if it admits not just the presence of a justified opposition
but also that practical effectiveness of opposition required by the common good". (Faith Dissenters – Stories of Men and Women who Loved and changed the Church by Robert McClory (Orbis Books) Page 4.)
Pope Paul VI speaking of the hunger for truth in everyone, gives advice, I think, worth taking on board: "So the search continues and, as you know, in an ocean of truths and mysteries, in a drama in which each one of us has his/her own part to play. This is life. Can it be exhausted in this temporal existence of ours? No. In spite of the immense light of our Catholic religion, the search and expectation of future revelation are not complete; on the contrary, they are still at the beginning. Faith is not complete knowledge; it is the source of hope. (Heb. 11-1 "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.") Now we see religious realities, even in their incontrovertible reality, in mystery, in their impossibility of being reduced to the purely rational yardstick; we know these realities "in a mirror dimly". Study, research and – let us say the word that comprises the whole human – religious process – love, remain active and dynamic".
These words of Paul VI echo the journey the Prologue of the book takes us on, a journey that started in an explosion of God's love, continues in that love, showing us a God of Infinite patience, a God of surprises, whose ever present Spirit took concrete form in Jesus of Nazareth and the Spirits mission, becomes his, revealing God's hidden action in the world. Now as the Spirit had anointed Jesus at the start of his ministry so Jesus sent the Spirit upon his followers, given to the community who began to call themselves the Church.....Jesus' very bodily presence in the World, created by and a dwelling for the Spirit. The Church exists not as an answer but as a response --- a response to God's call to continue God's loving, redeeming, healing, reconciling, liberating, forgiving and challenging mission.
Over most of our history we have passively evolved, but in the present age we have come to recognise that these capacities can no longer sit idle. They are gifts intended for engagement. They carry within them an
explicit invitation to become co-creators. For this to happen Pope Francis asks that: "rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel". (EG 168)........"(We) then make present a fragrance of Christ's closeness and his
personal gaze." (EG 169). If we do this, then just may be, obstacles and attitudes that are "hiding the face of Christ" maybe removed.
Because every Christian has a prophetic role in keeping alive the 'the dangerous memory' (Johann Baptist Metz) of Jesus, by telling his story, by proclaiming his Good News in the faith-filled song of their lives, by being bold like Paul who challenged Peter; by being bold like John Henry Newman who championed the appeal to the sense of the faithful (Sensus Fidei) in the development of Doctrine, which was renewed by Vatican II in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium 12), holding that the people of God as a whole cannot err in matters of belief. Bold like Mary MacKillop and many, many others whose love for the Church led to new insights, challenged doctrines that had been in development and subject to change because of new information or insight, leading to the enrichment of the Church.
These examples show how important dialogue is for opening up minds and hearts and in the words of John Paul II "by dialogue we let God be present in our midst; as we open ourselves in dialogue to one another, we open ourselves to God". (Benedict, Me and the Cardinal Three by William Martin Morris (ATF Press) Page 246.)
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson opens us to dialogue on the Church's teachings on sexual acts, showing that there is an urgent need for a new study from the foundations up on sexual morality in general. To do this and to respond to the crucial question of Homosexuality he opens up three questions:
1. There is no possibility of a change in the teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexual acts unless and until there is first a change in its teaching on heterosexual acts;
2. There is a serious need for radical change in the Church's teaching on heterosexual acts;
3. If and when this change occurs, it will inevitably have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.
In recent times a lot has been written on showing how the studies in the New Cosmology is transforming spiritual life by revealing that everything that exists in creation, in the cosmos, is in relationship. Nothing exists that is not in relationship leading us to realise that there is no such thing as a private act. "All creation is an interconnected web of relationships". (Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology is Transforming Spiritual life by Judy Cannato (Sorin Books) Page 60.)
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson points out that the Church's arguments concerning sex are based solely on the physical act in itself rather than on the physical act as an action affecting persons and relationships. (So) if
Church teaching were based on persons and relationships rather than what is considered "according to nature" in the physical act, consideration of homosexual acts would exist in a whole new world and would have to be rethought from the very beginning. In short, if there is to be a change in the Church's teaching concerning homosexual acts, then work needs to be done to bring about change in its teaching on all sexual acts.
Pope Francis wants a magisterium that listens and he has no fear in highlighting the doctrine of the Sensus Fidei and from it concludes that the Church must keep its ear to the people. Cardinal Walter Kasper in an article adapted from his new book "Pope Francis's Revolution of Tenderness and Love" reflects that this "does not mean that the Church creates out of itself the truth and its power. On the contrary, as the itinerant people of God, the Church does not live out of its own resources, but rather from listening to the word of God and from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist."
For Pope Francis "all evangelisation is based on the Word, listened to, meditated upon, lived, celebrated and witnessed to.......The Church does not evangelise unless she constantly lets herself be evangelised. It is indispensable that the Word of God be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity". (EG 174) He speaks of a Church that is an open house, a father's house, in which there is a place for everyone with their
difficulties. He also uses the image of the Church as a merciful mother.
So concerning the question of Christians in irregular situations, such as divorced and remarried individuals, he wishes to wait first to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Local Churches and then decide. Remaining in the truth and always faithful to the Church, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson responding to Pope Francis's invitation on this, not only pastorally pressing, yet still contentious question, takes us on a journey with the Great Tradition as our guide, testing any truths or traditions that are formulated against the living reality of the person and story of Jesus, the Christ, that has been handed on from one generation to the next. This is what is called 'the Song of Jesus' in the Prologue and he invites the study of Scriptural Texts in the light of all we have come to know about the person of Jesus Christ, the values he constantly held, the priorities he lived and taught, and the manner in which he constantly acted. The person and the story give light to the text and must be used intelligently and carefully.
Judy Cannato in her book 'Field of Compassion' in reflecting on how theology is done, looks at Acts 15 in which the First Council of the Church is described and in the light of this writes: "Even though Jesus was primarily concerned with calling people to a way of relating to others and the Holy – a new consciousness – he could not possibly have anticipated all the issues that would arise as the infant movement began to grow". (Ibid
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in concluding his reflection on the Scriptural Texts remarks: ........"even for those Christians who most earnestly seek the will of Jesus in this matter of divorce and remarriage, there are many problems in the evidence of the Second Testament, for uncertainties abound in every single one of the texts. Is this an indication that, while we must have the greatest respect for the scriptures, God will not solve all our problems for us, and we cannot put all the responsibility on to God? Must we not rather take a large measure of both personal and collective responsibility in this delicate and difficult field?"
From Pope Francis's talks and writings it can be seen that for him faith is not a fixed standpoint, but rather a path on which every person, as well as the Church as a whole, is on the way. The Church's task is to accompany people wisely, patiently, and mercifully on this path, this process of growth. Francis quotes Blessed Peter Faber, for whom he has special esteem: "Time is God's messenger" (EG 169-73). The concluding document of the Extraordinary Synod of 2014 adopted this understanding of a pastoral ministry that meets people where they are and accompanies them. (Walter Kasper)
In his final chapter, the Development of Doctrine, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson shows how the Second Vatican Council faced the tension between the need to be faithful to its origins and the need to confront the pastoral
problems posed by the modern World. He points out that it followed a principle that one writer has called "discontinuity for the sake of a greater continuity", that is, in attempting to reconcile opposing views the Council often reached back behind a particular formulation of truth to an earlier and greater truth. He then gives a number of examples showing how it modified statements and traditions that had been in place for centuries,
despite the fact that, with considerable heat and fury, this trend was constantly and adamantly condemned by a number of members of the Council.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is not arguing for anything more than the Second Vatican Council itself has already done in a number of different fields, pointing out that if we deny this, the Church will be unable to move forward, even when it becomes clear that it should do so, for it will not even be able to make modifications to earlier teachings.
History shows us that the Church's teaching on definitive matters has changed: John Courtney Murray concerning Religious Freedom; Galileo concerning the Earth Moves; the Jesuits concerning Usuary. Like Vatican II the changes here contained a lot of heat and fury because the doctrines in dispute had been presented by the Church as definitive, fixed and irreformable. The Magisterium did not believe that it was authorised to alter them. Only in retrospect, after the change occurred, did the whole Church, from the bottom to the top, see that these doctrines had been in development and subject to change because of new information and insight. (Faith Dissenters – Stories of Men and Women who Loved and changed the Church by Robert McClory (Orbis Books) Page 162.)
'Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue' was the call of Pope Francis when speaking in Brazil on the occasion of World Youth Day 2013, calling it the cornerstone of all human progress. If this dialogue is to be creative and life-giving, truly embracing all relationships that form the lifeblood of creation, there can be no unasked questions or the fear of punitive action. For where there is fear there is no dialogue and where there is no dialogue there is no relationship. This dialogue will bear much fruit if it recognises the rights and responsibilities of all the baptised to participate in the deliberative decision making of the Church, linking church governance to baptism rather than ordination. In the words of Pope Francis 'the Church is the people of God, pastors and people together. The church is the totality of God's people'. (Benedict, Me and Cardinals Three by William Martin Morris (ATF Press) Page 248.)
For the church to "breathe together" and make decisions on these questions and modify the views of earlier Councils, a Council of equal stature would need to be called. Bishop Geoffrey Robinson suggests the question before the Synod is whether to advice Pope Francis to call such a Council or not. A Council that the laity be fully part of and directly represented. This would allow a real conversation to take place, (for).......at last Jesus, Church authority and Catholic people would be in the same room and talking the same language and not be frightened to break open these questions on sexual morality and divorce. They would be breathing together.
A question is asked in the Prologue of the book: How could someone as intelligent as Jesus have got things so fundamentally and obviously wrong? It then answers........the only answer that can be given is that God's overwhelming desire for the human race is that we should grow towards all we are capable of being, so that we may return the world to the love from which it came. And God knows that the only way that this can happen is by our taking responsibility for our own actions and gradually and painfully learning and growing. However messy this process and however long it takes there is no other way.
This book of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is an invitation to dialogue on these important questions, to be part of the conversation in preparation for the Synod in October and it is my privilege to launch it this evening, to thank Geoff for his witness to the Song of Jesus, for being the Fifth Gospel in word and action and to assure him that he is carried in the hearts and prayers of his brothers and sisters especially at this time and on behalf of many to say thank you and God Bless.