Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

After the Pope’s Synod-on-family fiasco, let’s judge Catholicism on Catholic terms

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The Church’s extraordinary Synod on the family hasn’t gone down terribly well with secular pundits. It’s been billed as a failure on the BBC, which declared that gay Catholic groups are ‘disappointed’ with the inability of the Synod to make progress towards acknowledging gay relationships. Other groups are similarly disappointed by the Synod’s refusal to admit divorced and remarried people to communion. As Damian Thompson observes, Pope Francis probably has no-one but himself to blame, in that he allowed so much of the pre-Synod discussion to focus on these contentious areas.

All the same, it’s reductionist to equate the success of a Synod on the family – certainly the first phase of it – in terms of the Catholic church’s progress towards contemporary norms (viz, sort of parity of esteem for every relationship and family structure: gay or straight, permanent or ad hoc, first marriage or subsequent ones).

That parity of esteem is more or less axiomatic in contemporary politics. But it may be, you know, that the Church has useful things to say about our collective inability to sustain marriages, or indeed permanent relationships at all. It may not be the Church that has failed to achieve our secular, enlightened understanding about relationships; but secular people who have failed to grasp important things about the family, about commitment, about the relations between generations.

The Synod isn’t just confining its observations to Catholics, but directing them at everyone. It doesn’t occupy an enclave designated as ‘religious’, with no bearing on the activities of normal people.

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