In the nearly 20 years I have been a priest I have repeatedly engaged in discussions with fellow Catholics on issues that go directly against Church Teaching, or that regard the acceptance of practices that have no place in the Church. As I have learned over the years, more often than not, most people do not want to hear what the Church Teaches on those subjects, and do not care what documents can be cited. Even when they do appreciate the Teaching, they still try to substantiate a personal opinion or desire by employing a variety of relativistic arguments and other techniques. In this regard, it has been very difficult to advance the Good News in a culture in which the dictatorship of relativism has been in full force for a very long time. In most conversations today, one party may try to misdirect the argument by using the stock, “well that is an interesting opinion, father, but I completely disagree,” even though what was said represents Church Teaching. The danger with this type of comment is that the argument is reduced to matters of opinion and then all we need is to get a quorum to settle the argument.
As a way of example, in my first parish I was moderating the liturgy committee that was responsible for planning the weekend Masses. Shortly after arriving, I realized there were several things that would have to change, most having to do with the proper celebration of the sacred liturgy. Realizing how important it is to have the parish leaders on board, I brought up one of the issues with the committee, and provided several documents to help them understand why it had to change. A lively discussion ensued, mostly driven by “we have always done it that way,” or “this is the way parish so-and-so does it,” and the discussion eventually brought about three very different suggested courses of action. Of the three being discussed, none were along the lines I knew we had to go. So I reiterated the fourth way, reminding everyone that it was the Church’s way, but the divisions continued. After a period of discussion, I shelved the conversation letting them know I would take everything said to prayer and the pastor, and we moved forward to discuss other matters.
After discerning what was said, and obtaining the support of the pastor, I announced at the next meeting that it is important for us to be submissive to the Church and, despite the good things that were discussed, we were going to move forward as I indicated at the previous meeting. Of course, that irritated some and the issue remained unsettled in their minds. To that end, one of the more outspoken, who clearly did not want to see any change to the way things were done, said that before a decision was made final, we should find out what the parishioners want. To that end, he suggested we do an in pew survey of the matter. I recognized the technique as a strategy from the relativistic world in which we live and immediately said no. So many Catholics living in America would prefer that the formation of Church doctrine happen the same way it does in the democratic process – by majority vote.
To this end, I have said it many times. When you poll people about what they want, especially when dealing with the low-information culture in which we live, you are setting yourself up for division and disappointment. When a poll is taken, we usually get percentages back and tend to follow the majority. Of course, we hope the majority supports our own opinion, and so we lobby the people in the hope they will select our proposition. Typically the results are along the lines of: 25% want A, 25% want B, 25% want C, and 25% want D. Even if 40% want A and the other three get 20% each, there is no way to move forward without having at least 60% of the people upset that you did not choose the solution they wanted. While polls can be helpful in understanding what people think and want, they can never be helpful when determining matters of Faith and Morals.
It appears that the current Synod on the Family is expected to be driven by popular opinion. Yes, there have been a variety of opinions expressed by those engaged in the process, and the media continue to lobby for the ones they like. However, I must constantly remind myself that opinions do not establish doctrine, because it is the Truth that sets us free. Discussions can be helpful, but should always remain limited in scope with a constant eye on arriving at the Truth. To this end, I must remind myself, and anyone who reads this, that the documents being generated are not doctrinal and do not carry the Teaching weight of the Church. They are summary statements of what is being discussed and will be used for further discussion on how to best present the Truth to a world terribly marked by Sin. The discussions and presentations have certainly admitted just how ubiquitous Sin has become. My fear at this point, is that those who are not entering or following the discussions armed with the Truth are being set up for division and disappointment.
No matter what a given individual says at this point, it remains just an opinion and we should treat it as such. I, for my part, will continue to study the doctrines of the Church, and make sure my opinion is well formed by them.