Sunday think pieces: Is it time for Catholics to split into three different flocks?

The 2015 Synod of Bishops is winding down to crunch time and several key participants have certainly given reporters, and Catholic leaders back home, plenty to think about.

There's too much going on to write it into one summary. So let's just do a kind of math progression and, for now, sets aside the clearly pivotal role that Pope Francis will play in wrapping things up. 

So journalists here stateside, let's do this: Click here, click here, click here and then click here. Then sit down, pop open something cold, and think things over. Do some math.

First, there is The Chicago Tribune coverage of statements by the leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago -- arguably the most powerful in the United States -- stating that he sees a way for Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the church to take Holy Communion. He then stated that the same logical -- do what your conscience leads you to do -- applies to gays and lesbians, those who are single and those who are in relationships.

Take it away Archbishop Blase Cupich:

"In Chicago I visit regularly with people who feel marginalized, whether they're elderly or the divorced and remarried, gay and lesbian individuals, also couples," Cupich said. .... "We need to get to know what their life is like if we're going to accompany them.
"I try to help people along the way. And people come to a decision in good conscience," he said about personally counseling Catholics.
"Then our job with the church is to help them move forward and respect that," he said. "The conscience is inviolable. And we have to respect that when they make decisions, and I've always done that."
Pressed to explain whether that same approach applies to same-sex couples, Cupich said "gay people are human beings too, and they have a conscience."
"My role as a pastor is to help them discern what the role of God is by looking at the objective moral teaching of the church and yet at the same time helping them through a period of discernment to understand what God is calling them to at that point," he said.

OK, now click here, to read the work of the liberal Catholic columnist David Gibson at Religion News Service, describing a morning-prayer reflection by a key African bishop, Tanzanian Bishop Renatus Leonard Nkwande.

The key is, according to Gibson, is that the vast majority of the African leaders oppose doctrinal "reforms" -- with the word "reform" signaling that ancient church doctrines are bad, flawed and broken -- that will help "welcome" modern believers into the fold on their own terms.

The churchmen must avoid “turning vices into new human rights,” Nkwande said, speaking in English as the pope and others listened to his words rendered by a translator. “Who knows what will happen after approving same-sex relations. Are the same arguments for pastoral adaption in this issue, for example, not going to be valid on the other issues, like polygmany, polyandry, bestiality … and many others?”
The Catholic Church must resist any temptation to “compromise the gospel and sacrifice the divine revelation” by seeming to approve of “strange views and new teachings,” he said.
The synod fathers continued with the prayer, and while a few later raised an eyebrow at Nkwande’s talk, it was evidence not only of the passion that many African church leaders are bringing to the proceedings, but also to the growing presence and profile of Africans in the hierarchy and in Vatican politics. ...
They have an outsized influence because they largely stand against reforms to welcome gays and the divorced and remarried. 

Then you have -- in the holy pages of The New York Times -- a letter from theologian Daniel C. Maguire of Marquette University in which he opined that splits in the Catholic world are, functionally, already underway:

Pope Francis’ changes in the annulment rules for Catholics are important for some Catholics but not for all.
Catholicism is going the way of its parent, Judaism (remember, Jesus was a Jew). In Judaism there are Reform as well as Conservative and Orthodox communities. This arrangement is not yet formalized in Catholicism, but the outlines of a similar broadening are in place.
Conservative and orthodox Catholics welcome this annulment concession by the Vatican; reform Catholics don’t need it. Their consciences are their Vatican. Reform Catholics, whose numbers are swelling, are still bonded to the church but not to the Roman Curia.

That leads us to a Crux commentary -- by the Rev. Dwight Longenecker -- with a headline that certainly started things puzzling: "Is Catholicism about to break into three?" Here is his summary of the three camps:

Broadly speaking, “Traditionalists” adhere to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, the Baltimore Catechism, and Church teachings from before the Second Vatican Council. They are positively pro-life, they support traditional family structures, and encourage fine music, beautiful liturgy, art, and architecture. They are in favor of celibacy for an all-male priesthood, a renewal of the enclosed religious life, and support a wide range of traditional devotions.
“Magisterial” Catholics put loyalty to the authority of the pope and magisterial teaching first and foremost. They are happy with the principles of the Second Vatican Council, but want to “Reform the Reform.” They want to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass with solemnity, reverence, and fine music. “Magisterial” Catholics are likely to be enthusiastic about apologetics, evangelization, and a range of pro-life ministries. They think the Church needs to relate to the modern world, use new media, and connect with the younger generation, but they look to the pope and Church teachings to help them do that faithfully. They uphold traditional Catholic teaching in faith and morals, but wish to communicate and live these truths in an up-to-date and relevant way. George Weigel dubbed them “Evangelical Catholics.”
The “Progressives” are vitally interested in peace and justice issues. They’re enthusiastic about serving the marginalized and working for institutional change. They are likely to embrace freer forms of worship, dabble in alternative spiritualities, and be eager to make the Catholic faith relevant and practical. Progressives believe the Church should adapt to the modern age. They are sensitive to ecumenical and “pastoral” needs and are likely to see Catholic doctrines and moral precepts as “guidelines” that need to be used flexibly depending on the individual and his circumstances. 
Maguire sums up their attitude pretty well: Progressives “don’t need the Vatican. Their conscience is their Vatican.”

Wait! What was that word? So "conscience" is their Vatican?

Stay tuned. The end game is around the corner.

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