Monday, June 22, 2015

Another Week, Another Wait... Or Several

While the skirmishes over Laudato Si’ are still barely breaking out – if only the combatants had taken the time to actually read it – this Monday brings the final hours of anticipation for another papal text of critical import.

With Francis in Turin for a two-day visit to its cherished Shroud (video above) – and even more poignantly, a private family reunion today with the cousins who remained in the Piemonte after Jorge Bergoglio's parents and paternal grandparents sailed for Argentina some 85 years ago – Tuesday brings the release of the instrumentum laboris (baseline text) for October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops on "the vocation and mission of the family in the church and the modern world," whose conclusions are expected to form the base of potential changes to church's pastoral approach to couples and families, especially those in difficult situations where the Magisterium is concerned.

(On a side-note for the more intrigue-oriented, the current Pope-Trip to Italy's northwest corner – which'll likewise include a morning stop at an Evangelical church – is the first Francis has made to one of the country's traditional cardinalatial sees whose head has been routinely denied the red hat in this pontificate. Now 70, Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia – a former vicegerente (vicar-general) of Rome – was named to the post in 2010; his predecessor, Cardinal Severino Poletto, lost his Conclave vote on turning 80 just days after Papa Bergoglio's election in March 2013.)

Reflecting the consultations submitted by the world's episcopal conferences (all of them again tasked with canvassing the responses of the faithful on December's lineamenta in the form of a questionnaire), the text of the instrumentum was edited and approved by the 15-man Synod Council at its late May meeting, yet again presided over in full by the Pope.

Even as the Synod Secretariat urged the conferences to keep their reports to Rome confidential, perhaps the most polarizing of the responses – that of a German bench driven to shift the church's response to the civilly remarried – maintained its prior practice of not just releasing its national summary, but having it translated into English (among others), alongside a separate text on "assisting remarried divorcees." For his part, the USCCB President, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, gave a public briefing on the Stateside church's consult during the body's meeting earlier this month in St Louis, noting as he did that far from each of the nation's 198 ecclesiastical jurisdictions – 126, to be precise (63%) – submitted their findings for this second round.

Set to be released in a host of translations at Roman Noon, per custom the instrumentum will be presented at a late-morning Vatican presser to be led by the three principal players of both last October's assembly and the one to come: the Synod's secretary-general Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri; the relator-general of the twin gatherings, Budapest's Cardinal Peter Erdö; and their secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, the star Italian theologian widely implicated as the hand behind the passages on "welcoming homosexual persons," which infuriated defenders of the current praxis on their inclusion in the last gathering's "halftime" report and ever since.

Of course, more on the Synod front as it emerges.... Right alongside it, however, all sides closer to home are bracing for an even more imminent and far-reaching development: the Supreme Court's rulings in two cases which could (and, a consensus of legal scholars predict, will) establish same-sex marriage as a constitutional right across the 50 states.

With the Supremes in the last days of their term, the decision can drop at any time until month's end – for purposes of context, the 2013 Windsor decisions that struck down the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act and overturned California's 2008 referendum banning full legal recognition of gay unions came down on 26 June, the closing day of that term.

Given the full-throttle investment of American Catholic entities in the issue, a concerted, real-time response is already in the works regardless of the result. Yet amid an already drastic sea-change of marriage laws since Windsor – in the space of three years, 32 state bans on gay marriage now flipped to redefinition in 36 states and the District of Columbia, mostly by means of federal court rulings citing the 2013 precedent – even for the civil tide's shift, no ecclesial authority to date has taken the oft-floated step of barring his clergy from witnessing civil marriage in the context of the sacrament of matrimony.

In that light, as it's been posited that the US bishops – each of whom would make the call for his respective diocese – have refrained from such a move to avoid acknowledging same-sex marriage as the "settled law" of the land in the absence of a universal SCOTUS decision, at this point it can be said that at least a handful of prelates are readying to remove their priests as legal officiants at weddings in the event of the anticipated broad ruling. Should a sweeping final word come from the high court, then, keep an eye: where, how quickly – and, of course, from whom – the church's "other shoe" begins to drop will be deeply telling, and likely determinative of how widely the dramatic move ends up being made across the ecclesial landscape.

Lastly for now, with the first American Pope headed home over the 4th of July weekend for an eight-day pilgrimage to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, it bears reminding that the full schedule for Francis' late September visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia still remains to be released – and with it, the full shape of a six-day swing that'll include the first fully open-air papal events since before 9/11, beginning with an unprecedented Canonization Mass on US soil and papal address to a joint meeting of Congress.

In other words, even if these last days of June always bring the "Vatican year" to its end with a bang, sometimes that's more the case than others... and this time, an epic Eco-cyclical was just the start.