Infernal Smoke at the Synod

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Filed Under Latest News on Oct 22 

He would have had to be from – or more accurately have his church in – Kazakhstan, wouldn’t he? The archbishop Tomash Peta of that landlocked former Soviet Republic, a nation notorious for being the butt of a feature film length joke by ambush-man Sacha Baron Cohen, has not been humble about expressing his disagreement with Pope Francis over the Holy Father’s vision for the Catholic Church. Apparently he described some of the policy changes in the current Synod – on divorce, communion and homosexuality – as having the scent of infernal smoke.

In fact, what the Polish-born prelate initially said was a direct quote from Pope Paul VI spoken in 1972 when the current archbishop of Kazakhstan was a 21-year old four years short of his ordainment. What the then Holy Father said was, “From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the Temple of God.” He was of course referring to those taken with the spirit of Vatican II who were eager to rush into existence a brave new world, with a brave new Church. Father Bergoglio himself was presumably in or on his way to Spain at that time, in the final stages of his spiritual training as a Jesuit. And he will understand perfectly the intent and context of the archbishop’s accusations.

Archbishop Peta was careful, if one can use the word, to balance his damnation of his more liberal brethren with a phrase that suggests they have misunderstood the Holy Father’s call for dialogue as a call to action. But he listed his concerns most explicitly and it seems he has helped drive a nail in the coffin of hopes for a more liberal doctrine on divorce and communion and on the acceptance of gays in the Church of Rome.

The Gospel of the marriage and of the family and nothing shall cleave the rock that the church was founded on. At least if Peta and a presumably large contingent of conservative prelates assure that this Synod does nothing too disruptive and dissolves into endless talk and no real meaningful action. Whether Peta has the high moral ground can be debated among Catholics endlessly. He does seem to have the better tactical ground, for now at least. And although he arrived in Kazakhstan several years after the iron curtain came down, as a priest from Poland, the archbishop will know fully the freedom of conscience that is so precious and that Pope Francis praised in Philadelphia. What exactly that conscience entails in 2015, is as they say, a matter of debate.

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