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Bishop Barron in ‘frank disagreement’ with Synod on Synodality’s report on ‘development of moral teaching’

Bishop Robert Barron. Photo courtesy of DeChant-Hughes Public Relations. / null

Rome Newsroom, Nov 24, 2023 / 11:45 am (CNA).

Bishop Robert Barron has said that he is in “frank disagreement” with the final report of the Synod on Synodality’s claim that advances in the sciences require an evolution in the Church’s moral teaching on human sexuality.

In a reflection published this week, the bishop of Winona–Rochester, Minnesota, said it is “troubling” to see how members of the German bishops’ conference are already “using the language of the synod report to justify major reformulations of the Church’s sexual teaching.”

Barron took particular issue with the suggestion that “advances in our scientific understanding will require a rethinking of our sexual teaching, whose categories are, apparently, inadequate to describe the complexities of human sexuality” in the synthesis document.

He called this language “condescending to the richly articulate tradition of moral reflection in Catholicism,” including the theology of the body developed by St. John Paul II.

“To say that this multilayered, philosophically informed, theologically dense system is incapable of handling the subtleties of human sexuality is just absurd,” Barron said.

“But the deeper problem I have is that this manner of argumentation is based upon a category error— namely, that advances in the sciences, as such, require an evolution in moral teaching,” he added.

“Let us take the example of homosexuality. Evolutionary biology, anthropology, and chemistry might give us fresh insight into the etiology and physical dimension of same-sex attraction, but they will not tell us a thing about whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong. The entertaining of that question belongs to another mode of discourse.”

A misperceived ‘tension between love and truth’

The bishop also noted that during discussions at the October synod assembly, there was a “perceived tension between love and truth,” particularly around the issue of outreach to the LGBT community.

“Practically everyone at the synod held that those whose sexual lives are outside of the norm should be treated with love and respect, and, again, bravo to the synod for making this pastoral point so emphatically. But many synod participants also felt that the truth of the Church’s moral teaching in regard to sexuality ought never to be set aside,” Barron said.

He added that it would be more accurate to say that there might be “a tension between welcoming and truth” because “when the terms are rightly understood, there is no real tension between love and truth, for love is not a feeling but the act by which one wills the good of another.”

“Therefore, one cannot authentically love someone else unless he has a truthful perception of what is really good for that person,” he said.

Barron was not the only bishop to highlight the Synod on Synodality’s discussion of the relationship between “love and truth” this week.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney published a seven-page pastoral letter on the Synod on Synodality on Nov. 20, one day before Barron’s reflection.

“Love and truth, we know, find their perfection not in abstract philosophies or empirical studies but in the concrete person of Jesus Christ. In him, love and truth meet. We know what it is to love when we know the One who is truth,” Fisher said.

“Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was always open to the other. He encountered every kind of person and invited them into the fullness of life (Jn 10:10). But this ever-more inclusive community of faith is also called to an ever-deeper conversion (Mt 4:17). … Being included in his family, the Church requires a response from us. Go, he says, you are forgiven. Your dignity is restored. You are loved from all eternity to all eternity. So go — and sin no more (Jn 8:11).”

The Australian archbishop also noted some of the limits to the Synod on Synodality’s communal discernment method, known as “conversation in the Spirit.”

“Deep listening to each other, expressing feelings, resonating in table groups, will not always help us find what is true and right,” Fisher said.

“As one eminent theologian said to me: Of the many synods he had attended, this one was the humanly best but theologically thinnest.”

He also cited Jesuit Father Anthony Lusvardi’s observation that while the conversation method is great at helping people understand one another better, “it is not well-suited for careful or complex theological or practical reasoning.”

“Doing that requires thinking that is critical, that weighs the pros and cons of what people say. It also requires a degree of objectivity that this method is not well-suited to provide. Sound theology needs to always ask the question, ‘That may sound good, but is it true?’”

Fisher said that “more work needs to be done to ensure a genuinely Catholic understanding of synodality, inclusion, and discernment.”

He called it providential that the nearly monthlong synod assembly coincided with the feast days of so many great saints in the Latin rite’s liturgical calendar, including St. Luke, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Paul II, and St. Faustina Kowalska.

“We were accompanied by a great cloud of witnesses at the synod, reminding us what the Church is for: to call sinners to salvation and all to healing and holiness in Christ, to support each one in living their personal vocations, and to unite us with and as the communion of saints,” Fisher said.

“So one useful criterion for judging every synod proposal is: Is it likely, by God’s grace, to generate more apostles and pastors, evangelists and missionaries, religious and teachers, martyrs and mystics, holy men and women, such as our Church and world so sorely need?”

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