Whatever the Holy Father's last word may be, even if it were the most stalwart defence of the historic Catholic magisterial teaching, the "damage has already been done," as some of my closest colleagues have been pointing out recently. At the very least, the egregious mishandling of the synodal process has permitted a Pandora's Box of confusion to be opened, aiding and abetting and empowering the revisionist faction within the Synod.
No less concerning is the fact that the Holy Father appears to endorse the "decentralization" of the Church and the authorizing of local bishops to work out their own "pastoral" solutions to the issues of Holy Communion for the divorced and re-married and -- apparently most important for them -- those involved in actively sexual gay relationships. Indeed, as Rorate notes, the Pope clearly endorsed the doctrinal "devolution" to the bishops' conferences as early as 2013 in Evangelii Gaudium.
But as Damian Thompson suggests, the Holy Father, in his recent keynote speech, delivered as the synod was entering its last week on October 17th, seemed to be signaling that the decentralisation will be imposed from above:
While deliberately referring to himself as ‘Bishop of Rome’, to underline his solidarity with local bishops everywhere (as opposed to the Roman Curia – i.e., ‘the Vatican’), he invoked the power of the Supreme Pontiff to overrule mere cardinals. ‘The synod journey culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called to speak authoritatively as the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians,’ he said.Thus, in the worst possible scenario, the Holy Father would invoke his Petrine authority, not to impose the perennial teaching of the Church on the matters at issue, but in order to impose a decentralized, democratized vision of ecclesiology in which dioceses occupied by revisionist ordinaries will be permitted to cobble together their own version of what constitutes Catholic faith and morals.
From the very first moment I beheld the newly elected Pope Francis appear on the balcony in the Vatican and bow toward the assembled people in St. Peter's Square and ask them for THEIR blessing upon HIM, I was reminded of similar scenes I had seen in my local parish after being received into the Church -- scenes in which the pastor put himself on the level of the people and asked them for their blessing, which they often made with upraised arms in a gesture reminiscent of the German Hitlergruß. What lay behind such impulses? Nothing less, it seemed to me, than a reluctance to wield the authority it was their right and responsibility to bear as the anointed shepherds of God's flock. Holy Father, please. Courage! Lead from the front!