Last week, the National Catholic Reporter ran a story about the upcoming elections for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The author of the story paints a picture of the elections as presenting a choice between “Francis bishops” and bishops who might be seen as being more at odds with the pastoral inclinations and priorities of the current Pontiff. As an example of the latter, the article mentions Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap., of Philadelphia, who publicly stated he was “very disturbed” by the debate over Church teachings on gay people and remarried Catholics at the 2014 Synod on the Family. In his opinion, the Synod sent a confusing message, and “confusion is of the devil.”
These are indeed confusing times for many, and many people share Archbishop Chaput’s frustration. Recent years have seen a major shift in public opinion (including the opinion of large numbers of Catholics) on the matter of same-sex marriage. Until recently, not only Catholic teaching but also the majority Catholic opinion was firmly against such unions. Now more than half of US Catholics favor same-sex marriage. Another divisive issue, admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, took center stage in last month’s Synod on the Family. Many Catholics were hoping that the Synod would produce a clear response to this question, but the resulting documents essentially left it an open issue. Meanwhile the fight over Obamacare-mandated contraception rages on in the US court system. These are topics of passionate concern for a great many Catholics, and at present it is anything but clear how the Church as a whole will respond going forward.
Some, like Chaput and Cardinal Raymond Burke, clearly favor policies that hold to traditional Church teaching and view the present debates around these issues as seeds of discord planted by Satan, “the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). There is no doubt that confusion can be an evil, destructive force, at least in some situations. When Peter misunderstood Jesus’ mission, Jesus strongly rebuked him, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (Mt 16:23). The intentions of Church leaders like Chaput and Burke would seem to be consistent with Jesus’ intentions to the extent that they are acting out of a desire to preserve the unity of the Church and reassure members of the faithful. (And only God and these individuals know the true intentions in their hearts.) Such intentions reflect the instincts of a pastor concerned for his flock.
However, Chaput, Burke, and all of us must also acknowledge that, at least in some situations, Jesus himself was the source of confusion. For example, biblical scholars tell us that Jesus told parables, those enigmatic and sometimes disturbing stories, with the express purpose of challenging what people thought they knew. At one point Jesus tells his apostles that he speaks in parables “in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand’” (Mk 4:12; cf. Mt 13:14; Lk 8:10). It is difficult to maintain the assertion that all confusion is from the devil in light of passages such as these. Read More