Published March 1, 2023
Pope Francis’s image of the Church as a “field hospital,” tending the wounded on today’s social and cultural battlefields, resonates with Catholics across the globe. The image evokes a Church living the Lord’s command in Matthew 25 to serve the least of his brethren, and examples of that abound.
The Church tends to the wounds of those abandoned on the Verduns and Iwo Jimas of the sexual revolution. That’s what Catholics do when they staff and financially support crisis pregnancy centers, whose primary clients are suffering women abandoned by irresponsible men. Project Rachel, a parish-based program that serves women and men suffering from post-abortion trauma, is a wonderful example of the Church as field hospital.
The Church tends to the wounds of those struggling to make it in a rapidly changing economy, offering both material assistance and training in the skills that will empower those left behind to enter the networks of production and exchange where wealth is created and distributed.
The Church tends to the wounds of those addicted to the poisons of the day—opioids and other drugs, cheap booze and cheaper online sex—and helps them discover the path to genuine freedom.
And of course, the Church tends the deepest wounds of our brothers and sisters by offering them the healing medicine of the gospel and friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician.
Cautions have been raised about the field hospital image because, misused, it can suggest that the Church merely binds wounds rather than offering a cure for what caused those wounds in the first place. Those cautions were not misplaced. Now, however, an even more serious danger has arisen. Thanks to the use—some would say, “hijacking”—of the worldwide “synodal process” to advance agendas incongruent with Catholic faith and practice, the pastoral challenge of grounding synodality in truth has morphed into a genuine threat to the Church’s unity and the proclamation of the gospel in full.
Or to adopt an image from a friend: The Catholic Church today is a field hospital and some of the triage doctors, rather than curing the wounded, are insisting that the hospital no longer tell people that landmines will kill you.
The imagery shouldn’t need much unpacking.
The triage doctors are the bishops, who have taken a solemn oath to teach what is spiritually life-giving and lead their people away from what is spiritually death-dealing, truths known by revelation and reason. Yet some bishops have suggested that the Church is (and has been) teaching falsely about human love, sexual identity, the dispositions necessary to receive holy communion worthily, or the imperative of being a eucharistically coherent Church—a Church of sinners who seek absolution from grave sin before receiving the body and blood of the Lord. And that is analogous to triage doctors in a military field hospital neglecting the wounded while debating whether blithely stepping on a landmine, exposing yourself recklessly to incoming fire, or refusing protective gear in combat are bad for you.
The AWOL triage doctors in the Catholic field hospital have done a service, though. For they have demonstrated that the bottom-line issue in the Church today is the reality of divine revelation and its binding authority over time. Has God revealed truths about what makes for righteous living, happiness, and, ultimately, beatitude? If so, do those truths bind us today as they did when they were first revealed and recorded in Scripture or the tradition of the Church? When Cardinal Mario Grech, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops, said last September that he envisions a “different Church” emerging from the global synodal process, just what did he mean?
How different? A Church that is comfortable with a unitarian idea of God? A Church with five sacraments instead of seven? Exaggerations, you say? Alright, how about a Church that rejects the biblical idea of the human person? If doctrinal and moral truths affirmed as such in the Catechism of the Catholic Church are open to debate and “synodal discernment” (as suggested with admirable candor, if not theological acumen, by Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., Synod 2023’s relator general, and Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego), where does the ratchet of “discernment” stop? How does it stop? And why do the proposals emanating from that “discernment” uniformly parallel the failed Catholic Lite agenda of the past fifty years?
Some bishops, including the great majority of the German episcopate, may wish to be triage doctors debating the lethality of landmines. The living parts of the world Church think that a grave abdication of a healer’s responsibility to the wounded.
George Weigel’s column is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.