The patient lies on the table.  He’s been beaten badly about the head, and burns show round his neck, as if he had been dragged by a rope.  Bright red blood trickles out of one ear.  He has lost his trousers, and his shirt is in shreds.  He cannot tell you what day it is.  In this emergency you have brought him to Doctor Synod, the inheritor of 2,000 years of wisdom in the care of human souls.

The doctor has measured the patient’s head with calipers.  He has counted the moles on the patient’s back.  He has listened with his stethoscope to the patient’s kneecap.  He has plucked one of the patient’s hairs and analyzed its pigmentation under a microscope.  All the while, he jots his impressions in a notebook, humming bars from “Be Not Afraid.”  Then he pats the patient on the head, steps gingerly over a detached intravenous tube, and beckons you into his office for consultation.

“How bad is it, Doctor?”

“Oh, not bad, not bad at all.  You must understand our new philosophy of medicine,” he says, taking out a handkerchief to clean his glasses.  “It is good to be in perfect health.  But who among us is in perfect health?  I certainly am not, nor are you.”

“But Doctor, the blood—I am afraid he’s hemorrhaging!”

“Yes, yes, we all have our fears, too.  You see, although no one is perfectly healthy, everyone must be said to partake of health, to some degree or other, and so it is our task to affirm what health our patients already possess, rather than merely to see their sickness.  We do not want our patients to lose heart.”

“Lose heart?  He doesn’t know his name!”

“Tut, tut.  Of course he knows his name.  His name is whatever he calls himself at the moment.”

You glance at the door and wonder if you have stumbled into the psychiatric ward.  But there you read backward, in white Gothic lettering, E. Synod, Pastor et Curator.

“Now, then,” says the Doctor, resuming his official air.  “A few questions, and I will be able to make a diagnosis.  What is the patient’s income?  How many years of school did he complete?  What are the sociopolitical conditions of his country?  Is he now or has he ever been marginalized, or footnoted?  Does he or does anyone in his family have special needs?  To what extent does his physiognomy or skin color cause him to suffer discrimination in the workplace?”

“But Doctor!”

“Now, see here, we know what we’re doing.  Why, I believe that you are sicker than your friend.  Drop your trousers and say, ‘ah.’”

The synod of Catholic bishops, convened to discuss the ailments of the family in the present time, is ended.  Let us go in peace, thanks be to God.

The bishops did not recommend easier access to opium for the addict.  They did not recommend blood thinner for the hemophiliac.  They did not recommend homeopathic porn, homeopathic fornication, and homeopathic adultery.  They did not recommend lubricants for sodomy.  For all these and other blessings we may be truly grateful.

Some Catholics feared a stiletto in the back.  We didn’t get one.  The final relatio the bishops produced was like Ivory Soap, 99 and 44/100 percent pure.  It affirmed that a marriage is the union of a man and a woman.  It affirmed that the family is the cradle and schoolhouse of human culture.  It affirmed that Jesus said that marriage is indissoluble and that He really meant it.  It affirmed that the sky is blue.

It may seem like little to expect, in our time of rapid cultural disintegration, that Catholic bishops, who presumably can draw upon the clear teachings of the Church’s Founder, the wisdom of countless philosophers and theologians, the witness of Catholic missionaries and teachers, and the life-breathing works of Catholic artists, should refrain from repudiating all of that to join a rainbow parade of sexual confusions.  But these days we’ll take our favors when we can get them.  Otherwise the synod has been of no help.

The synod’s final recommendation to Pope Francis is mainly bland and inoffensive.  It is also an exercise in unreality.  That’s what happens when your mode of thought and expression is neither philosophical and theological, nor earthy and poetic: It does not aspire to reveal the essences of things, and it does not confront the sweat and mire of the created world.  The bishops write in sociological patois, abstract and banal at once.  Reality escapes them.

Let me illustrate.  The document insists on the complementarity of man and woman, and quotes Pope Francis as suggesting that each sex does not know itself except in relationship with the other.  But in what does that complementarity consist?  The bishops won’t say.  Pope Leo XIII, who spent his long pontificate writing about the Christian family, said that the father’s authority in the family, which is a gift to its members, proceeds from the fatherhood of God Himself.  The bishops do not cite Leo, nor do they note that fatherhood has been under assault in every Western nation for the last 60 years.  Boys spend their school years having their natural energies smothered with drugs, and having their natural bent toward what I call hierarchical adventures frustrated or belittled.  The bishops turn aside.

Men are to be like Saint Joseph, they say, the protector of Mary and Jesus, and that is well enough, but some men must be providers for and protectors of women and children even if they do not have Joseph’s meek character.  How do we raise all boys, whatever their dispositions, to be strong and faithful fathers?  Obviously, we must work with the masculine nature, acknowledging its reality and training it up to maturity.  But the bishops ignore the problem.  All they do for men is to wag the finger and repeat that tired bit of feminist nagging, that women’s entry into the workplace—often to the detriment of the family—has not been answered by men doing more of the household chores.  Real men wear aprons.

The bishops repeat a common reading of Ephesians 5:21, “Submit yourselves to one another,” as if it applied only to men and women in marriage, and not to the whole of the Christian life.  Yet almost in the same breath they say there must be no “subordination,” and again the patois gets the better of them.  There can be no submission without subordination.  If a man submits his energies and his fatherly authority to the welfare of his wife and children, he has established a hierarchy or taxonomy of goods, whereby one good—say, his delight in risk—will be subordinated to another (say, the security of the family).  Besides, subordination is what Saint Paul is talking about.  His Greek hypotassomenoi is exactly equivalent to Latin subordinati.  The Christian life is to be characterized by subordination, as the lower obeys and honors the higher, and the higher submits to the good of the lower.  That, after all, is how the body works, as Paul is at pains to remind the egalitarians of Corinth.  There is such a thing as a body without a head.  It is called a corpse.

And what if it is characteristic of that God-ordained masculine nature to form hierarchies?  For nothing dangerous or difficult in this world is ever done without them.  They are at the heart of every great cultural institution in the history of man, from the Greek gymnasion to the medieval university to the Renaissance art studio to Bell Laboratories in its heyday.  Without hierarchy you cannot dig a canal or build a city wall or fight a battle.  Or, for that matter, bring a heathen people to Christ.  But the bishops will not consider it.

So, too, do they turn their eyes from passion.  It seems strange, in a document on sexuality, that the bishops seem unaware of what moves men and women to make the beast with two backs.  By their account, young men and women shack up because they are insecure in their finances, or because they are beholden to the philosophical errors of individualism or of a certain kind of feminism, or because they have witnessed the pain of divorce.  Let me correct you on this point, your excellencies.  If a boy and girl are playing house and doing the child-making thing, there is nothing, financial or otherwise, to prevent them from getting married.  If they are committed to each other for life, they should make that promise public before man and God.  If they are not, they are lying and are willing that their children should pay later for their hedonism now.  They are not afraid of divorce so much as they take it for granted, as a way of life.  It is the exit sign above the bedroom door.

They rut because it is delightful and dangerous.  Let Shakespeare instruct us:

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,

Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,

Past reason hated as a swallowed bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad.

About nothing in life do people more often and more dreadfully lie to themselves and to others than about sex.  Not even money comes close.  People in the grip of sexual vice are “not to trust”—they perjure themselves, they stifle the conscience or suborn it, they make a conquest and soon despise the conquered.  It is the old story.  But the bishops pass by that misery in the ditch because it’s more comfortable to stroll on the academic side, to issue high-toned warnings about income inequality, than to confront the sinner, to clean him and bind up his spiritual wounds.

What of the people who try to abide by the moral law?  They are in a ditch too.  They are mocked and scorned.  They are also lonely.  Just as the bishops give no comfort to boys struggling to learn how to be a man, so they give no comfort to single people who long to be married but refuse to prostitute themselves to get into the dance hall.  Single people, say the bishops, also possess gifts, which they can use to enhance the life of their “family of origin” and of the Church.  Tell it to those women who in any other time would be raising a noisy brood of children, but who see the first gray hair in the mirror and know that it is not to be.

The bishops, like liberals everywhere, put their faith in programs run by experts rather than in culture.  A true builder has to know the ground where he is building and the materials he must use.  The program-builder draws a picture on paper and thinks he is done.  So the bishops hold forth a couple of programs as solutions, one for the front end and one for the back.  They recommend better premarital instruction and quicker annulments.

The one will not help, and the other will probably make matters worse.  The fact is, all of a boy’s life should be oriented toward making him a man, and therefore, God willing, a husband and father; similarly for the girl.  There is your true and only premarital instruction.  Boys are male and girls are female as a biological fact.  They will be manly and womanly only if we teach them to be so.  As C.S. Lewis says, you cannot castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.  And you cannot teach the high adventure of indissoluble marriage—a genuinely noble aim for manhood and womanhood—if you spend half of your time winking at every sin against that indissolubility.  Lawlessness is a teacher.

One final comment, after which I hope I shall never again have to write about a gathering of bishops.  The document is effeminate.  I do not mean feminine; there is nothing womanly about its disengagement from the pride and passion of man, nothing motherly about its dainty refusal to get the hands dirty in treating sin, nothing like Mary in its looking for a legalistic way out of trouble.  The mother who loves her children corrects them and bids them obey their father.  The mother who coddles her children and mocks their father does not.  The mother who loves her children forgives them their sins.  The mother who excuses their sins does not.  The mother who loves her children teaches them the truth and holds them to it.  The mother who lets her children do as they please, and calls it good enough, does not.  There is no strength in effeminacy.  When the wolves come, the effeminate flee.  That, too, is an old story.