February 20, 2022 Column Father De Celles

Synod on Synodality. Historically, a Church Synod has been a meeting of deliberating Bishops, with contributions made by priests, theologians and other experts. Diocesan Synods have also, historically, included limited consultation with the lay faithful.

In October of 2023, the Pope will gather with a select group of bishops from around the world in a Bishops’ Synod to discuss broadening that concept of “synodality” into an organizational style that would somehow include a continuing process of much more extensive and broad consultation, not only to include all the members of the faithful, but also fallen away Catholics, Protestants, non-Christians and even opponents of the Church. In preparation for this 2023 “Bishops’ Synod on Synodality” the dioceses around the world have been asked to each undergo a process of wide consultations (i.e., with “faithful…and even opponents of the Church”). The dioceses will then each deliver a 10-page summary report to the national conference of bishops, (for us, the USCCB) which will submit a summary report to a committee in the Vatican, which will summarize these into a report to be used in organizing the 2023 Synod.

Pope Francis has said, “Synodality is a style, it is a walk together, and it is what the Lord expects from the Church of the third millennium.” Of course, a faithful Catholic is free to disagree with Pope Francis’s understanding, especially since it has very little to do with anything the Church has ever taught or done in 2000 years. Imagine, St. Peter inviting Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

I do consider it absolutely essential to listen to the faithful and their needs, and to some extent listen to what the world is saying. But my personal observations of a lifetime in the Church (as a layman and as a cleric) has led me to see these (essentially) “listening sessions” as yielding mainly unhappy results:

1) When listening sessions are an open forum for anyone who wants to speak, without correction from wise and orthodox priests, the input from the sessions is often a hodgepodge of gravity and triviality, as well as orthodoxy and heresy, with no effort to distinguish. Garbage in… garbage out.

            2) The results of the listening sessions have to be summarized by someone. At this stage, the editor’s ideological or personal preferences can heavily come into play, so that what is summarized may not be what was actually “listened” to.

            3) Regardless of what is summarized, some participants will expect that action will be taken on what they said, and if it is not, they will become embittered, disillusioned and even angry.

            4) On the other hand, most participants will simply walk away feeling good—all warm and fuzzy inside—just because they were listened to. Even if the summary of the sessions has nothing to do what they had to say. Like throwing a bone to a dog.

            5) More importantly, as the input/listening is summarized/edited,  the ultimate users—the bishops in synod, the bishops in charge of the synod (“Redactors”) or even the Pope—are free to pick, choose and ignore, and then come up with final conclusions based on their own preferences, while at the same time claiming a “popular approval.” After all, “they listened to the people.”

            6) Most importantly, it is not so much important to listen to the people, especially those who are dissenters, outside or even in opposition to the Church, as it is to listen to orthodox, wise, holy members of the faithful. And above all, it is much more important, absolutely so, to listen and obey Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, i.e., the Deposit of the Faith. The Holy Spirit moves, but the evil spirit is also ever-present, “looking for someone to devour.”

Synodality in Germany. For the last few years, the Church in Germany has been undergoing a process called “the Synodal Way.” Although this is not directly related to the 2023 Synod on Synodality, many, me included, consider it a preview of the “synodal Church.” Consider this excerpt from a recent article in the National Catholic Register, on an interview with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith:

The German cardinal … issued a blistering attack on the state of the Church in Germany and the “Synodal Way” ….[Müller] said these attacks on the faithful from within are coming from “secularized” parts of the Church … Now is a “time of tribulation and psychological terror,” and orthodox Catholics are being “persecuted…“Usually this has come from the outside, but now it’s from the inside, in our countries that have old Christian traditions. It’s a new situation.”

The cardinal’s words came as a plenary meeting of the “Synodal Way” was concluding last weekend. The participants voted at that meeting for a raft of dissenting notions that included same-sex union blessings; changes to the Catechism on homosexuality; the ordination of women priests; priestly celibacy to be optional in the Latin Church; and for lay involvement in the election of new bishops.

His comments also follow a spate of controversial statements from German and European prelates in recent weeks. They include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich saying on Feb. 3 that priests should be allowed to marry… and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg arguing that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is “false” and needed revision. [Note: Hollerich is the “Relator General,” the cardinal in charge, of the October 2023 Synod on Synodality]

Cardinal Müller…. said many of those promoting such dissenting views are “secularized people” who “want to keep the name ‘Catholic,’ to stay in the institution and take the money, but they won’t accept the teaching of the word of God….They relativize the Catholic faith, but remain with their titles: cardinals, bishops, theology professors — but in reality they don’t believe what the Church is saying…”

Similarly, he said the “LGBT” agenda that many of them support “is totally idiotic because its Neo-Gnostic mythology is absolutely against human nature, not only in a biological sense, but also in a philosophical one…”

And yet he noted that this is “what they’re voting for” in the German “Synodal Way,” …even though “they cannot vote against the revealed truth and its infallible definition by the ecclesial magistery…”

He added that those pushing for these changes have no “supernatural understanding,” and what they are calling for is, in fact, a “major anti-Vatican II movement” that goes against Lumen Gentium…[and] Presbyterorum Ordinis [Vatican II’s documents on the Church and on priesthood]…

In sum, he said he believes those advocating changes such as those in the “Synodal Way” “are not reformers” but are pushing for “a deformation of the Church, a secularization of the house of the Triune God.” And he said a key problem is the desire to compromise with the world, an unwillingness to live with the tension of living the faith in today’s highly secularized society. The aim of many bishops is to be loved and respected by society…but he said they know they cannot change the faith, so they call their efforts to do this “development of doctrine” and thereby “destroy and contradict the revealed faith.”

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles