| January 12, 2023
Before he died, Australian Cardinal George Pell published in London’s The Spectator a bitter criticism of the synod of synodality taking place in Rome. For his interest, we reproduce it in its entirety:
The Synod of Catholic Bishops is now busy building what they consider “the divine dream” of synodality. Unfortunately, this divine dream has turned into a toxic nightmare, despite the declared good intentions of the bishops.
They have produced a 45-page booklet that accounts for the discussions of the first phase of “listening and discernment” held in many parts of the world, and is one of the most incoherent documents ever sent from Rome.
While we thank God that the number of Catholics around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, is increasing, the picture is radically different in Latin America, with losses for both Protestants and secularists.
Without any sense of irony, the document is titled “Enlarge Your Tent Space,” and the point of doing so is to accommodate, not the newly baptized—those who have responded to the call to repent and believe—but anyone who might be interested enough to listen. Participants are urged to be welcoming and radically inclusive: “No one is left behind.”
The document does not even urge Catholic participants to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), much less to preach the Savior in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).
The first task of all, and especially of teachers, is to listen in the Spirit. According to this recent update of the good news, “synodality” as a way of being of the Church should not be defined, but simply lived. It revolves around five creative tensions, starting from radical inclusion and moving towards mission in a participatory style, practicing “stewardship with other believers and people of good will.” Difficulties such as war, genocide and the gap between clergy and laity are recognized, but everything can be sustained, say the bishops, with a living spirituality.
The image of the Church as a sprawling tent with the Lord at its center comes from Isaiah, and is meant to underline that this sprawling tent is a place where people are heard and not judged, not excluded.
Thus, we read that God’s people need new strategies; not fights and confrontations, but dialogue, in which the distinction between believers and unbelievers is rejected. God’s people must really listen, he insists, to the cry of the poor and of the earth.
Due to differences of opinion on abortion, contraception, the ordination of women to the priesthood, and homosexual acts, some feel that no definitive positions can be established or proposed on these issues. The same goes for polygamy and divorce and remarriage.
In addition, the document is clear on the special problem of the inferior position of women and the dangers of clericalism, although the positive contribution of many priests is acknowledged.
What to make of this potpourri, this outpouring of New Age goodwill? It is not a summary of the Catholic faith or the teachings of the New Testament. It is incomplete, hostile in significant ways to the apostolic tradition, and nowhere does it acknowledge the New Testament as the Word of God, normative for all teaching on faith and morals. The Old Testament is ignored, the patriarchs are rejected, and the Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, is not recognized.
Initially two observations can be made. The final two synods in Rome in 2023 and 2024 will need to clarify teaching on moral issues, as the Rapporteur (editor and manager) Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich has publicly rejected basic Church teaching on sexuality, claiming it contradicts science. modern. In normal times, this would have meant that his continuation as Rapporteur was inappropriate, even impossible.
Synods have to choose whether they are servants and defenders of the apostolic tradition on faith and morals, or whether their discernment obliges them to assert their sovereignty over Catholic teaching. They must decide whether basic teachings on things like the priesthood and morality can be stranded in a pluralistic limbo in which some choose to redefine sin as less serious and most agree to defer it entirely.
Beyond the synod, discipline is relaxing, especially in northern Europe, where some bishops have not been reprimanded even after asserting a bishop’s right to dissent; there is already more widespread de facto pluralism in some parishes and religious orders in things like the blessing of homosexual activity.
The diocesan bishops are the successors of the apostles, the principal teacher of each diocese and the center of the local unity of their people and of the universal unity around the Pope, successor of Peter. Since the time of Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, the bishop is also the guarantor of permanent fidelity to the teaching of Christ, the apostolic tradition. They are rulers and sometimes judges, as well as teachers and sacramental celebrants, and they are not mere wall flowers or rubber stamps.
Enlarge Store is aware of the shortcomings of bishops, who sometimes do not listen, have autocratic tendencies, and can be clericalistic and individualistic. There are signs of hope, effective leadership and cooperation, but the document is of the opinion that pyramidal models of authority must be destroyed and that the only genuine authority comes from love and service. Emphasis must be placed on baptismal dignity, not ministerial ordination, and styles of governance must be less hierarchical and more circular and participatory.
The main actors in all the Catholic synods (and councils) and in all the Orthodox synods have been the bishops. In a gentle and cooperative way, this should be affirmed and put into practice in continental synods so that pastoral initiatives remain within the bounds of sound doctrine. The bishops are not there simply to validate due process and offer a nihil obstat to what they have observed.
It is not in the interest of any of the synod participants—laity, religious, priests, or bishops—that the synod decides that no voting can be done and no propositions can be proposed. Conveying to the Holy Father only the opinions of the organizing committee so that he can decide is an abuse of synodality, a marginalization of the bishops that is not justified by the Scriptures or by tradition. It is not due process and is susceptible to manipulation.
Regular Catholics around the world do not approve of the conclusions of the current synod. Nor is there much enthusiasm at the high levels of the Church. Continual gatherings of this kind deepen divisions, and a fanned few can exploit the confusion and goodwill. Ex-Anglicans returned to the Church are right to identify the growing confusion, the attack on traditional morality and the insertion into the dialogue of neo-Marxist jargon about exclusion, alienation, identity, marginalization, the voiceless, LGBTQ, as well as the displacement of Christian notions of forgiveness, sin, sacrifice, healing, redemption. Why the silence about an afterlife of reward or punishment, about the four end times: death and judgment, heaven and hell?
Until now, the synodal method has neglected, even degraded, the transcendent, covered up the centrality of Christ with appeals to the Holy Spirit, and fostered resentment, especially among the participants.
The working documents are not part of the magisterium. They are a basis for discussion; to be judged by all the people of God and especially by the bishops with and under the Pope. This working document needs radical changes. Bishops need to realize that there is work to be done, in God’s name, sooner rather than later.
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