The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Saving Synod-2018 from itself

A gargantuan text like the Instrumentum Laboris for the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops can’t seriously be considered as a basis for discussion at the Synod.

Pope Francis poses for a selfie during a pre-synod gathering of youth delegates at the Pontifical International Maria Mater Ecclesiae College in Rome March 19. The meeting was in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment this October at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Anyone looking for a remedy for insomnia might try working through the Instrumentum Laboris, or “working document,” for the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held in Rome next month on the theme “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.” The IL is a 30,000+ word brick: a bloated, tedious door stop full of sociologese but woefully lacking in spiritual or theological insight. Moreover, and more sadly, the IL has little to say about “the faith” except to hint on numerous occasions that its authors are somewhat embarrassed by Catholic teaching – and not because that teaching has been betrayed by churchmen of various ranks, but because that teaching challenges the world’s smug sureties about, and its fanatical commitment to, the sexual revolution in all its expressions.

A gargantuan text like this can’t seriously be considered as a basis for discussion at the Synod. No text of more than 30,000 words, even if written in a scintillating and compelling style, can be a discussion guide. The IL for Synod-2018 reads, rather, like a draft of a Synod Final Report. And that is a prescription for a failed Synod.

So what might the participants in Synod-2018 do to salvage a useful discussion in October?

They might challenge the IL’s oft-repeated claim that young people want a “Church that listens.” That is so obvious as to be a thumping banality: no one, young or old, wants a Church that’s a nagging, unsympathetic nanny. And yes, young people (and the rest of us) want a “Church that listens” in spiritual direction and confession to the difficulties we all experience in living and sharing the Gospel and in obeying God’s law. But above all, and perhaps especially in this time of grave troubles, what young people want (and what the rest of us want, at least in the living parts of the Church) is a Church that lives joyfully, teaches clearly, manifests holiness, offers comfort and support to the needy – and answers our questions clearly and honestly. Young people (and the rest of us) do not want a pandering Church, but an evangelically-vibrant Church that manifests and offers friendship with Jesus Christ.

Synod participants might also emphasize that the clarity of Catholic teaching on life issues attracts many young people today, precisely because that clarity is in sharp contrast to the incoherence about what makes for human happiness that people of all ages increasingly detect in the lifestyle libertinism of contemporary Western culture. Someone at Synod-2018 should, for example, talk about the experience of the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., which, for years now, has become both larger and younger.

Success stories in youth ministry should be persistently, even relentlessly, lifted up at Synod-2018. The IL betrays a soured sense of incapacity, even failure. Yet the past 30 years or so have seen a renaissance in young adult ministry. So let someone at Synod-2018 talk about the impressive record of Christian formation compiled by campus ministries like that at Texas A&M University. Let someone at the Synod tell the world Church about the intellectual and spiritual achievements of orthodox, academically vibrant Catholic liberal arts colleges and universities in the United States. Let someone bear witness to the great work being done on over a hundred campuses by FOCUS, the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, which singularly embodies the “Church permanently in mission” of which the Pope speaks. And let’s hope there’s room at Synod-2018 for churchmen to learn about the work of the World Youth Alliance, an international network of pro-life young adults on all continents, whose work is explicitly based on the Church’s teaching about the dignity of the human person.

Synod-2018’s IL contains no reflection on why St. John Paul II was a magnet for millions of young people, which surely had something to do with both his compassion and his clarity about the truth. Father Karol Wojtyla, who later became John Paul II, led a young adult ministry of challenging spiritual accompaniment a half-century before “accompaniment” became code in some Catholic circles for “This [hard teaching] is really a goal or ideal.” So let Synod-2018 rescue “accompaniment” and link it to the truth that liberates.

That’s the least the Church deserves in this time of purification.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About George Weigel 478 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Will someone please explain to me how a “Church permanently in mission,” how the Church years after John Paul II at the 1st Assisi summit now so cautious, I dare say adverse to bringing Jews, Muslims, Hindus and even or especially members of other Christian denominations into the Catholic Faith…will someone please explain how the Church with this new take on the Great Commission can, in a meaningful. non-contradictory way have any real need to have any kind of Synod at all except for appearances and further de-construction a la Martini (appointed by John Paul II) and to keep the machinery of this “New Advent” running (parishes, colleges, institutions)?

  2. It would be wise to delay this synod.
    The participants are not widely trusted.
    The agenda is rigged. And at this moment, the Church has bigger and more important fish to fry.

  3. Back in May of 2018 yours truly submitted to a hard-copy publication some more-detailed thoughts. Here’s most of what was printed (National Catholic Register, June 10):

    It is announced already that the final working paper [30,000 words vs the below 318 words!] has been completed for the Synod on Youth, the Faith, and Discernment of Vocations scheduled for October. Is this curious, that effective engagement with the young—a riddle that has eluded catechists for fifty years—can be finalized in five weeks—and five months early? Or, was the paper nearly completed even before the youth consultation in Rome at the end of March? And, were the problematic catch phrases of the youth “compass” paper planted in advance by clerical ventriloquists?

    In any event, published critics who suspect compass-paper coaching will be reassured if the finalized working paper now handles suspect wording directly […] maybe something like the following:

    That, yes, what seems an “unreachable standard” of Christianity is still possible with the elevating power of supernatural grace, and the interior life,
    That, yes, the call for communities that “empower” with a “sense of identity and belonging” is basic, but also risks conflating power with the depth of gifted and fully human belonging; (“. . .religion is in fact …that in which the human person discovers his essential companionship… more original to us than our solitude;” Giussani, The Religious Sense),

    That, yes, for the laity to be missionary means to be partly a “presence within the Church” but mostly a leaven in the world; (“Christianity was spread. . . by the spectacle of Christian morals, so opposed to the selfishness, the injustice, and the corruption of the pagans;” Chautard, The Soul of the Apostolate),

    That alleged “taboos—pre-fabricated, severe and morally excessive” are actually truths about the very nature of the human person; (and are already given the requested “better explanation” in Veritatis Splendor and the Theology of the Body, especially regarding “contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, the permanency of marriage)”,

    That, yes, the youth can be met “where they are,” but this does not mean that the Christ within gives us a pass for having it both ways; (even euthanasia is rationalized as a statutory exception to civil laws against homicide),

    That, yes, the Church is relevant to the world, but the ordained Church hierarchy does not claim license for mission-creep to pronounce concrete solutions for the “large social issues;” (leavening the world with both justice and truth is the vocation of the laity),

    That rather than “false images of Jesus,” the center of the assembled Church—distinctly more than a sola Scriptura “community”—is the concrete fact of Christ in history, fully God and fully Man, and now in the Eucharist: the Real Presence entirely “transparent” sacramentally in “body and blood, [and] soul and divinity”[….].

  4. Dear George,
    Great article! I sensed a bias in what was reported and omitted during the preliminary gathering last Spring and its resultant document. Traditionalist immediately stated they felt ignored. Not surprised this directional bias made its way into the working document. Looks like some in the Curia have taken a page from the Women’s March philosophy, NO PRO-Life women allowed, in Rome’s case, NO CHASTE sexuality permitted, “we need our golden calf!”
    God bless,

  5. I think it has been sufficiently determined that we have a Church that listens – that listens to the world. No other type of church will do for the sub-culture (or rather culture) of young secularists who themselves want to be heard but want to shut everyone else up. Mr. Wiegel is right that the Church needs to listen in a particular way and to particular people (young and older). What he errs on consistently is his sending out an “evangelically-vibrant Church” which we don’t have. We have a decidedly-divided church. I long for the day when all the New Evangelizers will wake up and remember that step one was to reeducate and unify the People of God in the faith. You can’t preach/teach well without unity. And today, neither the Pope, nor that bishops, nor the lay teachers of the faith are united. Until unity, vibrancy will have to wait. (Oh! and unity means expelling those from dioceses, and universities, and parishes etc. who seek to divide).

  6. The author has his pet group of exemplars of youth ministry which he recites here and elsewhere, and they are worthy of mention. But, he diverges from St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict in failing to mention the extraordinary witness of the many new ecclesial charisms and communities so often praised and urgently recommended to bishops by those popes. Weigel’s notion of evangelical Catholicism would be much more dynamic if it were truly open to all the Holy Spirit is offering the Church. It ought to be apparent by now that we need much more than what the “button-down and cufflink” ecclesial establishment is willing to abide. We need radical availability to the Holy Spirit.

    • YES! I and my husband are converts and very relieved and happy to be so, but the present revealed heresies make me revert (in a good way, I hope) to a Charismatic past and say “Lord, please send your Holy Spirit of truth in here quick because “Dang”.

  7. The Church needs not a synod but a business consultancy firm to come in FROM THE OUTSIDE / to stay out of doctrine/ but to analyze why our Church at the rulership level is a total disaster…no Pope worked hard on the 81% gay problem since 1960…no heroes hardly in the molestation event/ diocesan press that never mentioned a molestation problem for five decades. We are a bad corporation that needs a totally fresh eye..from the outside. The Pope must not have totally immunity from firing. The canon allowing that must go. Vetting of clergy into seminaries needs selectivity not desperation for numbers.
    Popes must stop the author/saint syndrome and work at disciplining and ADMINISTRATING REGIONS OR Dioceses in accord with Scripture. If a Catholic college has a 40% fornication rate, that’s because Popes are writing for historical greatness and not minding the store. Catholic press must cease reporting all of this Pope’s sermons. He should be stopping the gay problem not talking 24/7. Theologians/Cardinals with red hats for bravery and with stones should be allowed to boot ccc 2267 into oblivion…all versions…the most murderous part of the earth by UN figures is northern post Catholic Latin America…non death penalty from Brazil to Mexico. Asia must laugh at our effeminacy in this area…she is the safest by UN figures from criminal murder not jihad murders since they love the death penalty for houri fornication reasons. What a world.

    • “The Pope must not have totally immunity from firing.”

      He doesn’t; but there is only One who has the authority to do that.

      “The canon allowing that must go.”

      No; because that same canon would allow corrupt whoever-has-the-authority-to-fire-the-pope people to fire a holy pope.

      • What if a Pope could be removed by a 90% majority of voters from only strict orders like the discalced Carmelites, Trappists and Trappistines, Carthusians, and Camaldolese hermits and recluses? The current status quo means the Church cannot reflect the light of Christ whenever an Alexander VI or Julius III is in.

  8. The 2018 Youth Synod clearly has an agenda – changing Catholic teaching on marriage (civil unions, ssm), sexuality (homosexuality), life (contraception, abortion) – using a false interpretation of God’s forgiveness of sinners through “acceptance”, “love”, “mercy”. Deception abounds – now, with the exposure of widespread homosexuality among clergy, the agenda for the Youth Synod becomes even more clear.
    See who P. Francis chose to head it up –
    Why is the Vatican highlighting ‘LGBT youth’ in lead up to Youth Synod?

    Pope handpicks US cardinal enmeshed in McCarrick scandal as youth synod delegate –
    More :

  9. Thank you Mr
    Weigel for this article which faces our genuine and serious concerns about a possible synod and also points out all the very positive examples of authentic faith, discipleship and mission which by God’s mercy have emerged in today’s youth ministry.We need good news and encouragement!

  10. “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.” Proverbs 10:19

    I believe we have now reached a point where the Pope and his heretical buddies are now simply making sport of the Catholic faith, mocking it with every conference, “synod” and international jet-setter sleepover.

  11. My impression is that this whole shenanigan is just another cover for the modernist Cardinals and Bishops to cover their scandalous tracks. Lay people and holy priests/bishops should hi-jack the event and insist the sex abuse cover up by the Cardinals and Bishops running the show repent.

  12. YES, let’s get back to basics – in faith, in catechesis, in education and most of all in Truth – Christ is the Way, the Light and the Truth. Deception abounds in our world today, to the detriment of believers. Western nations, once strongly Christian, have been corrupted; in the name of multi-culturalism, ecumenism, false mercy, tolerance for evil in our midst, the smoke of Satan has entered churches, government and our culture, and we are now seeing the evil fruits of a godless culture world-wide.
    Many of us are floundering in our faith not knowing who to believe – both in the Church and outside.
    Let us hold fast to the truths of our faith, following not men, but Christ.
    We pray for faithful priests, bishop0s and cardinals, for seminarians and for those who have been hurt by the very “shepherds” who were given the task of protecting and shepherding the flock.
    Our Lady of Fatima’s prophecy is being played out in our lives – let us respond to her call for faithfulness.
    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

  13. My hope is that the well formed youth who embrace faith and orthodoxy stand up and challenge this banal chatter offered them by this conference. Let them “shock” the presenters with their love for clarity and disdain for more of the drivel of dissent wich makes no sense to them.
    That is my hope. I am sickened to death of these old dinosaurs brought to life again by this papacy. I hope the presenters if heterodox begin to shake, become dry in the mouth, and puzzled by faith filled young Catholics whom I pray challenge them. If the youth on the other hand are the opposite of what I described, may they drive the organizers crazy, keep chaperones up all night, and involve the police and press which would demonstrate what this conference supports. Mr. Weigel let us hope they have read or at least experienced the effect of [The] Witness to Hope you wrote so beautifully about.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. C212 Neumayr Interview: The Real Story Behind Cardinal Wuerl’s Impending Departure – The Stumbling Block
  2. Youth Synod Needs Good News from Faithful Catholic Colleges - Mama Mary - Our Loving Mother

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.