Thoughts on five problematic passages in the Synod’s Final Document

Comments on passages having to do with motherhood and fatherhood, friendship and relationships, “questions” and sexuality, music, and liturgy.

Cardinals and bishops attend the closing Mass of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 28 2018. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri, pool via Reuters)

While all sensible and faithful Catholics ought to be grateful that the worst fears of many about the Synod were not realized, there are still several elements of the Final Document that require comment and critique. To be sure, there are many good contributions in the Final Document. The ones highlighted here are flagged to give priests, teachers and youth ministers a “heads-up” on where they need to balance and/or correct incomplete or erroneous statements.

I should note at the outset that I am working from the original Italian, especially since no official English translation is yet available.

Paragraph 33: “The Importance of Motherhood and Fatherhood”

While the Synod Fathers rightly point out that the roles of mothers and fathers are equal but distinct as points of reference in forming children and transmitting the Faith to them (elsewhere in the final document, when discussing human sexuality from a biblical perspective, the bishops reiterate the essential equality and difference of males and females), they are quick to emphasize all the positives of the maternal role, with not a single example of what constitutes bad motherhood, while highlighting mostly negative aspects of fathers who are “absent” or “vanishing,” “oppressive” or “authoritarian.”

The Synod Fathers then make an abstraction. They deduce, and rightly so, that absentee, vanishing, oppressive and authoritarian fathers reflect negatively on the exercise of “spiritual paternity” as it pertains presumably to priests and bishops (although this is not clearly stated in the document). However, the Synod Fathers, not having identified any defective forms of motherhood, do not therefore come to the conclusion that defective forms of motherhood have any negative impact on the exercise of spiritual maternity as it pertains to consecrated women religious.

The evaluation of motherhood and fatherhood here is short-sighted and excessively biased in favor of the mother as though mothers can do no wrong while fathers are solely to blame for dysfunctional and unchurched children. The idealization of the maternal role does not correspond to the reality that there are bad mothers in Christian families as well. The Synod Fathers should have been more careful and more precise in their phrasing. Unfortunately, their approach “canonizes” the image of fathers perpetuated in all too many sitcoms and television commercials as stupid, absent buffoons.

Paragraph 36: “Friendship and Relationships among Equals.”

The last sentence reads: “Young people are capable of guiding other young people and of living out a true apostolate in the midst of their own friends.” This is a blanket statement for which there is little concrete evidence, at least not in my past experience as a young person or in my present experience seeing how young people actually relate to one another in today’s context. Frankly, this statement of the Synod Fathers would appear to be more the fruit of wishful thinking than a realistic evaluation of youth in our contemporary society and Church; we have only to consider the all-too-prevalent reality of bullying, gangs, and negative peer pressure.

Paragraph 39: “The Questions of Young People”

The paragraph refers to the Church’s “rich tradition” concerning sexual morality but only in passing refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the theology of the body developed by Saint John Paul II, and the encyclical Deus caritas est of Pope Benedict XVI, all without providing a single citation from any of those rich texts.

Then, in almost contradictory fashion, the Synod Fathers state that young people who “know and live such teaching” still express a desire to receive from the Church a “clear word.” But what could be a more “clear word” on the topic of sexual morality than the Catechism of the Catholic Church (see, for example, paragraphs 2331-2400)? Furthermore, the Synod Fathers add that those same young people who “know and live such teaching” not only desire a “clear word” from the Church but a word that is likewise “human and empathetic,” leading one to believe therefore that the Church’s teaching is somehow “inhuman” or “unempathetic,” which is patently false.

From my experience as a priest of nearly 22 years, I do not believe it is fair for the Synod Fathers to conclude that the teachings of the Church on sexual morality are frequently a “cause of misunderstanding and of the distancing of young people from the Church” because they are perceived as a “space of judgment and condemnation,” when more often than not young people do not even hear the Church’s sexual morality preached from the pulpit or taught in the classroom, let alone discussed at home by their parents and grandparents. How can Catholic young people claim to be so “judged and condemned” when so many bishops, priests and religious refrain from broaching the topic of sexual morality, let alone explaining Church teaching in an in-depth fashion?

This paragraph is also very problematic because, without using the acronym “LGBT,” or “LGBTQ,” or similar acronyms associated with “gender ideology” (an ideology frequently condemned by Pope Francis), the Synod Fathers give the impression that Catholic young people are in fact disoriented about their sexual identity, severely hampered in their ability to distinguish between a masculine and feminine identity, and thus incapable of understanding the reciprocity between men and women and the nature of homosexuality. This is an insult to the intelligence of young people who are practicing Catholics and who, as this paragraph already points out, “know and live” Church teaching.

The wording of this paragraph is most unfortunate and very misleading as it creates a false amalgamation of young people who are faithful and practicing Catholics with their peers and contemporaries who have no faith or Church membership whatsoever. I find it hard to believe that the former group, especially if they are the products of a decent Catholic education and parochial environment, would experience the same type of sexual and moral confusion as “nones” or young people with little to no religious background and formation.

Paragraph 47: “Art, Music and Sport”

Here the Synod Fathers mention the significant importance of music in the life of young people today. While this is undeniable, it hardly follows that “musical language represents also a pastoral resource, that involves in a particular way the liturgy and its renewal,” especially when one considers the forms of music to which all too many young people actually listen. To what extent, for example, would any of the following serve as a “pastoral resource” for the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy: hip hop, gangster rap, heavy metal, not to mention many other forms of contemporary music, which are frequently replete with explicit, indecent and often vulgar lyrics referring to sexual promiscuity, “pimping out” women, gross materialism, the highs and lows of drug and alcohol abuse?

Paragraph 51: “The Desire for a Living Liturgy”

What is meant by a “living Liturgy” is not clearly defined by the Synod Fathers. They also speak of a “fresh” liturgy that should be “authentic” and “joyful.” These expressions reflect an impoverished theology of worship, which is fundamentally more “horizontal” in nature than “vertical.” Sunday Mass and the sacraments are not primarily about us, the community. They are primarily about divine worship whose “source and summit,” the Eucharistic Sacrifice, is not just a community gathering to make us feel good but indeed the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary sacramentally re-presented on the altar.

Is it not a “fresh” enough experience for the Church in every age that her Lord and Master has willed to provide His beloved Bride with a sacramental re-presentation of the greatest, most dramatic and most profound act of divine love in salvation history in the Lord’s salvific death on the altar of the Cross? Could anything be more “authentic” than the Mass?

And what “joy” should Christians, even young people, expect to feel at the foot of the Cross? Were Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple, who represent the nascent Church, full of “joy” as they beheld the Son of God whom they knew and loved intimately, suffer an ignominious death by crucifixion, the cruelest form of capital punishment known in the ancient world?

Furthermore, it is a fallacy to suggest, as do the Synod Fathers, that simply because something is a “moral precept” (e.g., Sunday Mass attendance) that this is somehow contradictory to or incompatible with “a happy encounter with the Risen Christ and with the community.” Here, many of the bishops themselves apparently fail to grasp the purpose of going to Mass, which is to worship God in joyful obedience to His commandment. The “moral precept” is not a negative precept. Rather, it is a positive precept. And if it were not for the Third Commandment, would we go to Mass at all?

And should we not find joy and enthusiasm in obeying God because we know deep down that we owe worship to our Creator, for “without the Creator, the creature vanishes,” and that, in the words of Saint Augustine, “our heart is restless until rests in Thee,” meaning God?

Is not Sunday our “Christian Sabbath,” our Christian “day of rest,” which anticipates and points to the eschatological peace of Heaven at the wedding feast of the Lamb? And when we go to Mass, do we go to encounter the Risen Christ before uniting ourselves to Him Crucified? As the spiritual wisdom has it, “Post crucem, lucem,” (“after the Cross, the light”).

The Christian way—the way epitomized by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Sacrament of Sacraments—is, above all else, the way of the Cross. We must encounter Christ Crucified before we can encounter the Risen Christ and thus through our communion with Him do we begin to share in the joy of the Mystical Body of Christ as an “Easter People,” the people whose song is “Alleluia,” according to the felicitous expressions of Saint Augustine of Hippo, fifth-century Father and Doctor of the Church.

Speaking of whom, Augustine, who spent 33 years of his often dissolute life in search of God, could have served as a patron saint of youth for the 2018 Synod but, alas, the Synod Fathers proposed no patron saints as such (although the Final Document does mention the role of the Virgin Mary in paragraph 83 as well as Saint Mary Magdalene in Paragraph 115 on “A Young Church: An Icon of Resurrection”). In fact, Saint Augustine is cited only once in the Final Document, in paragraph 61, while his extraordinary life, especially those youthful years he reflects on so beautifully in his moving, autobiographical masterpiece, The Confessions, receive no mention at all. That omission speaks volumes about those who produced the Final Document.

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About Fr Nicholas Gregoris 11 Articles
Fr Nicholas Gregoris is a founding member of the Priestly Society of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and managing editor of "The Catholic Response." He holds a bachelor's degree in sacred theology from the Gregorian University and a licentiate and doctorate in Mariology from the Marianum, both in Rome. He is the author of four books.


  1. Since “the McCarrick Synod” thinks that “The Mass” is not attractive, that is a MOST DEVASTATING CONDEMNATION of the Novus Ordo of the Mass.

    The Church pulverized The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass 50 years ago, and now the like-minded men of the McCarrick Synod have declared the project a failure.

    Obtuse is too kind of a description for these men. I guess they just can’t find joy that Jesus gave His life for us.

    What ingrates…it seems they never really believed to begin with…

  2. People don’t seem to understand what happened. The synodality provisions are the VERY bad part of this. Since the Pope issued a declaration that whatever nonsense comes out of these fake synods becomes Magisterium of the church,(after he approves it) – any nonsense that they put in the final document becomes “magisterium” not because it is really the teaching of the church, but because Pope Francis approves the final document. It does not matter if what comes out of the synod makes any sense, or is consistent with Catholic teaching. All you have to do now is get something silly to be placed in a final document of a synod, and it becomes “magisterium”.

    This is now permanently enshrined in the synodality provisions, which essential tell us that there will be NON STOP COUNCILS of the church posing as synods. But they will have the same effect as a council. No need for Vatican III anymore, it will be held all the time and it will be called synods rather than a council. So Pope Tricketer I has essentially gutted the way Catholic teaching is constructed. Now any baloney or rush to judgment, will become part of the “magisterium”

    No need for homosexuality to be approved by the synod. They will just issued tons of vague synodal documents that are so ambiguous that hoomsexual clergy will be able to point to some nondescript language as their justification for promoting homsexuality. It’s OK if Africa does not want to have homosexual bishops. But Boston and New York and London and Berlin will all point to some vague synodal document to say that the church now allows this, that or the other thing.

  3. “This is now permanently enshrined in the synodality provisions.” This is not the case. “Permanently enshrined,” until the next Pope reverses it! Further, can we not admit that no serious damage has been done? Why must so many “conservative” Catholics operate like permanent and professional Cassandras? We know that many of their agitators caused untold anxiety in faithful Catholics by predicting all kinds of dire results, none of which has occurred. Could the Final Document have been better? Undoubtedly, which is the point of Fr Gregoris’ article. That’s a far cry from claiming that we shall now be afloat in homosexual clergy, due to this document. Everyone needs to take a deep breath — and perhaps let the Holy Spirit in.

    • Father, you are absolutely right. Cardinal Muller noted that the Pope cannot change doctrine or the constitution of the Church in a recent EWTN interview with Raymond Arroyo.
      However it is still cause for worry because all the dissidents will use this and other decisions by the current Pope as justification that the Pope can “reverse” past teaching and embolden them in their heresy.

    • Father,
      You take a somewhat naive position that those who want change, lots of change, will play by the rules.
      The homosexual cadre of Catholic priests could care less about rules. They have their goal and that goal is the acceptance of sodomy as a form of love and that homosexuals can marry exactly as heterosexuals marry.
      Bet on it.

  4. Paragraph 33: idealized mother (positively or negatively really) and the devalued father. Such is the world of homosexual men (clergy and bishops), not just the stuff of stereotypes. No mention of correlational single parent family statistics when things got “sociological?”

    Paragraph 36: with the distinction between act and potency blurred or non-existent…

    Paragraph 39: let’s cut to the chase. Martini and his school have/had nothing to learn from the young but every which way to use the young (rhetorically, faux prophetically) to change a Church they ultimately despised…and continue to despise.

    The Jesuits weren’t just “bored with Aquinas.” They had to ultimately take on Aristotle…because he wasn’t “theological” enough? A ruse. Blur, get rid of “essence” with creatures. Deify man. The whole sense of “telos” had to be put up for grabs and always be up for grabs (or at least appear to be). Did Norris later regret that into he wrote for the existence-centric Carlo? Yes…sort of. Ah yes, there’s more essence in creatures…only in God a clear uniqueness…

    This whole unofficial apostasy has convinced me of the prophecies of La Salette and Fatima as well as the Thomism of Garrigou-Lagrange (books like Reality and even manualist Thomism), the deficiencies of Personalist and Existential Thomism (Norris, Carlo)and Transcendental Thomism that paved the way for this and why I now favor the anti-Formal Platonism of little known? giants like philosopher James Ross…and yes the Council of Trent Catechism (even if you’re in the Novus Ordo). The Nouvelle theologie? Ultimately a “a new God.”

    Here’s the kicker: this “synodal approach” is not a starting at the level of humanity really but a theological revision of God, the Trinity, salvation, eschatology. This is the “theological approach” that Gilson favored over the Aristotelian, philosophical path of Thomas here and now put to more extensive (unintended?) purposes of a theological agenda that canonizes easily Heraclitus/Hegel/Marx (though a cover up for already decided new “identity”)…while decrying Aristotle and dare I say virtue and reason.

    The LGBT “concern” in the synod is/was simply a stepping stone to furthering theological revision (in harmony with the big government/state agenda) and pan-New Faith (tapping into Ignatian spirituality more than Roman Catholicism as really “God is everything” vs “God in all things”) by way of (using) individuals who sadly can never seem affirmed/completed/validated quite enough. In short, it’s “identity” itself that is the target/topic.

    “Discernment?” This is top down all the way…self-validation of the already decided. Even the “surprises” part of Bergoglio “spirituality” is bogus.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us. St Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

  5. Was anyone expecting anything more? These bishops have been practicing double-speak for so long they had to get rid of Latin because Latin isn’t capable of the imprecision their cover-ups demand.

  6. “In this regard the Synod reaffirms that God loves every person and so does the Church, renewing its commitment against all discrimination and violence on a sexual basis. It also reaffirms the decisive anthropological relevance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman and considers it reductive to define the identity of persons solely on the basis of their “sexual orientation”.

    “solely adverb
    sole· ly | \ˈsō(l)-lē \
    Definition of solely
    1 : to the exclusion of all else
    done solely for money
    2 : without another : SINGLY
    went solely on her way”

    To even partially identify someone according to “sexual inclination”, is to still sexually objectify the human person in violation of God’s Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery. This is true even for a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife.

    The error belongs to those bishops, who, because they do not understand the essence of Love, or simply because they deny the essence of Love, approved this erroneous statement.

  7. Just as every element of Truth will serve to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Truth, so, too, will every element of Love, serve to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Love.
    “Caritas In Veritate; Veritas In Caritate.”
    Love, which is always rightly ordered, to the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the persons existing in a relationship of Love, requires that we discriminate between the desire to engage in acts, including sexual acts that
    respect the inherent Dignity of the human person as a beloved son or daughter, and acts that do not respect the
    inherent Dignity of the human person as a beloved son or daughter, and thus are not and can never be acts of Love.

    The erroneous notion that public morality and private morality can serve in opposition to one another and are not complementary, has led to grievous error in both Faith and reason. God Desires, that we desire to overcome our
    disordered inclinations and be transformed, through Salvational Love, God’ s Gift of Grace And Mercy, so that we are not led into temptation and sin.

    A validly elected Pope, would not deny Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy. It is precisely because a disordered desire/inclination is not a person, but a disordered desire/inclination, thus, “Who am I to Judge”, in regards to discriminating between disordered desires/inclinations that deny authentic Love, and desires/inclinations that affirm authentic Love, is a denial of Salvational Love, which is not and can never be, Loving or Merciful.

    “In this regard the Synod reaffirms that God loves every person and so does the Church, renewing its commitment
    against all discrimination and violence on a sexual basis.”

    One cannot be reaffirming God’s Love for every one of God’s beloved sons and daughters by denying Salvational Love, and thus discriminating against those who, on a sexual basis, have developed a disordered desire/inclination that can lead them to temptation and sin.

    To deny the Sanctity of the marital act, which is Life-affirming, and Life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife, is to deny that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Through The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, and is thus apostasy. An apostate cannot be abiding in The Word Of God.

    “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion, without Ecclesial Communion.”

    There Is Only One, Jesus, The Christ, thus there can only Be One Spirit Of Perfect Love Between The Father And The Son, Who Proceeds From Both The Father And The Son, In The Ordered Communion Of Perfect Complementary Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.

    While at the end of the Day, it is still A Great Mystery, Christ Has Revealed, Through His Life, His Passion, and His Death On The Cross, that No Greater Love Is There Than This- To Desire Salvation For One’s Beloved.

    “Love one another as I Have Loved you.”

    To do so, is, in essence, The Fulfillment Of The Law.

    Our unalienable Rights are unalienable because they come from God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, and thus our inherent Right to be treated with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public, cannot be relinguished even if we so desire it to be.

  8. Romans 1: 24-32 states: “Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever… 26 Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, 27 and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.. 31 They are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless… 32 Although, they know the just decree of God that all who practice such things deserve death, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”
    Our Lady of La Salette, France in 1846 warned of and predicted this sexual abuse crisis that we are now in: “Priests, my Son’s ministers, priests, by their evil life, by their irreverence’s and their impiety in celebrating the holy mysteries, love of money, love of honor and pleasures, priests have become sewers of impurity. Yes, priests call forth vengeance, and vengeance is suspended over their heads. Woe to priests, and to persons consecrated to God, who by their infidelities and their evil life are crucifying my son anew! The sins of persons consecrated to God cry to heaven and call for vengeance, and now here is vengeance at their very doors, for no longer is anyone found to beg mercy and pardon for the people; there are no more generous souls, there is now no one worthy of offering the spotless Victim to the Eternal on the world’s behalf.”
    “The chiefs, the leaders of the people of God have neglected prayer and penance, and the devil has bedimmed their intelligence. They have become wandering stars which the old devil will drag along with his tail to make them perish. God will allow the old serpent to cause divisions among those who reign, in every society and in every family. Physical and moral agonies will be suffered. God will abandon mankind to itself and will send punishments which will follow one after the other for more than thirty-five years. “ A book called, “After The Warning To 2038”, and web site have prophecies from credible, Catholic sources predicting more events.

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