In this, my third and final reflection on the Final Document of the 2018 Synod, I take a detailed look at four issues: the sources used in the Final Document, the Document’s analysis of why youth are missing from the Church, the supposed problem of “paternalism”, and the inter-related matters of moral teaching and vocations.
What are the sources for the Final Document?
At the outset of this installment, I should note that there is still no English translation of the Final Document – now nearly two weeks after its release!
That said, I must confess that I am very fond of footnotes; I included hundreds of them in my doctoral dissertation. On whom or what did the writers of the Final Document rely?
The Instrumentum Laboris is mentioned in paragraphs 2, 3 and 4; in all three instances, in direct association with the Final Document.
There are ample scriptural references. The three major parts of the document begin with a quote from the Emmaus story recounted in Luke 24. By my calculation, there are 60 direct scriptural citations and/or references.
We note the preponderance of citations of Pope Francis’ writings in the Synodal document; I counted 32 direct mentions and/or citations of the Pontiff.
Saint Paul VI is referenced three times. In Paragraph 75, his expression, “dialogue of salvation,” appears. That is followed by a citation of his first Encyclical, “Ecclesiam Suam” (n. 77). The second reference to Paul VI occurs in Paragraph 79, in which “Populorum Progressio (n. 15) is quoted, where he affirms that “every life is a vocation.” The third reference to Paul VI is found in Paragraph 126, where we find the following: The Church “has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make” (“Ecclesiam Suam, n. 65). (The Synod document cites n. 67 of Paul VI’s encyclical; actually, it is n. 65! Some sloppy work, it would seem.)
Vatican II is cited and/or mentioned on five occasions. For example, the Council’s “Message to Young People” (December 7, 1965) is mentioned in Paragraph 60 because therein the Church is described as the “true youthfulness of the world.”
Saint John Paul is mentioned three times: in Paragraph 16, in relation to “World Youth Day”; in Paragraph 39, in terms of his “Theology of the Body”; in Paragraph 152, citing “Laborem exercens, n. 4.
Pope Benedict XVI is cited and/or mentioned three times: in Paragraph 21, his Message for XLVIII World Day of Social Communications; in Paragraph 39, his Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est“; in Paragraph 79, “Verbum Domini” (n. 77) is referenced.
Only two Fathers of the Church are cited: Saint Augustine’s “Discourse 227,” in Paragraph 61 and Saint Irenaeus of Lyons’ “Against the Heresies, II, 22, 4, in Paragraph 63.
Amazingly, there are no citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism is mentioned in Paragraph 163 on “Marriage Accompaniment,” in which Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” (n. 207) is quoted concerning pre-nuptial accompaniment, where Francis warns that pre-matrimonial accompaniment “does not mean giving them (i.e., couples) the whole Catechism, nor saturating them with too many arguments”! In Paragraph 133, “YouCat” and “DoCat” are mentioned, as are the “local catechisms” produced by “various episcopal conferences.”
The International Theological Commission appears in a footnote in relation to Paragraph 118 on “Spiritual, Pastoral and Missionary Conversion,” and then again in Paragraph 125 on “A Style for the Mission: Missionary Communion.” Both citations occur in the pivotal chapter on “The Missionary Synodality of the Church,” much debated by the Synod Fathers.
There is a single reference to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at Paragraph 150 in the context of dealing with the topic of “Sexuality: A Clear, Free and Authentic Word,” citing the Congregation’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” (October 1, 1986, n. 16).
The new “Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis,” dealing with priestly formation is mentioned in Paragraphs 163 and 164 with the Synod Fathers also mentioning in Paragraph 164 the “Ratio Nationalis” for priestly formation as that pertains to the episcopal conferences of each country.
On numerous occasions, the Final Document refers to the young disciples whom the Risen Lord encountered on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. It also reflects on the young deacon Philip, who “accompanies” the Ethiopian eunuch (see Paragraph 101) in Acts 8:26-40 and the young John the “Beloved Disciple” who outruns his elder, Saint Peter, to the empty tomb but does not enter first out of respect for his elder (cf. John 20:1-10) (see Paragraph 66).
There are numerous mentions of Saint Paul and his writings, and the whole of Paragraph 115 is dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene as “an icon of the resurrection” and, therefore, of “a Young Church.” There is a passing reference to “feminine figures in the Bible, in the history of salvation and in the life of the Church” in Paragraph 148.
A vague reference to “many young saints,” “who have made to shine forth the traces of the youthful age in all their beauty and have been in their time true prophets of change; their example shows what young people are capable of when they open themselves up to an encounter with Christ” (n. 65).
I could not find any mentions of particular saints (ancient, modern or contemporary) whose life stories speak directly related to young people. One would think that young people like Maria Goretti, Joan of Arc, Stanislaus Kostka, Gabriel Possenti, Piergiorgio Frassati, Thérèse of Lisieux would have been highlighted but, alas, they are not. Paragraph 77 does hold up the young Samuel as a model of youthful response to the divine call.
Paragraph 75 makes reference to “the witness of so many young martyrs of the past and of the present, which has strongly resounded in this Synod, is the most convincing proof that the faith renders us free when faced with the powers of this world, with its injustices and even when faced with death.” This theme is echoed in the final paragraph (n. 167), in which the Synod Fathers again express their admiration for the “regenerating” testimonies of young participants (auditors) at the Synod who, “in the midst of persecutions, have chosen to share in the Passion of the Lord.”
The final three paragraphs (165-167) discuss how young people are “called to become saints”; to “reawaken the world with sanctity,” despite having found in the world and in the Church not only “sanctity” but “mediocrity, presumption, division and corruption,” including the “abuse of persons,”; how we can all be “edified by the sanctity of young people,” which is described as the “balm of holiness” that can “heal the wounds of the Church and the world, bringing us back to that fullness of love to which we have always been called: young saints impel us to return to our first love (cfr. Rev 2:4),” Who is the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ.
Why are young people absent from the Church?
Paragraph 53 offers several reasons why the Synod Fathers think young people have distanced themselves from the Church, making several valid points:
– “sexual and economic abuses”;
– “lack of preparation of ordained ministers who do not know how to perceive the sensibility of young people”;
– “lack of care in preparation of the homily and in the presentation of the Word of God”;
– “the passive role assigned to young people within the Christian community”;
– “the struggle of the Church to give a reason for her own doctrinal and ethical positions before contemporary society.”
However, it surprised me that the Synod Fathers never mention “liturgical abuses” as a reason that young people have distanced themselves from the Church.
While good homilies and a proper presentation of the Bible at Mass are important, what about the sacred rites preceding and following the Liturgy of the Word? After all, we are Catholics, not Protestants! Protestant services rise and fall on the sermon. For Catholics, while a good sermon and/or homily are indeed welcomed and should be expected, preaching is not an essential aspect of the Mass. And let us suppose that a priest preaches a decent homily, but he is not wearing full vestments, jokes around at Mass, makes sloppy gestures, whimsically changes the rubrics and texts of the Mass, should we then wonder why young people might be turned off to the Church’s Sacred Liturgy and, therefore, to the Church herself?
When priests celebrate Mass: reading the prayers of the Missal in rote fashion as if they were reading names from a telephone book; never bothering to chant the prayers of the Mass (let alone have recourse to at least some Latin, as Vatican II underscored); failing to use beautiful vestments and vessels; rarely, if ever, using incense, processional cross and candles, etc., this is hardly an expression of the “via pulchritudinis” (the “way of beauty”) that is so vital to our evangelization efforts.
It is regrettable that the almost 300 Synod Fathers “cum Petro et sub Petro” (“with Peter and under Peter”) could think of all those other valid reasons for young people to fall away from the practice of the Faith, but that it never dawned on them that perhaps liturgical abuses and a general lack of proper care for the “Opus Dei” (“the Work of God”), which is the Sacred Liturgy par excellence, might be equally valid reasons why young people, not encountering a sense of mystery and beauty in the Mass, drift away from the Church.
Paragraph 55 deals with the role of women in society and in the Church. In the days before the Second Vatican Council, pastors in the United States of America lived in fear of women religious, especially the Mother Superiors, because they wielded a tremendous amount of power and authority in the context of the parochial school, which was then the center of community and neighborhood life. Then, around 1968 (“Annus Horribilis“), so many nuns “went whacky,” deciding to ditch their habits, their Rule of communal living, and their traditional apostolates like Catholic education and health care in order to become community organizers and social workers, while others left the convent to marry defrocked priests or to live a lesbian lifestyle.
Now, some of their descendants in moribund congregations complain about not having a role or voice in the Church! And what about the fact that, since Vatican II, the Church has opened up significant roles of authority to women, such as posts in Vatican dicasteries and in diocesan chanceries? There are dioceses in the United States where the chancellor is a woman, and that chancellor is often the most powerful person in the Curia besides the Ordinary of the Diocese.
What exactly, then, are the complaints of young people about women somehow being excluded from ecclesial roles? We know, of course, that women cannot be ordained priests. But often feminists use code language like “voice” and “access to decision-making,” precisely to put pressure on the hierarchy to reconsider women’s ordination which, as even Pope Francis has taught, is not on the negotiating table.
I would grant one important point that was a valid complaint of some women religious at the Synod. If male superiors general (who were not bishops) were allowed to vote along with the bishops (and they were), why was that privilege not accorded female superiors general? This issue actually came up in the Synod of 2015 and yet the same policy prevailed this time around, causing not a few observers to question Francis’ commitment to giving women a “voice” in the Church, in spite of his repeated assertions of such a determination.
In terms of an “anthropological and theological reflection on the reciprocity between men and women,” mentioned in Paragraph 55, perhaps there should have been a Synod on this precise topic in keeping with traditional Church moral teaching before Pope Francis unleashed the chaos of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in 2014 leading up to the confused and confusing Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015 – both of which Synods set the stage for the 2018 Synod on Youth, that often gave me the impression that the inmates were running the asylum and that the Pope and bishops were pacified lion tamers stuck inside a colorful Felliniesque circus tent.
In that way, the Church would make clear once and for all that men and women share an equal dignity, albeit in complementary ways, as Saint Paul clearly teaches; that homosexual activity and the gender ideology promoted by the LGBTQ movement are contrary to natural and divine law; that gay lobbyists should not be permitted to push their ideologies and agendas in Vatican corridors, including the Holy See’s Press Office. That is the kind of “accompaniment” that is honest, not raising false hopes, and one which can lead people to genuine personal fulfillment.
Paternalism and straightforwardness
It’s difficult to please kids nowadays. On the one hand, if a priest gives a young person some “fatherly advice,” his dialogical method may be termed “paternalistic.” On the other hand, if a priest tries to be diplomatic in discussing certain sensitive matters, a young person may consider his approach as beating around the bush. If a priest is too black and white in his preaching and teaching, he can be labeled rigid and insensitive (as Pope Francis has repeatedly done), not “politically correct” enough for interfacing with today’s youth.
Paragraph 57 of the “Relatio Synodi” relates that young people have certain expectations of the Church. One that stands out in particular is their desire that the Church would adopt a “style of dialogue” which is less “paternalistic” and “more straightforward.” Is this perhaps an example of “loaded language”? The Final Document often creates the impression that the ideological baggage of the adults in charge of the Synod was unloaded onto the shoulders of the young people.
It would have been helpful if the Synod Fathers had proffered examples of what the young participants at the Synod actually pointed to as their experiences of a “paternalistic” Church.
Back in the old days, straight-forward cardinals, bishops, priests and religious abounded. – and, of course, popes.
In the wake of the Spanish Civil War, a fiery Spaniard, Father Josemaría Escrivá, gave birth to the society (now Personal Prelature) of Opus Dei, also known as “The Work.” In 1950s and 1960s America, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen ruled prime time television with his popular show, “Life is Worth Living,” while Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, preached the popular mantra, “The family that prays together, stays together,” and Father Leonard Feeney used a variety of means to propagate his ultra-traditional stance on “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” (“outside the Church there is no salvation”).
In the early years of Saint John Paul’s pontificate, Cardinals Siri, Oddi, Krol and O’Connor held court in conservative circles, while Cardinals Casaroli, Daneels, Bernardin and Martini pontificated on the Left.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, former Prefect of “Culto Divino,” is one of the most refreshingly straightforward cardinals one is ever likely to meet, especially if attending “Catholic Family Land” in Bloomingdale, Ohio, each summer.
I think the same could be said for former papal nuncio to the United States, Cardinal Agostino Cacciavillan, who succeeded the very straightforward Cardinal Pio Laghi, a good friend of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who did not exactly have the reputation for being shy about her Catholicity.
Nowadays, the Church’s hierarchy enjoys a handful of straightforward bishops who are well known and appreciated (but not in Bergoglian circles!) for their outspoken orthodoxy and conservatism: Cardinal Robert Sarah, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider. Certainly, Archbishop Charles Chaput does not have a reputation for being “paternalistic” and is arguably the straightest shooter among the bishops of the United States. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is also not one to mince words.
In my experience, none of the bright, orthodox and articulate bishops of Poland (e.g., Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki) and Africa (e.g., Cardinal Wlfrid Napier) seem eager to play games, especially when “Catholicity” is on the line as it was, now and then, during the recent Synods.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genova and former President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, is one of a handful of Italian bishops who have participated in Rome’s annual “March for Life.” While certainly diplomatic in his approach, he preaches the truths of the Faith in a straightforward manner, with no hint of paternalism.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, whose erudite and recondite books on faith and culture I have been reading for many years, hardly strikes me as “paternalistic” in his roles as President of the Council for Culture, the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, and the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology.
Nor for that matter does Bishop Robert Barron, who has an international reputation for communicating the truths of Catholicism in a “straightforward” yet fascinating way that attracts thousands of young people as aficionados who are savvy users of the Internet (e.g., You Tube) and social media.
And who among the relatively young priests at the Eternal Word Television Network, following in the footsteps of the feisty Mother Angelica or the down-to-earth Fathers Benedict Groeshel and Andrew Apostoli, can be characterized as “paternalistic” or lacking in “straightforwardness”?
When I consider the diverse forms of religious movements active in the contemporary Church, for example, Communion and Liberation, the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Neo-Catechumenal Way” and Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement, I hardly think of them as part of the over-the-hill-gang since a good portion of their membership consists of young, vibrant, active and faithful Catholics dispersed throughout the world. Nor can I honestly say that in dealing with the members of these particular movements or their leaders (whatever their differences), have I found them to be “paternalistic,” or less than “schietto,” the Italian word for “straightforward” used in the Synodal document.
So, we are left wondering just who is “paternalistic” and not “straightforward”?
Moral reflections and vocational discernment in the Final Document
Considering the real-life difficulties and immense problems faced by contemporary young Catholics, who often seem lost in space and more attuned to superficial, secular fads than to deep, spiritual yearnings (many of which situations are addressed in the Final Document), it is hard to comprehend the blanket statement of the Synod Fathers in Paragraph 37: “Young people are capable of guiding other young people and of living a true apostolate in the midst of their own friends.”
Time and again, for example, in Paragraphs 50, 59, 66, the Synod Fathers, citing the Emmaus passage recounted in Luke 24, and other passages like Romans 8:22 and John 20:1-10, mention the “sana inquietudine” (“the healthy unrest”) of young people. It is difficult to define such an expression in any concrete, theological way. What exactly makes “unrest” “healthy” is something that is not clear to me. Saint Augustine, however, may help shed some light on the meaning of that phrase when we consider the first line of his “Confessions,” in which he writes, directly addressing God: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee.” Disappointingly, that powerful line is not quoted; nor are the Confessions even mentioned.
Paragraph 73 falls under the heading, “Called to Freedom,” with the sub-title reading, “The Gospel of Freedom,” reminiscent of “The Gospel of Life,” an expression made popular by Saint John Paul II. Here the Synod Fathers contrast “The Gospel of Freedom,” proclaimed by Saint Paul (“Apostle of the Gentiles”) with the Torah or Mosaic Law, which enslaved the Jews to the letter of the Law and did not liberate them as the gift of the Holy Spirit in fact frees the baptized in Christ Jesus.
We can recall here that the Mosaic Law consisted of 613 precepts, 248 of which were “positive,” meaning that they were injunctions to do something, while 365 – one for each day of the year (?) – were “negative,” insofar as they forbade certain activities. Furthermore, we should recall that not all of the 613 applied to both men and women equally.
However, a few things need to be made precise here: (1) Neither the Lord Jesus nor Saint Paul ever claimed to do away with the Law in its entirety. As a matter of fact, Jesus explicitly declared in the Sermon on the Mount that He had come not to abolish the Law of Moses but to fulfill it in its deepest theological and spiritual sense and meaning; (2) Not until modernity, for example, with the dawn of the French “Enlightenment,” was “freedom” considered an absolute right of man; (3) The Church does not treat of freedom in a vacuum. Rather, she relates freedom to other key aspects of the Christian life like personal responsibility and virtue, not to mention the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church. The Final Document does an injustice to the Church’s rich teachings on virtue, by failing to underscore the importance of the Ten Commandments or the Precepts of the Church in the formation of young people. This is not simply a glaring lacuna but a serious sin of omission on the part of the Synod Fathers, who should have insisted on their inclusion.
The characteristic anti-nominianism of Pope Francis is evidently stamped on the Relatio. In this way, Pope Francis surely sets himself apart from Saint John Paul II, who indefatigably preached not just the social doctrine of the Church with its concrete implications for the socio-economic and socio-political issues of our time, but likewise the entire moral theology of the Church, especially as we find it expounded in the writings of the great Saint Thomas Aquinas and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which John Paul promulgated in 1992. We can also express here a word of gratitude to Pope Benedict XVI, who promulgated the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 2005 – the year of John Paul’s death and only two months after his own accession to the Chair of Peter. This precious resource is never cited in the Final Document.
Therefore, when the Synod Fathers write in Paragraph 73 that “the Church herself ends up appearing to many young people like an institution that imposes rules, regulations that forbid certain behaviors and imposes certain obligations,” I think it behooves us to note that young people, whether they like it or not, need certain rules as parameters of good behavior in society and in the Church. Without certain structures, like the family, school and parish, young people cannot be expected to thrive, flourishing as responsible and mature human beings.
Furthermore, practically speaking, we can attest that the Church has not done such a very good job in “imposing rules, regulations” on young people, especially since many millennials are “anti-establishment” and comport themselves in an independent way that often sets them apart from their elders and from the traditions of the Church, as well as those cherished by their families.
That fact makes one raise an eyebrow at Paragraph 64 which terms young people “theological fonts,” literally “theological places,” which translates the technical Latin expression “loci theologici.” To my knowledge, this is the first time that this highly significant expression is used to include young people, either individually or as a group. Does anyone think it a bit of a stretch to include young people in the same category as the Bible and the Sacred Liturgy?
In Paragraph 75, the Synod Fathers praise “the witness of so many young people of the past and the present,” but in doing so never make clear who these martyrs are in reality. Of course, given the context of the Synod and the various testimonials, one can surmise that some of these young martyrs they have in mind are those who have suffered death at the hands of ISIS, which has committed unspeakable atrocities in the ancient lands of the Middle East, like Syria and Iraq, where some of the earliest Christian communities were formed and which still use in their sacred liturgies Our Lord’s spoken language of Aramaic, a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Syriac.
Paragraph 81 is entitled, “The Vocation to Follow Jesus”; it bears the sub-title, “The Fascination of Jesus.” Here the Synod Fathers relate that “many young people are fascinated by the figure of Jesus. His life appears to them as good and beautiful, because it was poor and simple, consisting in sincere and profound friendships, spent for His brethren with generosity, never closed off to anyone, but always ready to be offered as a gift.” In this context, the Synod Fathers quote the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (n. 22) – a favorite text of all the post-Vatican II Popes – in which the Council Fathers declare: “Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”
In the following paragraph, the Synod Fathers note that it is not just Jesus’ life in general that is attractive and fascinating but likewise His “gestures” and “words” that allowed people, including young people He healed, to manifest their saving faith or rather the faith that put them on the path to salvation. Likewise, that same paragraph notes the need for those who encounter Christ and who accept His call to discipleship to take up their cross each day and to follow Him “along the paschal pathway of His Death and Resurrection.”
There is also reference in Paragraph 82 to “feminine figures,” meaning “female disciples,” who “shared the itinerant and prophetic existence of the Teacher.” Having alluded to the female disciples of Jesus, the Synod Fathers then offer a beautiful passage on “The Virgin Mary” in Paragraph 83 where they affirm that “among all the biblical figures who illustrate the mystery of vocation, the figure of Mary must be contemplated in a singular fashion.” Why? Well, as the Synod Fathers explain, Mary’s “fiat” allowed her – even as a young woman – to “make possible the Incarnation, creating the conditions for every other ecclesial vocation to be generated, and thus she remains the first disciple of Jesus and the model of every form of discipleship.”
The Marian dimension of faithful discipleship is very strong in the document. And so, in Paragraph 49, devotion to Mary and the saints is mentioned as an aspect of popular piety (a theme dear to the Pope as a Latin American Jesuit), like pilgrimages to sanctuaries, that often involve large groups of young people. As we have just seen, Paragraph 83 is entirely dedicated to the Virgin Mary, while Paragraph 136 repeats the theme of Paragraph 49 with regard to “popular piety,” stating that it “brings with it the desire to enter into contact with the God who saves, often by means of the mediation of the Mother of God and the saints.”
Yet more, Paragraph 83 discusses Mary’s “pilgrimage of faith,” according to which she “followed her Son to the foot of the Cross and, after the Resurrection, accompanied the nascent Church at Pentecost.” Thus, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s role as “Merciful Mother and Teacher” was solidified and continues to have an impact on the life of believers. Mary, this “Merciful Mother and Teacher,” exercises a role of accompaniment for the Church and implores on her behalf the Holy Spirit who vivifies every vocation.
The Synod Fathers conclude Paragraph 83 with this noteworthy Marian reflection that also includes mention of Saint Joseph, her Most Chaste Spouse, when they write: “And, therefore, it is evident that the ‘Marian Principle’ has an eminent role and illuminates the entire life of the Church in all her diverse manifestations. At the Virgin’s side, also the figure of Joseph her spouse constitutes an exemplary model of vocational response.”