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The “synodality” masquerade

“Jesus Christ,” said the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, “didn’t intend his Church to be governed by a committee.” Indeed.

Pope Francis is pictured as Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, relator general of the synod, and Bishop Fabio Fabene, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, talk at the start of the final session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 26, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) .

During the 2001 Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who’d suffered through a lot of synodal speechifying and small-group discussions over the years, made a trenchant observation: “Jesus Christ didn’t intend his Church to be governed by a committee.”

Indeed.

The mechanisms of consultation that exist in the Church — from parish councils through diocesan pastoral councils to the Synod of Bishops — exist to strengthen the governance of the Church by its pastors: priests in their parishes, bishops in their dioceses, the Bishop of Rome in terms of the universal Church. The Synods of 2014, 2015, 2018, and 2019, however, suggest that the committee model deplored by Cardinal George has morphed into something arguably even worse: the masquerade model, in which a “synodal process” of “walking together” provides cover for effecting serious changes in Catholic self-understanding and practice for which there is little or no doctrinal, theological, or pastoral warrant.

In the Final Report of the recent Amazonian Synod, this masquerade model was described in language sodden with clichés:

To walk together the Church today needs a conversion to the synodal experience. It is necessary to strengthen a culture of dialogue, reciprocal listening, spiritual discernment, consensus and communion to find spaces and modes of joint decision and respond to pastoral challenges. This will foster joint responsibility in the life of the Church in a spirit of service. It is urgent to work, propose, and assume the responsibilities to overcome clericalism and arbitrary impositions. Synodality is a constitutive dimension of the Church. You cannot be a Church without acknowledging an effective exercise of the sensus fidei of the entire People of God.

Leaving aside the question of how an “effective….sense of the faithful” involving 1.2 billion Catholics could be measured, much less “exercised,” what does this gobbledygook mean? Confusions on that front were amplified by a prominent celebrant of the cult of synodality, whose prose parses but whose grasp of the reality of recent synods seems deficient. Thus Villanova’s Massimo Faggioli, writing in La Croix International, recently made several claims about synodality, none of which stands up to what the courts would call “strict scrutiny” by those actually present in Rome during recent synods:

“…Francis has turned the synods into real events.” Baloney. The synods led by Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, chosen by the Holy Father as secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, have been at least as orchestrated as their predecessors. And after there was serious pushback to the manipulation of Synod-2014 by the Synod general secretariat, care was taken at the Synods of 2015 and 2018, and at the recent Amazonian regional synod, to ensure that voices potentially disruptive of the Synod-managers’ plans were not prominent among the invited.

“They [the recent synods] have been prefaced by a serious consultation of the faithful at the local level.” Really? Can you, gentle reader, name anyone in your circle of Catholic friends who was seriously consulted about the issues at Synods 2014 and 2015 (the nature of marriage and sacramental discipline)? Leaders of some of the most evangelically successful youth ministries in the United States were noticeably absent from the preparations for Synod-2018. According to several Amazonian Synod spin-doctors, 87,000 people were consulted prior to the development of that synod’s working document. But how can a local Church unable to tell us how many Catholics there are in Amazonia credibly count the precise number of people “consulted” (much less tell us how well-catechized those people are)? And how was it that 87,000 Amazonians spoke in progressive German Catholic accents, emphasizing “issues” that may be agitated in the Biergärten of Munich but that seem somewhat removed from the real-world pastoral challenges of the Brazilian rainforest?

“The actual Synod gatherings….in Rome have featured genuine freedom of expression.” This, I’m sure, would come as news to the African bishops warned against consorting with American bishops at Synod-2018, as it would to the members of the final-report drafting committees at Synod-2015 and Synod-2018, who complained about the manipulation of the process by the Synod general secretariat.

Serious consultation and collaboration are essential to effective pastoral leadership, including the leadership of the Bishop of Rome. But over the 50-plus years of its existence, no one has figured out how to make the Synod of Bishops really work. Propaganda about “synodality” that functions as rhetorical cover for the imposition of the progressive Catholic agenda on the whole Church is not an improvement on that track record; it’s a masquerade, behind which is an agenda.


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About George Weigel 245 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 Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). His new book The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform was published by Basic Books on September 17.

27 Comments

  1. Thank you Mr Weigel, for once again demonstrating that our beloved Church is firmly under the rule of liars, cheats, and knaves. It is all very bad news, but eventually, the truth will set us free.

    • I would say that our beloved Church is firmly under the rule of modern and post-modern idealistic gnosis. But eventually, the Truth – i.e. incarnated God Jesus Christus – will set us free.

    • Cardinal Francis George is right on. The One World progressive movement within America has to be stopped. America is the only nation in the world that was form in; “God We Trust” and has used this to save many other nation through out history.

  2. Writes the Amazonian Synod: “Synodality is a constitutive dimension of the Church.” “Constitutive” or levelized, or even inverted?

    Instead, wrote the clearer Second Vatican Council: The Church is a “hierarchical communion” (Lumen Gentium). And, likewise, wrote Pope Benedict XVI: “A council [and any lesser synod] is something that the Church does, NOT what it is.”

    Only the absolute simplicity of God is what He does and does what He is. To either terrestrialize God or to etherealize the Church, is this disinterred Gnosticism?
    OR, perhaps, more of a mongrelized throwback, when dressed-up/undressed as a Pacha-mammarian “integral ecology” (bastardizing the “human ecology” with the related but distinct “natural ecology”).
    OR, is loose-end synodality designed to rhyme with ascendant (and fractious) Islamic “culture”—-whose inclusive self-understanding is a collage-like “congregational theocracy” with no center?

    The reconstituted New Church? A “collage [no longer college] of cardinals?”

  3. I am reminded of CWR’s own reporting following the Synod on the Family (paraphrasing):
    “It appears that some of our worst fears about the recent Synod on the Family did not come to past.”

    This is, mind you, after weeks, if not months, of fear-mongering, sensationalism, griping, and declarations on how the Church was going to become Unitarian. In other words, did the site waste everyone’s time? Are they doing it again?? Stay tuned, for the next exciting Synod!

    • A paraphrase must be acknowledged for its fidelity when it can lead, via a search engine, to the original Webpage:

      From Thoughts on five problematic passages in the Synod’s Final Document, by Fr. Nicholas Gregoris October 30, 2018:

      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.

  4. The number of times I’ve employed “masquerade” when discussing the current ecclesiastical charade is beyond count. Everyday appears to unveil another scandal of one grade or another — you don’t require the pope’s Marxist mouthpiece raising questions about the Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to confect a scandal. The report of a mere one hundred clerics/academics providing their signature to a petition objecting to the worship of the idol was scandal enough the other day. Only one hundred…that says it all.
    Has the Holy Priesthood, the episcopate, the papacy become a masquerade party? They had better determine an answer to that question before long. The audience they play to on the “peripheries” is unaware of their existence except when there is a scandal exhibiting concupiscence of a sexual nature, those who continue to or desire to provide them credence are hitting their biological expiration date and/or getting fed-up.
    Soon no one will be left to play to.

  5. It angers me to no end that our leaders think: A) the laity so stupid as to be fooled by a “synodal process” with pre-selected participants with a particular view for a pre-determined outcome. These synods are a sham, an exercise in kabuki theatre. B) they think that they can simply manipulate God’s Church into whatever changes they deem necessary. It is the height of clericalism on their part. It is cynical, Machiavellian and ungodly for these prelates to act this way. I no longer trust them and do not look to them for anything. If I didn’t need the hierarchy for apostolic succession and valid sacraments I would axe them completely from my life. I’ve grown to hate them (I know its a sin to hate, and its something I’m working on). I was not always like this. I used to be the biggest supporter of the Pope and the hierarchy. One can only take so many lies, manipulations, sex abuse covers ups, financial scandals and meaningless word salads.

  6. Conception v Reality. No Jesus Christ did not institute a committee church that walks together emitting gobbledygook. Cardinal George and George the justifiably irate essayist are right. As foreseen by Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue committees by nature are conceptual unless directed by clear principles. lacking clear principled guidelines MacIntyre argues in After Virtue that committees engage in “sentiment that effects adherence to rules”. Opinion takes over the discussion. Synodality is purely conceptual the invention of radical Jesuit Archbishop of Milan Cardinal Carlo Martini to radically change Roman Catholicism to accommodate the modern world. Archbishop Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio SJ learned well the advantage of perpetrating a concept as reality from Mentor Martini because inevitably it will result in “sentiment that effects adherence to rules”.

    • “Synodality”: the updated self-validating now Faux Ignatian Examen where what you really want to do is “God’s Will”…writ large in “God of surprises” stacked deck gatherings, really no surprises committees…which are indeed more time consuming than sitting in a comfortable chair, offering thanks…and then 15 – 20 minutes later “discerning” what you were going to do no matter what right from the very beginning.

      I can’t decide which is more offensive. The blatant Pachamama idolatry and indifferentism…or the extent to which the hierarchy considers even their heresy and apostasy to be “led by the Spirit.” I would actually say the latter, especially as early on as in Amoris Laetitia one could get the idea? that God could actually will that someone should commit and stay in sin…I guess similarly to the later God “wills” the diversity of religions. And lest we forget…the staggering level of cowardice.

      These Synods should all be called, “Aging Men Trying to be ‘Relevant’ Yet Only Helping to Increase The Number of Nones Part 1, Part 2 etc…”

      I have to say, though, we might renew our appreciation for the Church’s teaching and belief in predestination at this time…as we ourselves repent and cling to Grace.

      • Yes Joseph the Vatican since 2013 has invented concepts as they advance an agenda. As if an idea surpasses reality. For example the concept in Amoris Laeitita that mitigation can remove responsibility from intrinsically evil acts. There can be no circumstance in which someone can sexually assault a child, lie under oath and falsely accuse, enter into an adulterous relationship. Unless entirely deranged and incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. And if one compromises their reason with mind altering substance they are culpable for the abuse and whatever sinful act follows. One of the greatest [widespread] moral crimes is pornography on the Internet. The argument in the Catechism is that habit reduces culpability perhaps entirely. I frequently have a penitent say a priest had assured them it wasn’t serious sin. That an inept rationalization because free will does not disappear with consistent behavior. The argument Pope Francis makes is precisely that regarding masturbation in the Catechism. In reference to those living in “irregular relationships”. As said Pope John Paul II warned of making mitigation a theological category by which mortal sin can be absolved by habitual practice of a sinful act. That cannot be true regarding inherently evil acts. It’s like making the preposterous claim that the serial fornication is absolved because of habit. Revelation by the divinity through Christ is the sole determinant of truth. The commandments are exactly what they are intended. This entire moral policy is a drift away from personal holiness to socio environmental concepts like global warming, population control, migration, equanimity in distribution of income. In effect abandonment of the Gospels of Christ for a New Paradigmatic message of secular humanism.

        • The Catholic Church has become irrelevant to the ordinary person. There is no longer clear simple direction that is understood by those who have not been educated to the high levels of the ordained or professed.
          What is important to know is that there is only One God, the Creator of all things seen and unseen. There are 3 distinct essences, beings present in this One God. All were present from the beginning and will be present forever.
          Out of love he created Mankind in His image. After communication via Prophets, He became incarnate and lived manifesting how man should behave. One must subjugate one’s innate urges in gratitude for being created and have the opportunity, after serving Him, here on Earth, to exist forever with Him in Heaven.
          Christ taught that one must strive to be perfect in love as the Father is perfect.
          An individual is equal second, God first and Neighbour as important as self.
          Each person has been endowed with individual gifts and must be grateful for these gifts and out of appreciation for existence be encouraged to share with those less fortunate. To thwart this individual spirit and force sharing proposed by Marxist philosophy causes resentment and takes away free will.
          This must be shown and taught by the ‘shepherds’ by example. Living in splendorous luxury and sin is totally counter to the example shown by our Saviour.
          No human institution will bring peace on Earth, save through conversion of the heart of the individual in imitation of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life.
          Hot air talkfests such as Synods will not cut it.

  7. The Pontiff Francis presided over and promoted idolatry in October 2019.

    My HS daughter reported to me that the news of the Pontiff Francis televising the worship of Pachamama is spreading among students at Catholic schools.

    Pentecostals and Evangelicals are using this evidence as evidence that the head of the Catholic Church has broken the 1st Commandment: the Pontiff Francis is on video presiding over idol worship.

    If we don’t admit that this act is the gravest possible offense, then we aren’t worthy to be called Christians, much less Catholics.

    • And they take it further, Chris, that God “wills” this idolatry.

      I’m having an epiphany here: is this not a key element also used in “grooming” by sexual predators who convince the minor (or even adult?) that “It’s not wrong. God actually thinks it’s fine etc.”

    • Let us not forget the tremendous words of Jesus regarding “scandal of the little one”. Besides, all mortal sins are a form of idolatry and this absolutely clear in the Bible.

  8. What I find most upsetting is that those Marxist bishops and theologians treat the indigenous people with such contempt. In order to push through their own Marxist agenda. The display of hedonistic Pachamamas in St Peter’s , the Vatican gardens and in the church of Traspontina is sacrilegious. Which was why the young Austrian man Tachueggel tossed them into the Tiber. Where they belong! And just as Fr Mitch Pacwa said on EWTN as a response to the Vatican’s feeble ” explanations”; ” knock it off!” He also said that we ate are not stupid. And we are not! This synod was an undisguised and arrogant push for a Marxist liberalist agenda by mostly octogenarian theologians and bishops.
    It seems all too obvious that many of them have lost their faith. The Church doesn’t need to he thrown back
    into the Marxis 70s. Our Bishops must defend the teachings
    of the Church. Lead and guide, strengten the faithful in this difficult time of abundant heresies and apostasy. We need to pray hard for the Church. For the
    intercession of Our Lady.

  9. Our church’s Mass attendance is down twenty percent in one year. Keep that synodal church going and soon we will be in the same league with the Anglicans.

  10. There is no model, synodal or hierarchical, which will sustain the Church in righteousness when the teleology of the committee is extra-ecclesial. The worst of this silly synodality is that it is showing up in dioceses as sham consultory processes in which bishops go through the motions of meeting with their flock and then follow their own agendas congratulating the flock for their “contributions”.

  11. The Catholic Church under Bergoglio has now become irrelevant.
    The recent Amazon synod was a death blow to the Church that Christ founded. Maybe that was Bergoglio’s intent – to change the Church beyond recognition – that message was very clear : Pro-LGBT German bishop: ‘Nothing will be the same’ in Church after Amazon Synod
    https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pro-lgbt-german-bishop-nothing-will-be-the-same-in-church-after-amazon-synod
    Despite this, we hold fast to God’s promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

  12. George W, Be at peace and do not despair, the shepherds will care for you with their usual comforting, pastoral silence, see Paragraph 16: https://www.the-american-catholic.com/2019/11/19/carbonis-laetitia/.

    One of the greates errors of synodal exhortations that follow these synods is the use of “The Fathers said . . “. that makes it sound like the world’s bishops are united, when the number of bishops in the world that “said” anything in agreement is less than a very small % of all the bishops.

    Guy, Texas

  13. At the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the letter to the Gentiles from the council was sent by the “The apostles and elders and brethren” (15:23), and said that “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us” (15:28). It was sent by both clergy and laity. The Holy Ghost was the authority figure. It’s not quite the same today. I think it should be.

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