Liquid Catholicism and the German Synodal Path

It’s important to grasp that the German Synodal Path’s predictable cave-in on these “hot button” issues reflects a deeper apostasy that is expressed in two evangelically lethal notions.

Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics and co-chair of the Synodal Path, and Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabr¸ck, vice president of the German bishops' conference, attend a news conference at the start of the third Synodal Assembly in Frankfurt Feb. 3, 2022. (CNS photo/Julia Steinbrecht, KNA)

Twenty years ago, during the Long Lent of 2002, I began using the term “Catholic Lite” to describe a project that detached the Church from its foundations in Scripture and Tradition: a Catholicism that could not tell you with certainty what it believes or what makes for righteous living; a Church of open borders, unable or unwilling to define those ideas and actions by which full communion with the Mystical Body of Christ is broken.

The Catholic Lite project was typically promoted as a pastoral response to the cultural challenges of late modernity and postmodernity; late modernity and postmodernity responded, not with enthusiasm for dialogue, but with a barely stifled yawn.

I know of no instance in which the Catholic Lite project has led to a vibrant Catholicism, doing the work that Pope St. John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council set before the Church: the conversion and sanctification of the world. On the contrary, Catholic Lite has always led to ecclesiastical sclerosis. The Catholicism that is alive and vital today is a Catholicism that embraces the symphony of Catholic truth as the answer to the world’s yearning for genuine human liberation and authentic human community: a Church of sinners that strives for Christian perfection.

The Catholicism that is dying, everywhere, is the Church of Catholic Lite.

I’ve learned the hard way, however, that the term “Catholic Lite” really doesn’t translate well into other languages. For years, I imagined that the global ubiquity of Coca-Cola products would make the untranslated phrase “Catholic Lite” intelligible; ditto for the follow-on image I began to use, “Catholic Zero,” as in “Catholic Lite inevitably leads to Catholic Zero.” More fool I. I’ll spare you the gory details, but some recent translations of my work have been so cringe-inducing that I’ve changed images and now refer to “Liquid Catholicism:” a content-light Church that takes its cues from the surrounding culture and imagines itself primarily in the business of doing good works, in the world’s understanding of “good works.”

The aforementioned death throes of the Catholic Lite or Liquid Catholicism project are now on full display in the German “Synodal Path:” a multi-year process, dominated by Church bureaucrats and academics, that seems determined to reinvent the Catholic Church as a form of liberal Protestantism. Most recently, the Synodal Path decided to weaponize the Church’s clerical sexual abuse crisis as one rationale for a wholesale surrender to the spirit of the age in matters of gender ideology and the ethics of human love.

It’s important to grasp, however, that the Synodal Path’s predictable cave-in on these “hot button” issues reflects a deeper apostasy that is expressed in two evangelically lethal notions.

The first apostasy holds, tacitly but unmistakably, that divine revelation in Scripture and Tradition is not binding over time. The Lord Jesus says that marriage is forever; the Synodal Path can change that. St. Paul and the entire biblical tradition teach that same-sex activity violates the divine plan for human love inscribed in our being created male and female; the Synodal Path can change that, because we postmoderns know better. Two thousand years of Catholic tradition, confirmed definitively by Pope St. John Paul II in 1994, teach that the Church is not authorized to ordain women to the diaconate, the priesthood, or the episcopate, because doing so would falsify Christ the High priest’s spousal relationship to his Bride, the Church; the spirit of the age says that that’s nonsense and the German Synodal Path agrees with the Zeitgeist. Thus the first apostasy: history judges revelation; there are no stable reference points for Catholic self-understanding; we are in charge, not Christ the Lord.

The second apostasy teaches a false notion of freedom as “autonomy.” Authentic freedom is not “autonomy,” however. “Autonomy” is a three-year old willfully banging on a piano, which is not music, but noise (Mozart excepted). Authentic freedom is a musician who has mastered the disciplines of piano-playing (often through the drudgery of boring exercises), reading and performing a musical score (another form of rules), thereby creating beautiful music.  As the Catholic Church understands it, authentic freedom is doing the right thing for the right reason as a matter of moral habit (also known as “virtue”). Authentic freedom is not “choice,” or any other mindless mantra of the age. Freedom as willfulness is self-induced slavery. Authentic freedom is liberation through moral truth for goodness and beauty.

Liquid Catholicism reigns supreme in the deliberations of the German Synodal Path. The result will not be evangelical renewal but a further abandonment of the Gospel.


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About George Weigel 393 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), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

36 Comments

  1. In my opinion (which means as much as you want it to mean), the problem is not modernity, but the rerum novarum, the “new things” of which Pope Gregory XVI spoke and which Pope Leo XIII reiterated. That is, what eventually became known (and reinterpreted) as socialism and modernism have between them undermined the foundation of Christianity, and deliberately so. As G.K. Chesterton observed, socialism attacks from outside the Church, while modernism bores from within, but the effect is the same in both cases.

    What is also the same in both cases is the confusion over terminology, which reflects what Chesterton called the “muddle-headedness” that in his opinion best described the essence of both socialism and modernism. Ask anyone to define either one, and you will usually get widely and wildly different definitions, sometimes from the same person, and often no definition at all but a barrage of hysterical ad hominem statements and a declaration that you must be stupid, then a withdrawal on the grounds that you just can’t be reasoned with.

    Ironically, the essence of the new things, as Chesterton hinted, is the abandonment of reason in matters pertaining to natural law. Every pope from Gregory XVI to Benedict XVI has pointed this out, it was the primary object in the work of Fr. Heinrich Pesch, Msgr. Ronald Knox, G.K. Chesterton, Fulton Sheen, and many others (e.g., William Hurrell Mallock and C.S. Lewis among the Anglicans) and yet people still insist on attempting to base the natural law on faith instead of reason, and mix the natural and the supernatural orders together in some very unnatural ways. Socialism, for example, attempts to redefine justice, the premier natural virtue, in terms of charity, the premier supernatural virtue, while modernism seeks to jettison justice altogether and base everything on charity, what Msgr. Ronald Knox called enthusiasm, an excess of charity that causes disunity.

    In philosophical terms, what has happened is the very thing the Church warns against in the First Vatican Council, the Oath Against Modernism, Humani Generis, and other teachings. There is a split between faith (which applies to that which is not manifestly true) and reason (which can be proved empirically or logically). Reason remains unfulfilled without the guidance and illumination of faith, and faith without the foundation of reason degenerates into personal opinion.

    Consequently, as Heinrich Rommen pointed out in his book on the natural law — and accounting for the chaos so prevalent today in civil, domestic and religious society — whoever has the most power or can scream the loudest usually gets what he wants, at least until someone louder or stronger comes along. Might makes right, and pure moral positivism takes over from both faith and reason.

    I have co-authored a book that, at least in part, tries to straighten some of this out and “reset” matters on a sound footing again. It will be released on March 15, 2022 from TAN Books:

    https://tanbooks.com/contemporary-issues/social-issues/the-greater-reset-reclaiming-human-sovereignty-under-natural-law/

  2. This Pope who told the Catholic faithful to “make a mess” has certainly done his part and then some.

    Meanwhile, the days tick by and it would seem ‘the dark night of the soul’ has descended on His ravaged Church.

    • Very excellent analysis. Thank you, George.
      Without what the Holy Spirit gifts us in Scripture and Tradition, “Liquid Catholicism” becomes rudderless, meaningless and doomed to extinction.
      Also agree with Ramjet: Pope Francis stated he wanted to make a mess and has succeeded in doing it with the German synodal mess.

    • The article has a sadness about it because it is framed to negatives. Weigel could’ve balanced it but either overlooked it or left it out intentionally.

      The “liquidity” thesis is from philosophy/sociology and from what I can gather it was introduced by Zygmunt Bauman in his “liquid modernity”. You don’t hear about it because the terminology “liquid” got transposed to “late modernity”. It is a branch or argumentation among Modernists.

      I don’t mean to say Weigel is a Modernist. I like Weigel. He has a kind of a gumption to put up a picture of himself like that one. It looks different every time.

      What I could suggest is that we should be careful just taking ideas from fields of study and applying them in sweeping fashion all through the fabric of faith, like a sort of dye. It can wash out easily.

      Modernists are a strange lot. The different branches don’t reconcile and do not arrive at the same point in the future. So if you are not Catholic and can’t accept Modernism as heresy, because say, you are a left-over Huguenot staunchly libertarian, you still will run into danger with Modernists.

  3. That false notion of freedom as autonomy is not solely a phenomenon of the left. It has also been amply on display in these pages of late among the anti-vax, anti-mandate people who seem to identify Catholicism with American libertarianism.

    • It is my understanding that the vaccines that have been given have been under the emergency use authorization. The vaccine companies have had no legal responsibility for any damages caused by the vaccine. The behavior of many in government has been indistinguishable from that of a police state. I’ve been following this issue on the YouTube/Rumble live-streams of Canadian attorney Viva Frei and American attorney Robert Barnes. They have raised many legal concerns with the current narrative.

      • If you don’t want to do something, you can always find someone who will give you a rationale for not doing it. They will have their motives, which they will not always make known to you, but there will always, always be someone to endorse your preferences if you look for them.

        Nothing in life is completely safe. Sometimes we are called upon to bear some degree of risk for the sake of the community. Nothing could be more Catholic — more Christ-like — than that. And sometimes there is some degree of uncertainty in what you are asked to do. Actually, there is always a degree of uncertainty in everything we are asked to do. Nonetheless, decisions have to be made and actions taken.

        Public health is not something that each person can make their own choices about. When our choices affect the health of others, a competent authority has to make the decisions. Again, there is nothing more Catholic than that. And the church has endorsed and recommended vaccination. The church has been called many things, but libertarian is not one of them.

        And all the rest is posing, libertarian notions of autonomy masquerading as Christian freedom.

        • I posted a comment in the CWR article “Whether there is a moral obligation to disobey the coercive mandates”
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          https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/12/03/opinion-whether-there-is-a-moral-obligation-to-disobey-the-coercive-mandates/#comment-289247
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          You can read about the questionable legal history of the mandates. Dictators always use “the good of the people” to seize power. You can shred your own civil rights and liberties if you wish, but what gives you the right to shred other people’s civil rights and liberties?

        • The points about vaccination for the sake of the community and about the Church’s recommendations are well taken. On the other hand, since even the vaccinated can be asymptomatic carriers, the risk to the unvaccinated minority in a large crowd of others vaccinated seems larger than the reverse.

          Part of the question now is how hard to still smash down on the minority of unvaccinated with the false hyperbole about libertarianism? Especially given the ambiguity of the science (e.g., physicians, below), and the Church’s recommendations and on defense of conscientious informed consent, both (ncbcenter, below). While these partial sources are no more conclusive than the dominant and better “reported” narrative, they are better than simply finding “someone who will give you a rationale for not doing it [vaccination].”

          https://physiciansforinformedconsent.org
          https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/11/01/doctors-blow-the-whistle-on-vaccine-deaths-and-injuries/

          file:///C:/Users/pdbea/Documents/COVID%20vaccine%20side%20effect%20tally.pdf

          https://www.ncbcenter.org/ncbc-news/vaccinestatementupdated

          • There has been heavy handed censorship at work. Good science should not need to resort to engaging in totalitarian methods. There is a difference between community and collectivization. How many “fact checkers” are agenda driven? “The science” has been all over the map. The rule makers have been frequently found not following their own rules. Whether or not mass gatherings are super spreader events appears to depend on the politics of the people in question. Serious issues require serious behavior if there is to be public credibility. A lot of what has been going on has been a public circus.
            *
            All of this behavior is consistent with that of “Liquid Catholics” in the hierarchy. Stonewalling and defaming faithful Catholics who challenge the modernist narrative. “Liquid Catholic” clergy act like the secular ruling establishment elites. Politician/bureaucrats covering for fellow politician/bureaucrats.

        • So crushing the unborn with the intent of harvesting their tissue so you can live with a greater level of health insurance is not a corrupt autonomy but a religious objection to not being compelled to aid and abet this carnage of the innocent is merely “libertarianism?”

    • Mark Baker, from my point of view, I followed the vaccine saga closely from the beginning and how it slowly turned into a medical, social, political and moral debacle. Whereas a handful of people GOT VERY RICH.

      Concerning “autonomy”, I wouldn’t too readily drive some Catholics who “oppose vaccination”, into “American Libertarianism”.

      If you read Weigel above on his description of virtue and habit, it is entirely possible to have a right rational assessment of things without having to be anything else, Catholic or otherwise. And this is bourne out by the diversity in the approaches to treating COVID without having to be vaccinated -and in the gaining in understanding of novel vaccines.

      And since it is true, it does not “compromise” one’s Catholic faith in any way, if one happens to be Catholic.

      On another plane, some Libertarians will not accept an equation with Catholicism, on any account. This would hold true both when there could be a coincidence of goodness they are sharing and when they share in a coincidence of errancy. You make no provision for this.

    • Mark, I think it was Fulton Sheen who came up with something like this. A train has the freedom to move provided it stays on the rails provided for it and the drives abides by the rules and signals.

  4. “Liquid Catholicism reigns supreme in the deliberations of the German Synodal Path. The result will not be evangelical renewal but a further abandonment of the Gospel.”

    But it is not an abandonment of the broad laity, who are synodalized into a support role–groomed as unwitting allies with the manipulators. Part of the contrived consensus–the bundled and “synthesized” sensus fidelium.

    Should I be reminded of a long-ago colleague of mine working in the secular/public sector, as he observed a blatant duplicity by the elected officials, together with his staff role in doing the paperwork? Said he before resigning: “they can masturbate if they must, but they can’t use my hand to do it.”

    • EEWWWW. Not all parts of the sensus fidelium will undergo grooming into unwitting synodal syntheses. At least the clean hands, bright minds, faithful souls and courageous hearts will resist and abstain.

  5. The way the serpent pitched it, the eating of the forbidden fruit represented autonomy. The German Church is on the forbidden fruit diet. Diet was a matter of concern in the Church at Corinth. St. Paul says:
    *
    Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. (1 Corinthians 8:1 RSVCE)
    *
    The members of the German Church hierarchy are very puffed up with their worldly knowledge. The role model of the German Church appears to be the Church at Corinth. Liquid Catholicism is the “spirit of Vatican II.” The empty pews in many churches demonstrates the corrosive nature of Liquid Catholicism. Too much worldly knowledge too little authentic love.

  6. George Weigel’s “The Catholicism that is dying, everywhere, is the Church of Catholic Lite” is clearly correct. Distancing from sacred scripture and tradition is widespread.
    Although, is this distancing while primarily evident in the German Synodal Way confined, significantly and effectively there? Liquid Catholicism may be analogously featured as the sparsity of sound doctrinal liquidity within the Church due to Vatican closure of tradition. Traditionis Custodes, Amoris Laetitia, the Synod on synodality the indicators.
    This writer suggests to the author that he shift his focus on Catholic Lite, the German Synodal Way simply a barometer to where it’s having the wider impact.

  7. “I began using the term “Catholic Lite” to describe a project that detached the Church from its foundations in Scripture and Tradition.”

    George, there is no such thing as Church Lie. There is a Church, a one and only Church that was established by Jesus and anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has always been in and with this Church in spite of the weaknesses and faults of the humans in it. Vatican 2 was inspired by the Holy Spirit and so too the changes in some features in the Mass. The Mass, as we know, has been enriched with more scripture and more prayers for the benefit of the common members of the Church. I saw the change and can vouch for its benefits.
    Fear not, George, the Church is on the right track. It is becoming more the BODY of Jesus – the preacher, the healer, the forgiver, the one who did not condemn the sinner but instead reached out to him/her. Yes, our Lord was different from other religious leaders and from civic leaders too. Let us stop thinking like how the non-Christian world thinks and responds. Condemn and punish is one way some people think. Be forgiving, caring, compassionate, merciful, meek, peace loving people we are asked to be.
    Please do not try to hold back the Church by your uneducated, humanistic views.

    • For you to conclude your humanistic sentimentalized version of Christianity with a conclusion that condescendingly accuses a bonified scholar of being uneducated and humanistic is like the ocean calling a raindrop excessively moist. Nonetheless, were you to ever begin paying attention to what is really going on in the Church today, including the murderous consequences of a widespread embrace of the sex revolution, a matter that any sane mind NEEDS TO MAKE JUDGMENTS ABOUT, you might reflect a bit on the consequences of ignoring Niebuhr’s famous lament on liberal Protestantism: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

      • Yes. Some members of the Body are leprous, blind, dumb, and sorely deluded. Some members may eventually realize they’ve been kept alive only by artificial and extraordinary methods of life support.

        Some comments are so ludicrously, ironically illogical that they cause a good belly laugh, which is good for clearing my lungs.

          • You only get a clear and true grapple on the situation and issues, by having a certain delineation of facts and a faith approach; somewhat as shown here by Cardinal Muller, CATHOLIC HERALD, “German bishops failing to defend the faith”, by Karl Warnberg, January 2022.

            The whole article is worth reading. If you don’t have a subscription to this magazine, the website affords you 4 or 5 free pages every month; you should be able to access it.

            In addition, Cardinal Muller both suggests a call for new impetus and gives indications how actions could focus or be directed.

            The other drawing card with Cardinal Muller is that is he speaking with feeling and insight for his homeland and Church shared without complication from a priest’s heart and personal affection for the faith.

            https://catholicherald.co.uk/german-bishops-are-failing-to-defend-the-faith/

  8. Obviously, the “Synod-for-Synodal-Sex-Revolution-Post-Christianity” is using the “German-Post-Christian-Unkatholik-Synod” as theatrical drama for the Pontiff Francis to be portrayed as “moderate,” which is essential performance art confected for the pew-sitting sheeple, who are expected to pretend that The Pontiff Francis upholds and teaches what Jesus and his apostles taught about sexual morality, marriage, adultery, fornication, sodomy, etc.

    But as we all are free to admit, the Pontiff Francis has selected an openly apostate Bishop, Cardinal Hollerich of Luxembourg, to run his “Synod-for-Synodal-Sex-Revolution-etc.”

    Eminence Hollerich’s outright apostasy is the subject today at TCT, link here:

    https://www.thecatholicthing.org/

    Its the path away from Jesus, who, in stark disagreement with the apostate fraud-Bishops of today (well represented by Bishop Robert Zollitsch of Germany in his televised Holy Saturday apostasy in 2009), actually did die for our sins.

  9. For readers interested in a credible source about the extent of apostasy of our Catholic Church now, including of course our bishops, I recommend reading the essay “No Decapitated Body,” by Fr. Robert Imbelli, published in 2021 in tbe journal Nova et Vetera, link here:

    https://stpaulcenter.com/wp-content/uploads/flipbooks/nova-et-vetera-18-3/articles/02-nv-18-3-imbelli

    In the essay, Fr. Imbelli updates and revises his 2020 estimate of apostasy in the Church (focusing on priests, theologians snd Bishops), which he characterizes in 2021 as follows: “there is abroad in The Church…an intentional apostasy.” The ellipsis indicate the words he removed from his original estimate, which were the limiting qualifiers “innocent” and “sometimes.”

    We are all free to admit truth about the apostasy of the contemporary Church, and the representatives of The Pontiff Francis who are apostates, including his-own-Cardinal Eminence Hollerich, hand-picked leader of the Synod-for-Apostasy.

  10. In order to argue that the Church has gotten two vital beliefs wrong for 2,000 years, you must argue that Jesus Christ allowed lies to be passed as truth for 2,000 years. This is simply not possible. God loves his people and would not allow the church to promulgate falsehoods.

    • Unfortunately, Anne, some people believe, erroneously, that if the Church does or says something that they do not like, that does not fit their image, then the Church is going in the wrong direction. People believed this in the past and they left the Church as Protestants. But today, they hang around annoying us true and faithful believers.

  11. With a nod to the Zeigeist, all that gender fluidy and non binary stuff and the tone of the current papacy, what about Capricious Catholicism; on a whim and a ploy.

  12. Says Weigel, “Authentic freedom is liberation through moral truth for goodness and beauty.”

    My comment to Mal this morning hasn’t yet been posted, so I am in two minds about saying anything. Add to that Tony W and Paul trying to be like bouncers and Mark Baker shifting his focus within some band of the word “Libertarian” that he introduced: I could spoil their fight.

    Authentic freedom in terms of faith, comes from fidelity to grace. Weigel’s formula rings more to a philosophical understanding. If someone wanted to be negative he could say, Weigel borders on the Pelagian; and that someone could do it in a cruel kind of a way were he so minded.

    My comments have been offered as constructive criticism. Not destructive. They might be small and insignificant to you but they could very well be essential, like nuts holding the bolts. In which case it should concern you as pressing. Nuts don’t collide. They trace the threads and tighten the match at the end. Things don’t fall apart and function with noiseless ease.

    On the other hand they could help the progress of discussion shape up better. The sadness and negativity I pointed out would indicate a need for simplicity. JPII was friend to many.

    Restrict the Modernism jargon to Modernism. It does a disservice to faith multiplying so many conceptologies; and clearly having to take time beforehand to explain their root and forestall possible confusion, it would be too complex as well as tedious.

    In another article Weigel said “ultimate fungibility”. It’s generic. I think it would help just to say that the Germans are being apostate, overtaken by their own waywardness. And it’s sin.

    Say what positive line someone could follow. It would serve as warning to some who are wavering with the Germans or who heard a Pope say in Mexico, to legalize homosexual “civil union”.

    I found it at CWR.

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2012/07/catholics-and-modernity-george-weigel/

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/02/16/liquid-catholicism-and-the-german-synodal-path/

  13. George Weigel is right in describing the German Synodal Way as “liquid Catholicism” and a form of liberal Protestantism. In an earlier article in The Tablet, he noted that the rest of the bishops around the world needed to take the matter in hand and correct their brothers in Germany. (March 10, 2021) They didn’t do that and now the cancer is metastasizing. It is hard to see how any of the recommendations voted on earlier this month have any relation to the Church Jesus built of His teachings. As Mr. Weigel states, the synodal path “takes its cue from the surrounding culture” and thus has become part of this world. The Gospel of John tells us Jesus has called us out of this world. The Letter of James tells us “whoever wishes to be a friend of this world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jas 4:4) St. Paul tells us “Do not be conformed to this world.” (Rom 12:2) Dr. Peter Kreeft consistently states that it is the role of the Church to deliver God’s mail, not to edit it. St. Paul’s Letter to Titus notes that it is the duty of bishops to “hold firm to the sure word as taught so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9) Cardinal Mueller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, has also weighed in on the secularization of the Church in many places but especially in the German “Synodal Way.” Clearly, these German bishops have become part of the world and apart from the Church of Christ.
    Therefore it is time for Pope Francis and the bishops of the Church to rebuke the German Synodal Way, firmly and publicly. If they won’t come back to the Church, for as Mr. Weigel states, they are engaged in apostasy, then sever the tie and wish them well on their new experiment. I predict that they will experience the same decline that many of the liberal Protestant sects have (see also what is happening to the United Methodist schism). Excommunication is not a punishment but an opportunity for conversion. As St. Augustine has said,
    “Then when it is necessary let us apply discipline. Otherwise, the evil may grow by the relaxing of discipline.
    “If the sin is private, correct the sinner in private. If it is public and manifest, apply the correction in public so that the sinner may be led to betterment and others may conceive a salutary fear.” (New Testament sermon, No. 33)

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