Synodality, bureaucratic malaise, and the problem of power

It is precisely an ecclesiology of power that has led to most of the seemingly intractable problems that afflict the Church today.

St. Peter's Basilica, Città del Vaticano, Vatican City (Image: Sean Ang | Unsplash.com)

In my previous essay I criticized the new emphasis on synodality as an essentially modern enterprise of bureaucratic legerdemain. I noted that while I support the concept of a more synodal Church, I am suspicious of the current process. I quoted Louis Bouyer concerning the often distorting influences of an excessive fixation on Church structures. Therefore, in this installment I want to further elaborate on Bouyer’s analysis since I think he identifies the nub of the problem.

As Louis Bouyer makes clear in The Church of God, Church hierarchs, in an evolution of many centuries, have made Church authority an end in itself, concerned more with the internal consistency of the magisterium, rather than with a deep pastoral concern for the life of the Church that the truth of the Gospel is meant to engender. Thus does Bouyer identify a “distortion of pastoral authority” in the Church as one of the chief concerns of Vatican II and that distortion has led to what Bouyer calls “an ecclesiology of power” rather than one of service.

And it is precisely this ecclesiology of power that has led to most of the seemingly intractable problems that afflict the Church today. In particular, Bouyer identifies the primary problem with this ecclesiology as one of disconnection from Christ’s holiness as the animating reality that breathes fire into the Church’s equations. He then identifies three ways in which the Church is a medium of Christ’s Revelation. And all three ways are relationally grounded in the others and suffer serious distortions when they become disconnected.

The first way is in the sacraments which are the direct presence of Christ in his Church and vouchsafe the ongoing presence of Christ’s holiness, which can never be effaced or made null by the Church’s sins. There will always be a holy remnant, therefore, of those in the Church who avail themselves of this holiness and attempt to live it most seriously, even if that remnant is, like Elijah, a solitary lay person or a single bishop.

The second way is the pastoral ministry of the Church, which includes her preaching, her pastoral accompaniment of her members who are all on the journey from sin into the charity of divine life, and the teaching magisterium with its guarantee of indefectibility as a ministry of service to the truth. And this entire pastoral ministry must be grounded in, and motivated by, the life of Divine charity if it is to be true to the Christological holiness of the sacraments which it seeks to inculcate in her members. Therefore, the fact that Christ chooses as his ministers men who are also sinners means that this ministry to the truth in charity can be rendered opaque, and the image of Christ can be submerged in an avalanche of cascading sins—the net effect of which is to disconnect the truth from charity.

And when this happens the sacraments too, and most especially the Eucharistic liturgy, can become a form of ritualism. Bouyer puts it thus: “… celebration of the mysteries would become a ritualism, divorced from both subjective faith and the collective life and its organization willed by Christ, and would nourish nothing more than a mystique of evasion” (emphasis added).

The third way that the Church makes Christ present now is in the lived life of Divine charity in all of her members. Here the subjective holiness of the believer is in play precisely as a movement of the Spirit, vivifying the whole and putting flesh on the bones of the Church’s doctrinal preaching and teaching. This is the lifeblood of the entire Church, her very reason for existing in the first place. And when this life of charity wanes and then grows cold the entire lava flow of the Spirit’s love hardens and fractures as it encounters the icy waters of recalcitrant indifference. When this ossification happens, the various ways that Christ is present in the Church disassociate themselves from one another, and the hierarchical ministry of the Church hardens into a self-justifying end in itself, ruling more and more from a position of weakness that has no other recourse than the various methods of coercion. And its teachings, as Bouyer notes, became a form of dead intellectualism devoid of an explicit and constitutive orientation to the life of charity.

The fateful and most decisive step in this direction happened, according to Bouyer, when the Church rightly fought for its independence from an Empire now become “Christian” and which sought to control the Church for its own Imperial purposes. Eventually, in this struggle for independence the Church moves from a rightful claim to its own autonomy from civil power into a mimicry of the methods of State power. And that creates a competitive situation among players besotted with the same animating spirit of the libido dominandi. In the end, the Church buys an illusory independence from the State— illusory because the Church has now succumbed to the worldly world and has thereby been conquered by it. The Church thus loses its character as a ministry of service and adopts instead, as Bouyer puts it, an ecclesiology of power.

And it is exactly the pastoral disaster of this ecclesiology of power that Bouyer claims was one of the chief targets of the Vatican II reforms. Unfortunately, it was this very ecclesiology of power that continued on after the Council and that scuttled the reform process, as the Council sought to change the Church without really changing the Church. It said some really profound things and uttered some fine-sounding words about collegiality and shared authority and the universal call to holiness, but in the end the conciliar project failed. Why? Because the Council itself failed to identify and, therefore, failed to confront directly, the false ideology of power that was the source of the malaise in the Church. Bouyer puts it as follows:

But during the course of this council, and even more in what followed, it became apparent to what extent misunderstanding of the real sense of Christian authority was inviscerated in the consciousness of its possessors. Even though the doctrinal texts had formally acknowledged that conflict between primacy and collegiality can arise only in an ecclesiology of power, not in one of service, the episcopate again, in tending to its regeneration, too often thought of itself in terms of ecclesiological power.

These are troubling words, but they come from a man of the Council itself, a man who, like me, supports the broad conciliar project and what it hoped to achieve. And contrary to what so many of the Council’s critics allege to be its chief flaws—liturgical reform, religious liberty, an exaggerated ecumenism , and the like—in reality, as Bouyer correctly notes, the flaw of the Council was its failure to address the many ways in which a false notion of “authority as power” had deformed the Church in profound ways.

And it is that flaw which short-circuited the Council’s broader aims since all that really happened after the Council was the simple transference of this false sense of power from the Church’s center into all of her peripheries. This is why I remain skeptical of the current chatter about synodality. Because, if history is to be our guide, in a Church that suffers from a disconnection between office and holiness, a diffusion of authority from the center usually means some form of Gallicanism will rise up again, wherein ecclesial power, now made multi-focal, will remain what it has been for centuries: a competitive grasping after “control”.

Nor are such views confined to Bouyer. Henri de Lubac, writing in the aftermath of the Council, in The Church: Paradox and Mystery, supported the renewal of the theology of collegiality but offered the following caveat:

… Perhaps even more of a risk exists that the collegiality doctrine will conform itself in theory and practice to thoroughly human models. Its force may be whittled away while it searches for means of organizing itself, forgetting (a) that the true, divinely granted collegiality is marked by concern for the universal Church and (b) that its most common action consists, not in the exercise of jurisdiction at all, but in the active and habitual interest of each bishop in the faith, life, and discipline of the Church … and in the bishop’s realization of his personal responsibility for all of this.

Similarly, Hans Urs von Balthasar once made the point that one of the problems with granting more power to episcopal conferences is that there arises a diminishment of the unique importance and singular authority of individual bishops in their dioceses (Communio, Fall 2005, 591). And one of the dangers of a more synodal Church, if the focus is on “who is in control here?” (i.e. power) is that individual bishops can be browbeaten into submission, which Balthasar describes as a “terror,” and which therefore obscures the unique duty of each bishop to teach, govern, and sanctify.

Indeed, in an ironic way, the elevation of the power of episcopal conferences can actually increase the bureaucratic malaise of the Church as it mimics the corporate culture of modernity, leading to structures of authority that are less personal, less spiritual, and more oriented toward the layered anonymity of the bureaucracy and its nested hierarchies of unaccountable functionaries. As Balthasar puts it, “It seems to me that precisely in the post-conciliar time the apparatus of the Church has become so inflated that it is in danger of bursting. … What is inflated must collapse … for the simple and purely spiritual freedom of office to be made clear again” (585).

Therefore, as the Church launches into a discussion of synodality, I hope that the central thematization of its efforts will focus on one simple question: “How does the Church become more synodal without becoming more bureaucratic?” In other words, how does the Church move away from the hyper centralization of a single bureaucracy —Rome—without creating hundreds of new ones, and all of them as unaccountable as the first?


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About Larry Chapp 34 Articles
Dr. Larry Chapp is a retired professor of theology. He taught for twenty years at DeSales University near Allentown, Pennsylvania. He now owns and manages, with his wife, the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Farm in Harveys Lake, Pennsylvania. Dr. Chapp received his doctorate from Fordham University in 1994 with a specialization in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar. He can be visited online at "Gaudium et Spes 22".

53 Comments

  1. A perceptive and summary insight: ” Eventually, in this struggle for independence the Church moves from a rightful claim to its own autonomy from civil power into a mimicry of the methods of State power.”

    From a comparative and long historical perspective, one school of thought is that Islam, too, became more of a fused Mosque-state in mimicry of the earlier, competing, and fused Byzantine Empire. Today, then, the unique “hierarchical communion” (Lumen Gentium) of the Catholic Church also begins to mimic an empire, but one which is postmodern and radically secularist rather than the earlier Christian Byzantine.

    The Eucharistic Church, unlike Islam, is still constituted by the Real Presence in the elevated host after consecration….But, what has this to do with power? And, what does “Eucharistic coherence” (faith and morals, both) have to do with the manipulations of impostor-cardinal red hats toward scattered and likely-subverted and lavender synodal fiefdoms?

    Other convergent mimicries between a bureaucratized or even mutinous Barque of Peter and mostly non-hierarchical (and non-Eucharistic) Islam are suggested in my reply (a list plus a clarification) to Chapp’s April 28 posting: https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/04/28/the-quintessentially-modern-approach-to-synodality-is-empty-and-artificial/

  2. History as something to say to the hierarchy and the Church today.

    Chabad.org explains. Although Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem is usually marked as the beginning of the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people into Babylon, “[t]he actual process, however, originated when the Jews began straying from G‑d, long before the siege.”

    JewishHistory.com relates that the second temple’s destruction and the loss of the national identify of the Jewish people “occurred to a great degree because of warfare among the Jews themselves.”

    Does this sound familiar? Localized or centralized, if power (not from God) is the source of the Church’s authority, the Church today does err.

    When Church hierarchs aim to make friendly synodality with immoralists and heretics of many stripes and colors while treating faithful adherents to name-calling and other belittlement, while its teaching is confused, trite, disordered, based on environmental science, economics, politics or whim, the Church seeds her own (human) destruction.

  3. “Indeed, in an ironic way, the elevation of the power of episcopal conferences can actually increase the bureaucratic malaise of the Church as it mimics the corporate culture of modernity, leading to structures of authority that are less personal, less spiritual, and more oriented toward the layered anonymity of the bureaucracy and its nested hierarchies of unaccountable functionaries.”

    Doesn’t that just say it all? And couldn’t we supply the names of bishops and Cardinals in the American Catholic Church who exercise raw power over other bishops? The Achilles Heel of the Church in all quarters and at all times: money, sex and power.

    • Indeed! I think we both saw the self-preservation of the bureaucracy at the expense of the good of the People of God while working within that same bureaucracy.

      And, to add to the coercive effect of money, sex and power is fear. Even well meaning bishops seeking to be faithful get paralyzed by the exercise of power by other bishops and bureaucracies of their diocese, the USCCB and the Vatican.

  4. It’s possible that the Tridentine Mass is seen as too clutzy an instrument for a certain vision of episcopal collegiality and concelebration that would be argued for as prescribed by VATICAN II.

    The New Form is seen as providing the room needed for oration and panegyric and rejoinder and whatever re-echiong reveberations that would be “needed” to shape collegial meaning.

    Likely what is hoped for is the “first mass” when Jesus offered His priestly prayer in the confidence of the apostles and the others present there. This is in VATICAN II?

    I don’t like doing conjecture. If the reason for lowering of the Tridentine Mass and its eventual removal, is for advancing “concelebration”, they should speak up about what they have in mind.

    They need to reflect on the difficulties caused for lay people who have to sit there and be on the receiving end of many contraries impossible for them to share in fortuitously.

    • “If the reason for lowering of the Tridentine Mass and its eventual removal, is for advancing “concelebration…”

      Is concelebration the half-way house to Lutheran congregational concelebration by all the baptized? Did early concelebration prefigure the larger corporate boardroom model of national bishops’ conferences? And, today, does concelebration prefigure a “not new but different” Church—as a joint stock ownership company with equal votes assigned to all?

      This clue from George Weigel, “The Courage to be Catholic” (2002):

      “After Vatican II, the original design of the bishops’ national operation was led by Cardinal John Deardon of Detroit, then the conference president, who chose the management-consultant firm [!] of Booz-Allen Hamilton to advise the bishops on how they should do their corporate business [….] Deardon and the man he chose as the first post-Vatican II conference general secretary, Joseph Bernardin […], took the consultants’ plan and imbued the conference’s proceedings with a consensus [concelebration?] model of decision-making” (pp. 210-211).

      A doormat for the disastrous 1976 Call to Action culminating in Deardon’s Detroit.

      But, rediscovered today is the irreducible difference between (a) each ordained bishop as an institutional and personally accountable successor of the apostles, versus (b) the engrafted and corporate-consensus distortion of “fraternal collegiality” among these bishops.

      Today, the transnational stirrings of a less-doormat “fraternal collegiality”—resisting the lay-hijacked German “synodal way” (the disinterred Call to Action!)—by Nordic, Polish, and eighty-plus other signatory bishops, many from the United States….been there, done that.

    • Christ’s encounter on the road to Emmaus was in the form of the Mass. The Liturgy of the Word followed by the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

  5. Wonderfully said. Not sure if I’ve read a better article on this site. It seems to me, however, that this is going to take at least another century. It seems to me that our bishops are asleep. Comfortably sleeping. Although this article was very good, it is not going to wake them up–why would they get up now? Something like an earthquake might do it, and I’m not sure what that is going to be.

    There are so many great lines in this article. “Eventually, in this struggle for independence the Church moves from a rightful claim to its own autonomy from civil power into a mimicry of the methods of State power. And that creates a competitive situation among players besotted with the same animating spirit of the libido dominandi.”

    Wonderful! And the sooner we get rid of this “Your Excellency”, “Your Eminence”, “Your grace”, ring kissing and fawning all over the ecclesial prince, the sooner we will achieve the end put forth in this article.

    This article articulated the problem beautifully, but I am not hopeful that change is coming any time soon.

    Great job.

    • As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Church … needs saints more than functionaries.” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report, p. 67, a sentiment echoed by Cardinal Archbishop Chaput

  6. A great essay from Dr. Chapp. I would however have wanted him to say something as well about how the “ecclesiology of power” can seep into a “sacramentology of power” as well, with the sacrament defined primarily by who can confect the Eucharist, baptise, ordain, absolve, etc. It seems to me that this distortion of the sacraments, particularly the reliance on the ex opere operato principle, has robbed the Church of its focus on the subjective appropriation, by grace, of what the sacraments mean. the reification of the sacraments is a product of this “ecclesiology and sacramentology of power.”

  7. This is a very good article’ thank you.

    “False ideology of power that was the source of the malaise in the Church. Bouyer puts it as follows:“And when this happens the sacraments too, and most especially the Eucharistic liturgy, can become a form of ritualism. Bouyer puts it thus: “… celebration of the mysteries would become a ritualism, divorced from both subjective faith and the collective life and its organization willed by Christ, and would nourish nothing more than a mystique of evasion” (emphasis added).

    And this organization (Collective life) willed by Christ is now manifest as a separation of the ordained Priesthood with the Priesthood of the faithful.

    Jesus conveys His intent to His disciples at the last Supper “I have eagerly desired to eat (Share) this Passover with ‘you’ before I suffer

    The Angels and the Saints continually rejoice before the Eternal Sacrifice and we are drawn into communion with them when in our own given time here on earth when we partake of (Memorialize) the sacrifice of the Mass in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, through an ordained Priest. And this communion is initiated by the breaking of bread.

    When the Priest initiates the Sacrament by breaking the bread the intent behind the action (Breaking of bread) is one of sharing in the body of Christ. The intent precedes the action, so the action of the breaking (Sharing) of the bread must not take place unless there is a Communicant present, for a priest to do so would be a sacrilegious act, as in effect the priest would be ‘holding’ the Will of God in contempt.

    The intent behind the action of Jesus Christ breaking bread is one of sharing when the Priest breaks the bread, he has to stay true to His intent this necessitates a communicant as he cannot share it with himself.

    “So how can a priest Consecrate the Host in isolation?

    Quote from another source “Rediscovering the essentials of our faith” which are: “Our relationship with Jesus and the preaching of his Gospel.” And that relationship is one of sharing in the Eucharistic sacrifice reflecting Unity of Purpose in brotherly love and underpinning that relationship is the serving of the Truth in humility in all situations.

    Quote from Peter (See the ink at the end of this post) who said “ Kevin is among those many really innocent souls misled by a generation of priests following Vatican II”

    My response I have read that the 1917 Code of Canon Law, when the traditional Latin Mass was the norm, then-canon 813.1 stated unequivocally “that a priest could not celebrate Mass without the presence of a ‘minister’ who would serve the Mass and make the responses”

    So, no Peter I did not learn this from a generation of priests following Vatican II.
    As it is fair to say that in the 1950s, I would have homed in on this through a fair number of priests who were born in the Victorian era. Although I do remember a priest once asking for the ‘presence of anyone who could respond in Latin, in this, we see a change from a minister to a lay member of the church at the latter end of the 1950s.

    This rapid change (In relation to Church history) can be seen in the life of Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916), who was unable to offer Mass regularly because of his apostolate as a hermit in northern Africa. He petitioned Pope St. Pius X for a dispensation that would permit him to say Mass alone he had to wait many years for news of his dispensation on Jan. 31, 1908. “In the 20th century, from then on, the Church began to relax the restriction that prevented priests from saying Mass alone, leading to

    Quote “For generations, the Church’s position was firm: If a priest wanted to offer Mass, there had to be at least one other person present. Otherwise … the Mass could not be celebrated, period,” “The 1917 code’s refusal even to permit a priest to offer Mass in the absence of a congregation was actually much more stringent than the 1983 code’s canon 906, which allows a priest to say Mass alone for a ‘just and reasonable cause.’”

    1983 code’s canon 906 “ Except for a just and reasonable cause, a priest is not to celebrate the eucharistic sacrifice without the participation of at least some member of the faithful.”

    Leading to Canon 904: “Daily celebration is earnestly recommended.”

    Can. 904 Remembering always that in the mystery of the eucharistic sacrifice the work of redemption is exercised continually, priests are to celebrate frequently; indeed, daily celebration is recommended earnestly since, even if the faithful cannot be present, it is the act of Christ and the Church in which priests fulfill their principal function

    So, in just over 100 years, we have gone from
    A priest could not celebrate Mass without the presence of a ‘minister’ who would serve the Mass and make the responses”

    To Canon 904: “Daily celebration is earnestly recommended.”

    So, If I had lived a hundred years ago it appears that in my uneducated thinking based on trust/faith in the His inviolable living Word I would be very closely aligned to the teaching of the Church at that time which goes back to the very early church. While to my understanding The Orthodox Church does not and has not permitted her priests to say Mass without a participant (s)

    So, what has changed? (No one has responded)

    So, why does a highly educated Conservative/traditionalist with others not want to hold onto the Truth of this particular traditional teaching given to the Church by Jesus Christ at the last supper which has been practiced by the Church down through the ages?

    Could it be that in our present-day it reinforces Clericalism- Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy.? And doing so further decreases the shared Priesthood of the faithful making them no more than inconsequential docile participants rather than true brothers and sisters in Christ; for if the faithful were treated so, these words would become a reality

    “A humble heart (Church) will never cover its tracks or hide its shortcomings, and in doing so confers authenticity, as it walks in its own vulnerability /weakness/brokenness in trust/faith before God and mankind. It is a heart (Church) to be trusted, as it ‘dispels’ darkness within its own ego/self, in serving God (Truth) first, before any other”

    Please consider continuing with my posts given via the link with the theme
    “How can a priest Consecrate the Host in isolation?

    https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2022/04/08/lent-and-the-sacraments-holy-orders/#comment-306098
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  8. Deep State has its own corollary in some diocesan chanceries. On good authority I have heard that what keeps some bishops from speaking out about the mainstreaming of homosexuality in the culture is that they are surrounded by homosexuals in their chanceries.

  9. There are inherent dynamics in a Church instituted by an absolute authority, Christ, who confers likened authority to a Vicar, and a subsidiary vicariate of Apostolic bishops. As such civil authority and ecclesial share a common bondage of centralized authority. Some guy’s gotta be in charge. If God decided otherwise each bishop would be entirely independent and miraculously in doctrinal sync.
    God is practical and works within the limits and strengths of what he created. “The Church now succumbed to the world has been conquered by it, loses its character as a ministry of service and adopts instead an ecclesiology of power” (Bouyer). This is the complaint of Pope Francis and his rationale for loosening that strict [rigorous] adherence to rules, as well as restructure of the Church’s ancient design [evident in Germany, Malta, Philippines].
    How then asks Chapp? In agreement with him it won’t be achieved [successfully] by the Synod on synodality format and strategic agenda, one the liceity of adult same sex relationships. The other is a loosening of the military type structure inherited from Rome. Although this latter is the nature of the beast.
    Personally, How? seems more accessible within Bouyer’s third premise, “that the Church makes Christ present now in the lived life of Divine charity in all of her members”. That the “lava flow of the Spirit’s love” melts rather than harden. Our dilemma is we’ve grown and continue to grow cold. The ancien means of spiritual warfare prayer, sacrifice, a willingness to offer ourselves, all Christians as a living oblation in imitation of Christ is Saint Peter Chrysologus’ response in today’s breviary readings.

  10. The bloated bureaucracy of episcopal conferences is typically repeated at the level of the parish. There are ministries of liturgy and of music, of faith formation for adults, children or catechumens, of EEMs, sacristans, and nursing home visitations. The ministries extend to St. Vincent de Paul, Directors of Food Banks and Outreach to the Homeless, Helpless, Alcoholics and Addicts. Not to mention the ministries for singles, the unwed cohabited, the post-abortive parent, the newly divorced, widowed or separated, Youth Ministers for Teen Mass and one for Pre-Teens. This is not to slight the Grounds and Maintenance Ministers, the Usher and Collection Basket Keepers, the Coffee/Donut makers and cleaners-crew, the Altar Society Minister, the Pre-school/Crying Room Babysitter, the Funeral and Wedding and Baptismal Reapers, and last but not least, the parish Receptionists, Secretaries, Bookkeepers, Administrators, and the Minister of Ministries. Of course, there is an associate parochial vicar overseeing all.

    Meanwhile, there is said to exist One other minister. Let’s not forget the Lost and Found.

    • True…hilarious and tragic at the same time. You fail to mention the ” Ministry of Greeters.” They’re indispensable to the liturgy.

      • Rev Mr Peitler, Honestly, I do not get why this is either hilarious or tragic and would greatly appreciate it if you would elaborate on each. To me it roughly approximates St. Paul’s description of the different gifts we have collectively as a Church. Regarding the “Ministry of Greeters” I’ll admit to having found this amusing, too. Since we Catholics are famously reluctant to be sociable after Mass and to introduce ourselves to one another, we need to give a few people special jackets and the assignment to give entrants a smile and possibly even a handshake.

        That said, decades ago when I was asked to be head of Disciples in Mission for our parish in the western burbs of Chicago, I made it my business to be in the foyer after Mass and to introduce myself to fellow parishioners. I was completely amazed at how delighted people were to be simply acknowledged. Beyond that, I had several opportunities to answer some very basic questions about the faith. Conversely, I have read of new converts who have eventually left the Church precisely because no one ever acknowledged their existence.

        Surely this is not hilarious in the least, but tragic. It’s tragic, no really tragic, that we even need a ministry of greeters briefly to create the illusion of community in what is supposed to be the parish family. Or do you subscribe to the view that the local parish should merely be a sacramental filling station on Sunday morning? That view has led, I think, to a great many people being lured away by the far friendlier local non-denominational church.

        • Yes, I too was puzzled by that. Sounds like a pretty active parish in which lots of people are doing a lot of good, unlike some parishes where very little is done because the pastor has control issues.

      • Deacon,
        You seemed to grasp that Jesus, Minister of the Lost and the Found, may be sidelined or hidden, amidst the activity associated with coming together on Sunday. His Presence leads us to church. We can be tempted to do everything but greet or acknowledge him.

        Three years ago, I began to attend a personal TLM parish staffed by FSSP. A relatively small parish of some 400 families, we have two priests, four Sunday Masses, one weekday Mass and two on First Friday/Saturdays. Except for one secretary we have no other paid ministries. All needed work is ad hoc or regular volunteer; a weekly newsletter adverts to their activities while the bulletin contains essential announcements with a focus on catechetical info, prayer for the Pope, a blurb on a saint for the week, a hymn, and the readings for the Mass that Sunday. Priests spend their time providing sacraments; they personally visit the homebound and sick who live throughout the large catchment area of our parish…. The priests also provide all faith formation and sacramental prep; this assures its orthodoxy. Parents are able to sit in on their children’s classes.

        I do not understand how the typical diocesan bureaucracy of parish ministry reflects the purpose or function of St. Paul’s charisms. Parish ministries are a beehive of business containing some merit. While useful, practical, and sometimes necessary, they allow opportunity for positive Christian fellowship but did not, for me, fulfill a more intense desire/need for spiritual sustenance and growth. A vertically-oriented, interior, recollected worship community differs very much from a busy, active ministry.

        Jesus, in the Eucharist, heads up my Lost and Found and Ministers The Greet.

        Blessings in your work, Deacon.

  11. The only good argument for the Church to mimic government bureaucracies is to be able to serve as an effective counterbalance to them. But we saw in 2020 that it was easier for Big Church to be in cahoots with Big Government rather than counterbalance it.

    Also, the last thing we need is for everything to be decided by “the conference” instead of “the diocese.” The way things are these days, decisions need to be pushed down the chain rather than pushed up; what we need is that dirty word today: subsidiarity.

  12. Very ironically, then, Prof Chapp it would seem that the most decentralizing thing that the pope could do would be to dissolve all the bishops’ conferences. Would this not give the bishops far more time to be bishops, freeing them from all kinds of meetings and wrangling over conference pronouncements, etc. to say nothing of beaucoup temptations to human respect and cowardice? “Not so!” says my other self, “This would necessarily re-center all power in Rome.” Right, but with more bishops learning how to bish and the cream rising to the top, we would have, before too very long, a Bishop of Rome with a better idea of his power and responsibilities, plus stand-out bishops throughout the world setting the pace for and giving good manly example to their fellow bishops. As it is, these bishops’ conferences seem very feminizing in their effect on individual bishops.

  13. I get an impression that there is a mysteriously formed dictatorship of, for want of a better parallel, a proletariat directing this ‘synodality’. It is as if there is a fifth column directing the entire process. Otherwise, I can make no sense of the commonality of recommendations coming out of virtually all of the local parish recommendations. They all call for ‘change’ in the direction of accommodating secular views. Does anyone really believe that this will strengthen the Church?

    • Arianism revisited? Most of the bishops were onboard. And, forty years after the Council of Nicaea, St. Jerome still looked back to remark: “the whole world groaned to find itself Arian.” Today, half a century after the Second Vatican Council, the whole Church looks back to find itself secular-humanist.

      Or, maybe it’s Pelagianism revisited: the earthly project absent grace. If we were to survey a herd (actually a “suicide”) of lemmings “walking together,” we would probably get very similar answers from all of them about where to go…

      Come, behind the Germans and the lavender mafia, let us walk together! There is no cliff; synodality is an “endless journey.”

  14. “In other words, how does the Church move away from the hyper centralization of a single bureaucracy —Rome—without creating hundreds of new ones, and all of them as unaccountable as the first?”

    Good to see Bouyer cited.

    With a greater acceptance of communion ecclesiology there must be a reconsideration of ecclesial authority and its limits, the distinction between the presbyterate and the episcopate, and the monoepiscopate. This won’t probably happen any time soon, and requires a greater winnowing of numbers first.

  15. Lee Gilbert: My point (albeit subtle) was that everything in the Church has become a bureaucratic organization where nothing is organic. We have offices, committees, programs for just about every activity one can imagine. I certainly agree that the Church could be friendlier, more personable. It’s how we get there that I find risable and tragic.

    • Yes. All those multiplied labors such as greeting and teaching the catechism to adults and/or children are not bad. Per se. What is tragic and exasperating is that the focus is so heavily on doing them because service must somehow be a parish job, such that the priest and the youth group leader and the Eucharistic distributors are all coworkers in a common business. As if not being part of a parish “ministry” means you aren’t really connected to your parish and aren’t really involved in the life of the Church.

      It can bely a worship of functionalism, so apparent in the rhetoric surrounding the “role of women” in the Church, as if it is only when I sign up to usher or read at Mass that I have a role. When in fact women’s role is what it has always been: to seek to know, love, and serve God in this life through the help of his grace, which the Church provides through the sacraments and through Her own mystical union with Him.

      Come to think of it, that’s men’s role too. And people who works at tasks related to parish life and missionary outreach are not necessarily more involved in the life of the Church than the lowliest elderly dude who just prays, submits his will to God, and doesn’t feel like joining a committee.

  16. Thanks again Dr. Chapp. I guess I can consider myself a Church “insider” and therefore, am compelled to agree with your assessment. The Church structure has become worldly. No doubt about it. The solution? Individual holiness by each Catholic through the incorporation of Christ in the Sacraments and Magisterial teaching.

  17. As I said in my article https://wherepeteris.com/habits-of-synodality/, religious institutes have been practicing synodality for centuries. It is the primary form of government for us. In the Carmelite Rule, it is stated that ““On Sundays too, or other days if necessary, you should discuss matters of discipline and your spiritual welfare; and on this occasion the indiscretions and failings of the brothers, if any be found at fault, should be lovingly corrected.”
    The phrase that is translated as “tour spiritual welfare” is literally “the salvation of souls”. This shows the priorites inherent in synodality.

    • Your wonderful article concludes: “…This cannot be a democratic decision in the sense that the majority rules. They are led to the realization that their decision has to be a unanimous one based on each one’s discernment of God’s will for them all. This discernment forces them, one by one, to go beyond their own preferences. Each one, through prayer, must let God bring him to that point of openness to grace where, like Jesus in Gethsemane, he can say ‘Father, not my will but yours be done.’ This is the challenge of synodality.’”

      Yes, THIS is synodality! But the concern today is whether, with less fidelity, the on-track synodality of the moment is being subverted?

      Subverted most visibly by a open-ended German PLEBISCITE and lavender underground, explicitly intent on overturning both the sacramental order at the altar (specifically, Holy Orders) and sexual morality worldwide…
      And, CONCERN whether instances of genuine synodality, as you describe, will end up as bubble wrap for this trainwreck, in the hands of Bishop Batzing, Cardinal Marx of the C-6 inner circle, and especially Cardinal Hollerich, the relator-general for the Synod on Synodality in 2023?
      And, whether ISSUES raised by the Nordic and Polish hierarchies and in an open letter worldwide by several dozens of bishops and cardinals—will possibly be attached inclusively (!) to the juggernaut as only a minority report?
      And, later whether questioning obvious contradictions will be inadmissible (!), because by participating in plebiscite-synodality everyone has already (!) bought into Hollerich’s final report for the “endless journey.”

      HOW TO ENSURE that real synodality, as you describe it, survives unadulterated?

      • Peter D. Beaulieu, A synod is an act of the Mystical Body of Christ, the various members “sharing with one another the wisdom they have received”. Its primary goal is to deepen the understanding of the participants in what it means to be the members of Christ, and how to live out that deeper understanding. But this will depend on the openness of the individual participants. There is always the danger that they will get stuck in one political mindset or another rather than follow the path of faith. That is why I find the Chapter sequences in “Of Gods and Men” so instructive: they the various paths NOT to follow! First, the authoritarian path of the superior laying down the law; next the democratic path of each one following his own preference. It is only after much soul-searching that they finally realize that they are there to witness to their place in the Church.
        The danger you mention has always existed in the Church. Study the Acts of the Apostles. You can fall off a bicycle to either side. The challenge is to stay upright, to live by faith and not by any political framework. And it takes a deep faith to do this. The kind of faith the monks of Tibhirine had to learn the hard way.

        • “…not be any political framework.”
          The novelty today–a danger which has not always been with us quite as it is today–is that the political framework is masquerading as synodality. Not your correct understanding of synodality, but their counterfeit. We are dealing with either self-deceived puppets, or some kind of blackmail, or diabolical liars…

          And, as for not falling off the bike one way or the other, it strikes me now that Marx/Batzing and Hollerich have called for changes in Church teaching and morality as part of a more clever strategy. This is not what they intend; it’s not a goal; it’s a decoy.

          In 2023 they will graciously withdraw (so to speak), and settle for things as they are already. Namely, that the formal Teaching remains intact, and the Practice of simply giving space to the homosexual agenda is dolled up as a middle ground.

          “At least synodality didn’t change the teaching!” it will be said. “So, just move along now, lemmings, we’ve got that behind us (again, so to speak); it’s an “endless journey.” Hurray for the fifty-yard line between two extremes!

          In truth, we’re being groomed into ecclesial and moral self-betrayal. Church teaching still exists intact, but does not apply. This is the “new paradigm.” Back in 1993 Solzhenitsyn, survivor of years in a more blatant kind of Gulag, clearly saw through this mathematics: “We have lost the clarity of spirit which was ours when the concepts of Good and Evil had yet to become a subject of ridicule, shoved aside by the principle of fifty-fifty.”

        • “The challenge is to stay upright, to live by faith and not by any political framework. And it takes a deep faith to do this.”

          Exactly Sr. Pope Francis is determined to make this synod a successful one. We need to faithfully trust the Holy Spirit on this. Our Pope, who has a profound understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and of the significance of His Church, will never allow any change that would weaken or harm it. He is intellectually and spiritually capable of taking our Lord’s Pilgrim Family (the Church) along the right path, and has the courage to do so. He invites the Family to help keep it going.

    • Thank you for your excellent linked Article Sr Gabriela on the practicing of synodality within religious orders with its prioritisation ”for the salvation of souls”.

      To my understanding many of my comments reflect the fundamentals of your essay as given from an uneducated lay person like myself.

      I believe that Confirmed Discipleship (Male and Female) is the way forward for the Church in our present-day: As to-day for many it is easier to accept the status quo as we the ‘laity’ have been led for generations as The Eucharist is the centre of Christian worship and by implication, the priest is our ‘Focal Point’, as he is given a special charisma via ordination.

      This has led to an unquestioning docility within the flock manifest as deference which has feed Clericalism Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy.? Whereas you say “contrary to what many people think, religious life is surprisingly egalitarian. It is not a dictatorship or unlimited monarchy, in spite of stories that parade the power of “Mother Superior” or “the Father General”

      So how does the Church replicate this egalitarianism to include the flock?

      I believe that the Shepherd leader for a new invigorated Church will be a humble one, with the capacity to discern and direct the potential in others, leading them also to become (Working) Shepherds, who together hold each other responsible for their combined actions, underpinned by total honesty, the serving of the Truth in all situations would be the binding mortar holding these new emerging structures together.

      The essence of Love is Truth we all fall short in the actions of Love, but no man or woman can excuse dishonest before their brothers and sisters in Christ who would serve the Truth, for to do so would be an attempt to destroy the mortar (Humility) of that unity.

      It is said you cannot be what you do not see/envisage, we need to see our Shepherds holding the bright lamp of Truth high above their own vulnerabilities, teachings us by example, in humility, how we are also to be made holy (Sanctified) as in

      “Sanctify them in the Truth; thy Word is Truth as thou didst send me into the world so I have sent them into the world and for their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be consecrated in truth”

      It could be said, that for true emotional inter-dependence to come about with others, we need to show/tell our vulnerability, for when we do so, it confers authenticity, a place from where we can truly share the communal meal and our life with others.

      Our Lord Himself in this present time has given His Church a true spiritual mirror (The True Divine Mercy Image that is one of Broken Man) to look into from where we can see the reality of our fallen selves and if we are honest, it will induce us to embrace humility, the forerunner to the commencement of the ‘mystical’ Way (spiritual life) accompanied by the Holy Spirit.

      Food for thought: ‘The Emmaus encounter’ incorporates ‘joyous living’ in sharing (breaking) the Bread (Sustenance) of Life publicly, but not the Wine (Blood) suffering of full (Confirmed) discipleship (Focal point) of His Way.

      Please consider continuing via the link

      https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2021/10/19/tell-his-glory-among-the-nations/#comment-283317
      kevin your brother
      In Christ

      • Kevin Walters, I would say, if you are describing a particular community way, that it might find a place in VATICAN II and that such a thing remains to be seen; but if it is that you are describing a general way for every situation and person, it is not VATICAN II.

        • Thank you, Elias, for your comment I know little about Vatican ll but I am aware presently of the chaos and corruption within the church so to my understanding we can only proceed in humility, as a cleansing has to take place now in the present moment before any new structures can be introduced.

          I believe that the courage will be found, to combat this present evil situation, through a renewed spiritual awakening, emanating from humility, as sincerity of heart, is from where again we must all start.

          A holy Church is a humble Church and by definition a Holy Priesthood is a humble Priesthood. Our Lord Himself Has given His Church the means to call to account the elite within the Church now in the present moment while acknowledging that we are ‘all’ sinners in need of His Mercy.

          Please consider continuing via the link

          https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2019/09/22/doing-as-i-please-or-pleasing-as-i-do/#comment-154093

          kevin your brother
          In Christ

      • “… the priest is our ‘Focal Point’, as he is given a special charisma via ordination.”

        Charisma? Might it be, instead, that the “focal point” is more the words of Christ at the consecration (“This is my…”), spoken only through (not of) the priest; who, instead of enjoying a “special charisma,” simply has a special and distinct role “via ordination?” A role “different in kind as well as degree” from the role in the liturgy of the laity (Lumen Gentium). And that, in the Mass, we are all focused on the Father in union with the Holy Spirit, “through [!], with [!] , and in [!] Him” (Christ)—again, the Father “to whom is given all [!] honor and glory.” The real “focal point.”

        And, more, that the vestments of the priest actually signify not the priest, but Christ—and are then intended to render the priest invisible, not charismatic. But, then along came the “presider,” with his chair front and center, displacing the tabernacle. Plus a scatteration of ministries including “Eucharistic Ministers” (sic for Extraordinary Ministers of [not the Eucharist, but] Holy Communion).

        This reader values your perspective, and offers the above as food for added thought…

        • Thank you, Peter, for your amiable comment which I will reflect upon. Please see my comment directed at meiron below which also deals with the term ‘focal point’.

          “And, more, that the vestments of the priest actually signify not the priest, but Christ—and are then intended to render the priest invisible, not charismatic”

          Possibly that is the intention Peter nevertheless we have had a culture of ‘pedestalization’ of the Priesthood. I say had because the arrogance/hubris of the elite within the church have been unable to confront the reality of themselves as demonstrated in the true Divine Mercy image which is one of broken man. In refusing to confront this given reality they have now been left with their own self-serving egos and are seen to be held in contempt by the world but also by many Christians, hence the chaos within the church today.

          The early Christians did not wear robes/vestments St Paul and others worked as a community without vestments or any form of regalia no one could misunderstand the brotherly relationship as taught by Jesus Christ “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. I see vestments etc as a subsidiary in the reality of the church today as we belong to a Church that has been corrupted by worldly values ..V.. as we have a Church within a Church, one that is alien to the serving of the Truth. And this alien Church could be understood as ‘words without action are just a distraction’, reflected in these words

          “They Honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me”

          The culture of ‘pedestalization’ needs to change but how can those who have been institutionalized do this this? A new culture of manifest/true humility has to be encouraged.

          Please consider continuing via the link.
          https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2020/03/24/25-years-after-evangelium-vitae-we-still-need-a-new-feminism/#comment-180190

          kevin you brother
          In Christ

      • I agree: “The Eucharist is the centre of Christian worship…”

        That a priest becomes “our ‘Focal Point’ by virtue of his ordination” does not necessarily follow. The priest is ‘in persona Christi,’ an ‘alter Christus,’ standing in as a type of placeholder for Christ. The word of Christ, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist IS the focal point.

        Consider the words of the Consecration. These are the words of the Lord; Fr. Joe gives sound to or voices the words of Christ, but the words are not Fr. Joe’s words. It makes no sense to think that Fr. Joe says, implies, believes or teaches that Fr. Joe says the words as his [Fr. Joe’s] own. It would in fact be a LIE because the Eucharist is not “my” [Joe’s body] Body. The Eucharist, according to true Catholic perennial belief, is the Body of Christ.

        The Church does not teach that the priest is a/the ‘Focal Point’ of the Eucharist. Why would we think it?

        • Thank you meiron for you your comment

          “The Church does not teach that the priest is a/the ‘Focal Point’ of the Eucharist. Yes, of course not mierion as we both agree that the Eucharist is the centre of Christian worship.

          “Why would we think it?

          What I was attempting to convey in my post was the implication of the reality of the perception/thinking of the laity as in the pedestalization of the priesthood leading to a priest been the ‘focal point’ in these my words that followed your statement “This has led to an unquestioning docility within the flock manifest as deference which has fed Clericalism Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy.

          And I now add that this pedestalization was aided and abetted by a Church within a Church ..V.. Which has permitted great evil to be done under the disguise of holiness.

          kevin your brother
          In Christ

          • Hi Kevin,
            Well, I don’t put my priest on a pedestal. The priest is in the sanctuary where Christ is in the Blessed Sacrament. The priest is the instrument Christ ‘uses’ to provide us the Blessed Sacrament which we carry in our hearts and souls. I am grateful to Christ for having given me a priest who gives me the Eucharist. My priest is in the sanctuary, but not there priest on a pedestal. Is your priest on a pedestal?

            Items used to administer the sacraments are ‘consecrated’ or ‘set aside’ for sacred purposes. Just as the Church is, just as the vessels are, so the priest is. These items, persons, and buildings are ‘set aside’ for worship of God. They are consecrated and different from all other persons, places and items. This is as Jesus did. Jesus fed the multitude, but he said, “Do this in memory of me.” to only a select few of his disciples. He did not say the “Do this in memory of me.” to the multitude he fed them loaves and fish. The consecrated few have a distinct role from the many.

            I do agree that there is much that is wrong in the Church today. But thank God the Church has not erred teaching a ‘pedestalization’ of the priesthood. Neither has the Church erred in granting license to the laity to confect their own sacraments.

  18. May I contribute a note on synods. Synods generally speaking are supposed to have a title or purpose. It only makes sense. Particularly if the synod contains a subject that bears directly on personal salvation; or, say vocation.

    Having a synod that runs every type of vocation into one another, lay-Trappist-Jesuit-Mother Teresa’s-Carthusian, would be both novel and questionable …. I think. And if it didn’t have a title it would then be a synod on finding a result.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synod_of_Whitby

      • Sr., the Whitby Synod was called to harmonize manifold diverse practices in the then British isles, including the date for celebrating Easter. The results were not merely the product of a collecting of ideas.

        VATICAN II already established pluralism/diversity for lay people in activities, expressions and charisms; and this is the context of my reply to Kevin Walters.

        If your analogy with chapters has any application -and I don’t necessarily like the analogy, since I am lay, but if it can have meaning, then,- it can not meaningfully apply to everyone at once as a blanket mechanism.

        I would say the same for Walters’ “emotional inter-dependence”. But add here that it would be even more strange to have emotional-interdependence coming upon the laity because it was decided in a synod-like-a-chapter.

  19. Synodality is an ersatz modernist construction of the current pontificate — just as the Novus Ordo was an ersatz modernist construction of Paul VI and Bugnini and his gang.

    • Robert Miller, my points are not leading in the direction you indicate; nor in the mode.

      Borrowing Sr. Gabriela’s image, I think you fell off your bike on one of its sides!

      Coram judice.

      Tough luck.

  20. At this point in history, neither the pope nor the bishops’ conferences teach anything resembling the historic Christian faith. It’s all humanism all the time for these guys. It’s not the structure of the church that is the problem; it’s the content of its gospel. Shuffling the deck chairs isn’t going to help.

  21. Thank you meiron for your comment MAY 14, 2022 AT 12:52 PM

    “The consecrated few have a distinct role from the many”

    None of my posts at any time have disputed this fact meiron rather I concur with it. But what I do dispute vigorously, is the use of the ‘Sacrament of Holy Communion’ to consecrate The Eucharist by breaking it (Sharing it) and then eating it, without sharing it, in isolation which is contrary to the will (Intent) of Jesus Christ as given at the Last Supper, as stated in my opening post. So, I need someone to demonstrate to me that this was not the intent given by Jesus Christ the inviolate living Word (Will) of God, given at the Last Supper, and in doing so demonstrate to me

    “How a priest can Consecrate the Host in isolation?

    “The Church has not erred in teaching a ‘pedestalization’ of the priesthood”

    No, she has not specifically taught that meiron and we both know this, but the perception she has given to many especially the poorly educated. Who down through the ages have looked upon a hierarchically structured Church one that mirrored the rulers of this world in form and grandeur, conveyed in the worldly titles such as ‘Princes of the Church’ etc reflecting its worldly structure which is known as Clericalism. Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy”

    A structure that decreases the shared Priesthood of the faithful making them no more than inconsequential docile participants rather than true brothers and sisters in Christ which has led to the present unaccountable chaotic situation within the Church today. This reality needs to be confronted honestly which will require humility.

    “I do agree that there is much that is wrong in the Church today Yes as I do, so we are in total agreement here mieron.

    Father! with tongue and flame gives us unity again.

    Sincerely
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  22. Good day, Kevin.

    Once again, we reach an impasse, for I do not find any ‘church structure’ that “decreases the shared Priesthood of the faithful making them no more than inconsequential docile participants.”

    What EXACTLY is the church structure which makes ‘inconsequential docile participants’ of the laity? Do you truly feel as if you are an inconsequential docile participant as a lay member of the Church? We agree that the church structure is not a pedestal. But what, then IS the structure which would, could or does determine a lay person to be inconsequential and docile?

    • Thank you mieron for your comment

      “Do you truly feel as if you are an inconsequential docile participant as a lay member of the Church?

      I do not see myself as being docile as I have confronted ‘church structure’ over many years a structure that is known as Clericalism one that is self-serving in that it refuses to be held accountable for so many injustices that it has perpetrated under the disguise of holiness.

      I woke up to the reality of Clericalism over forty years ago when I was in extreme (ongoing) difficulty, in my distress, I was told jovially “You will get no help from the Church as they (the priesthood/Clerics) are all institutionalized, they cannot even help themselves” this proved to be correct, stonewalling, self-protection was the name of the game, their sacred world must not be infringed on, even great evil must be protected within the Priesthood, even if it means sacrificing any lamb that has the audacity to cry out in anguish.

      The leadership of the Church has betrayed its core values (Teachings), so how could one trust, a given trust that has been shown to be so untrustworthy?

      Credibility has been lost, and the root of the problem is elitism, manifesting as self-serving authoritarianism which is embedded within clericalism. Merriam-Webster: Clericalism; a policy of maintaining or increasing the ‘power’ of a religious hierarchy; So ‘clerics’, as in Clericalism is the problem’, as it is the vehicle that carries our Christian enterprise, which has caught so many in its web of deceit and arrogance while it has systematically nullified men of integrity. See my post via the link
      https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2019/10/17/seminaries-and-formation-one-priests-perspective-and-suggestion/#comment-157546

      So, I with so many others who have also found out to their cost, that they are nothing more than inconsequential (Voiceless) participants, while others are aware of this situation that is one of being (Voiceless) and have accepted the status quo and have remained docile or in many cases just walked away from an unaccountable elitist church as our emptying churches testify. Whereas many are now calling for change, knowing that the Priesthood of the faithful/laity has to have a Voice in matters of justice and governance.

      I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church at this most chaotic time in her history.

      kevin your brother
      In Christ

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