I would like to thank Dr. Adam DeVille for both his kind remarks concerning my posts on synodality and his willingness to push the conversation further. He has asked for my response to his proposal for a more synodal Church via the path of a Catholic congregationalist ecclesial model, and I am happy to provide one. My remarks will be necessarily brief but I hope I can at least push the needle of conversation in some small way toward a positive engagement.
The entire trajectory of modern society has been in the direction of an ever-accelerating movement toward centralization, bureaucratization, and the technocratic, Saint-Simonianism of an elitist managerial class of barbarians whose primary goal is the promotion and preservation of Liberalism’s cult of bourgeois well-being. And the Church herself has fallen prey to these same forces over the past 200 years as she gradually centralized all power in the Italianate, and often corrupt, Roman bureaucracy and its sycophantic avatars in various chanceries around the world.
Furthermore, the power of the clerical elites only increased as the post-conciliar Church adopted her own version of Saint-Simonianism in an orgy of systematic, iconoclastic destruction which negated the regulative power of tradition in favor of the new-found “expertise” of a new class of liberal clerical manipulators who were flush with the “authority” of the latest workshop they had attended on enculturated liturgy and liberative praxis, the net effect of which was the baptizing of every bourgeois conceit in the modern soul.
Therefore, my initial reaction to Dr. DeVille’s proposal was an overwhelmingly positive one since I am in favor of his central notion that the era of an infantilized laity must come to an end and that there needs to be a restructuring of canon law to reflect a greater role for the laity on the congregational/parish level. I do have a few small quibbles with his proposal, but nothing that would scuttle the main point he is making about the need for a decentralized Church and a newly empowered laity.
Therefore, instead of dwelling on my quibbles I prefer instead to endorse his overall project as something provocative and worthy of serious consideration. And I can happily endorse it since in point of fact I really don’t care all that much about the structural issues it raises. Dr. DeVille gives us a handsome proposal and I hope it gains traction and unfurls the flag of synodality in triumph someday. But if it does not prevail and our ecclesial structure remains largely unchanged, there will be no fisted rage from me or anything more than a mild, “hmm… ain’t that sumpin’”.
Because left unaddressed in Dr. DeVille’s response to my musings on synodality is a consideration of the central point I was making. To be fair, DeVille notes at the beginning that he agreed with all that I had written and was merely offering his thoughts as a complement to my comments. Nevertheless, in response to his proposal I want to double down on what I said originally. Namely, that a strong emphasis from the Church herself on such ecclesial navel-staring as something of central importance, and a concomitant ignoring of more central and pressing issues, is a sign, ironically, of an unhealthy Church that has lost sight of her most proper mission.
I am not saying that the consideration of structure is unimportant. But I am saying that it should be far down our list of priorities at the moment. The crisis the Church faces today is not a crisis of structure. We are not in the mess we are in because our Church was not synodal enough, and by fixating on this issue we run the risk of insinuating that the chief problem that confronts us is a bureaucratic one requiring a few procedural tweaks to set the ship right.
As Dr. DeVille himself notes, even a synodal Church can be a hot mess of corruptions and sinful shenanigans. The Baptists, who are ever so “congregationalist”, just had to admit decades of their own covering up of clerical sex abuse. And Patriarch Kirill seems to have put synodality to wonderful use as a tool of a Russophile idolatry. And I also have had enough experience with modern lay Catholics to doubt that a mere transference of power from the clerical caste to the Karen and Ken caste will solve much of anything, and might even make matters worse. I don’t know about you, but I would not want a Nancy Pelosi epigone or a Michael Voris disciple as the head of my parish council. Yes, there are lousy priests. But for every lousy priest there are 500 even worse dullards among the laity, all of whom are just itching to pull the trigger of “authority” in his or her parish.
So instead of a synod on synodality, why not hold a synod on liturgy? That way we might figure out how to minister in an authentically pastoral way to the true pluralism of the Church on the grassroots level in a manner that transcends the ineffectual and deeply un-synodal autocracy of the motu proprio.
Or how about a synod on the universal call to holiness? Once again, it would be a chance to examine the true pluralism of the Church of lived praxis in the lay world in a way that lay people actually care about, and which could give average folks some real guidance on how to be holy in this misshapen and distorted world of ours.
But a “synod on synodality” is just an exercise in deflection from these deeper issues. It is holiness, missional vocation, and the grounding of these in liturgy, that breathes fire into the ecclesial equations and not endless conversations about the rules for having endless conversations. This is like endlessly circling a drain, but you can only do that for so long before you eventually end up in the sewer.
Personnel is policy. A Church of de facto atheists accommodated to the bourgeois cult of well-being will not produce the proper personnel no matter the “structure”. “Gute Leute muss man haben. Gute Leute.”
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