As someone who is primarily employed by the Church and working with young adults, I have seen how our diocesan infrastructure is moving toward its “all-in” embrace of the Synod on Synodality. Documents have been sent to us on how to meet and have “listening groups,” how “positivity” and not “negativity” should be the focus of our reports, and how we should pay particular focus to the “minority report.” Without question, from the rhetoric, documents, and the general tone advanced, the Synod on Synodality won’t be impartial or objective; its goal is to emphasize what faithful Catholics already sense: promotion of doctrinal reform.
This won’t dissuade me from what I’ve been tasked with accomplishing. But it does cause one major question to arise. Who is the Synod directed to and who do they intend to listen to?
It’s a legitimate question. The Catholic Church encompasses all sorts of people. We know that she is filled with saints and sinners, elect and reprobate. (Can we still use those terms?) Yet it doesn’t seem that the Synod on Synodality really has the fullness of the Body of Christ in mind. Instead, to quote someone who explained our mission in compiling reports for the diocese: “You need to listen and be welcoming to the people who have not felt welcomed by the Church.”
The emphasis on listening, that catch-all buzzword, is implicitly one-way. I doubt that the concerns of Catholics who affirm the teachings of the Church as found in the Catechism will be given the same prominence as those Catholics who openly reject the teachings of the Church. And if they’re supposed to be the ones we’re listening to the most, the ones whom we emphasize in our reports, then the information being collected in all of these “listening sessions” will be skewed.
These reports are meant to be skewed by design. There is a long-standing movement to “modernize the Church” and to have a Church that “gets with the times.” As we know, that’s all just code for cutting away Church teachings, either through actual change or just ignoring the teachings of the Church altogether.
Furthermore, I can already foresee what the target audience of my report will ask about. In education and campus ministry I am mostly with younger Catholics. If we’re being asked to emphasize the “minority report,” the usual issues will be raised: sex, LGBTQ issues, climate change (or “global climate death” as some have started calling it), transgenderism, and anti-racism. Concerns about the Liturgy, spiritual life, and missionary outreach will likely be minimal. If concerns for Liturgy, spiritual life, and missionary activity are raised, they won’t necessarily fall into the presumptive “minority report” that we’re told to emphasize. Though I will emphasize what is raised from everyone I engage with.
The purpose of the Synod on Synodality seems to have a human motive standing alongside Divine providence. The human motive, from what I’ve been told and instructed, seems to be tilted in the opposite direction of Divine revelation and the promise of Providence revelation entails. Yet the reality of Divine providence that we affirm, as Catholics, must have its stewarding guidance.
“Synodality” was also commissioned before the issuance of Humanae vitae. Pope St. Paul VI took in the considerations of the report but ultimately rejected them. Or, more accurately, the protection of the Holy Spirit ensured the Holy Father would reject recommendations of the synod that conflicted with Catholic truth.
Now, I’m all in favor of pastoral reform, another hot topic in the Synod preparation chatter. We need pastoral reform. The many scandals of the last half century prove that. But we mustn’t confuse pastoral reform with doctrinal reform. It seems that in the push to have pastoral reform, certain powerful interest groups in the Church want that to go together with doctrinal change. In fact, from their perspective, pastoral reform cannot happen without doctrinal reform.
This is a false equivalency. Pastoral reform and doctrinal reform are not necessarily tethered to each other. In fact, one can argue that the pastoral failure of the past half century is largely due to ignoring—or outright rejection of—Catholic teaching. Pastoral reform should be reunited with revealed doctrine. If we followed Church teaching, instead of willfully ignoring it, many of the great sins of the past century would have been averted and we wouldn’t be in this tug-of-war between those opportunistically seeking pastoral reform to be the wedge issue for doctrinal change.
From the top-down directives, the inside chatter, and instructions I’ve been given, it seems as if the purpose of the Synod on Synodality is to nudge Church teaching in a new direction—one that will be “with the times” or “with the people.” (At least among those with a human motive.) Perhaps that isn’t much of a surprise. Yet those of us tasked with our mission will do the best we can to deliver honest and thorough reports.
At the end of the day, will we be surprised by what we find and what we hear? Probably not. Yet we should pray for those who place their own hearts above that of God’s revelation. A Church that doesn’t pray isn’t a Church at all. Additionally, hopefully the issue of prayer will be a major issue raised by those I, and others, engage with. And if we are reporting “with the people” and looking for “positivity,” hopefully discovering a prayerful people in these reports is what the Church is hoping for.
[Photo Credit: Synod.va]