Many readers may be unfamiliar with both the term “Synod” and the reality currently underway in the Church. The term means a gathering of the members of a Church. The present Catholic Synod began in 2021 and will continue until 2024. It’s goal, the Vatican explains, is to have all Catholics be active participants in the life of the Church:
“Women and men, young people and the elderly, we are all invited to listen to one another in order to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit . . . breathing life and vitality into the Church and leading us into deeper communion for our mission in the world . . . No one – no matter their religious affiliation – should be excluded from sharing their perspective and experiences, insofar as they want to help the Church on her synodal journey of seeking what is good and true. This is especially true of those who are most vulnerable or marginalized. To accomplish this, we [all] must strive to ground ourselves in experiences of authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.” [Emphasis added]
The goal is noble and all Catholics should hope and pray that it will be reached. But there are difficulties that must be overcome for that to happen. Pope Francis spoke bluntly of one. Emphasizing that it is “an essential ecclesial duty” to allow “everyone to participate,” he warned of a a type of “elitism” among the clergy that distances them from the laity, which makes them the “lord[s] of the house” rather than shepherds. He goes on to say that the Synod gives us a chance to listen to one another, particularly [to] lay people. “There is no need to create another Church, but to create a different Church,” he said, and added that to create that difference, we all need to “invoke the Holy Spirit with greater fervor and frequency and humbly listen to Him.”
Another difficulty with the Synod is that both the diocesan and continental phases are already complete, and all that remains is for the bishops to meet in Rome in a few months and assess its accomplishments, yet there are indications that many Catholics know little or nothing about the Synod itself or the contributions of the laity to it. Of course, some information has appeared in the news but little if any that reflects what the Vatican called “experiences of authentic listening and discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”
When I say many people know little or nothing about the Synod, I am not referring to people who lack interest in the relationship between the hierarchy and the laity and the challenges facing the Church and the world. Quite the reverse. My own experience is an example.
I am a retired professor of humanities specializing in logic, critical thinking, and ethics, having published 22 books and over 500 essays on those subjects and others in Catholic and secular publications for over half a century. For the last 12 years I have written a weekly essay in a leading Catholic journal. During the several years in which the Synod was inviting Catholic laypeople to contribute their ideas to the conversation with the hierarchy, I have made a special effort to share my essays with a former pastor, my pastor, my bishop, a half-dozen or so officers and members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Papal Nuncio. I did so in the hope that my research and reflections would contribute to Catholicism “becoming the Church that God calls us to be.”
Although my former pastor frequently responds to my essays and often shares his thoughts with me about the issues, neither my present pastor, my bishop, nor the members of USCCB, ever responded–not even with a bare “Thank you for sending me your essay.”
The most likely explanation of this lack of courtesy seems to be that the prelates (at least those I repeatedly contacted) are only interested in hearing from people who speak from perspectives they share.(That attitude would fit what Pope Francis described as “elitism.”)
What might the focuses of the prelates’ attention be? Among the most prominent is the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community and their supporters. As Outreach, an LGBTQ Catholic Resource reported, some US dioceses—including Buffalo, Washington and Salt Lake City—held special listening sessions specifically for LGBTQ Catholics.” The diocese of Albany NY explained its “ministry rooted in love, welcome, and respect for the LGBTQIA+ community, their family, friends, and loved ones.” And out of “75 published syntheses, at least 63 (or 84 percent) made reference to the LGBTQ community and associated issues in the church. Some even used whole sections of their 10-page reports to expound upon their findings.”
Moreover, the leader of the German Synod, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J. openly challenged “the long-established Catholic teaching that human sexuality is reserved for within the Sacrament of Marriage between one man and one woman.” And many German prelates supported him.
Over 100 bishops from around the world chastised Hollerich and his supporters in a “Fraternal Letter.” However, its strongest line was this: “Failing to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Gospel, the [German’s] Synodal Path’s actions undermine the credibility of Church authority, including that of Pope Francis; Christian anthropology and sexual morality; and the reliability of Scripture.” Rather tepid compared to Jesus’ words, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to be thrown into the depths of the sea” or His throwing the money changers out of the Temple with the condemnation “You are turning it into a gathering place for thieves!”
The German prelates were not the only ones who were selective in their focus. As Archbishop Charles Caput noted, though Catholic teaching about human sexuality is “true, ennobling, merciful, and crucial” to Synod discussions, it was “regrettably missing” from the Synod’s main documents.
Finally, as if LGBTQ concerns were not receiving enough consideration, when Pope Francis was asked by America Magazine, how LGBT[Q] Catholics should react to rejection from the Church, he answered, “I would have them recognize it not as ‘the rejection of the church,’ but instead of ‘people in the church,’ The church is a mother and calls together all of her children.”
The clear meaning of Francis’ response is that the laity are at fault for committing a moral offense. LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT. 1) The Catholic Catechism teaches that “homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity,” are “intrinsically disordered,” and are “contrary to the natural law.” They “do not proceed from . . . sexual complementarity,” and “under no circumstances [can they be] approved.” 2) Catholics have long had a moral obligation to accept that teaching. 3) They now have a moral obligation to reject it.
It would have been a great kindness for Pope Francis and members of the hierarchy who agree with him to have given the laity a warning before changing the Church’s position on homosexuality. At the very least, something like, “Hey guys, remember all that stuff about homosexual acts being the path to damnation. Never mind!“
Back to the question in the title: “Will the Catholic Synod Achieve Its Goals? The facts I have cited lead to these conclusions:
Goal: Inviting women and men, young people and the elderly to listen to one another, sharing their perspectives and experiences. Conclusion: It seems that the “invitation” was sent mainly, if not only to people whose views the hierarchy wanted to hear–that is, those who agree with them. Therefore, even if the invited listened carefully to one another and openly shared their views and experiences, the final compilation of views will be slanted and thus of questionable value.
Goal: Having the hierarchy listen both to one another and (as Francis suggested) “particularly to lay people.” Conclusion: Apparent dissension among the hierarchy suggests the quality of their listening to one another may be problematic. And the apparent predetermination of which people (if any) are worth listening to has unavoidably closed entire avenues of potential insight.
Goal: Having all pursue the truth together while being open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and accordingly achieving “discernment on the path of becoming the Church that God calls us to be.” Conclusion: The “all” in this goal seems to include the laity, but, as I have shown, excludes many laypeople. The assumption among numerous prelates seems to be that the Holy Spirit communicates solely with them. That assumption is arrogant, insulting to our Creator, and a serious impediment to pursuing truth and discernment.
My overall conclusion is that, though I hope and pray the Synod will achieve its goals, in all likelihood it will not.
Copyright 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved