Criticism of the Synod: Structurally Neutralized Truths

October 23, 2019
Cardinal Robert Sarah.

Following those of cardinals Gerhard Müller, Walter Brandmüller, and Raymond Burke, new criticisms have been made of the synod by some Roman cardinals, most particularly on the issue of the ordination of married men which the Synod Fathers will be considering. These criticisms emanate from Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Criticism of the Plan to Ordain Married Men 

In the introductory chapter of his book Friends of the Bridegroom, for a Renewed Vision of Priestly Celibacy (EWTN Publishing), quoted by Sandro Magister, Cardinal Ouellet writes: “The new paths of the future will bear evangelical fruit if they are consistent with a complete proclamation of the Gospel, ‘sine glossa’ [without adding gloss; to the letter], which sacrifices nothing of the permanent values of the Christian tradition… In this light, seeking new roads for the evangelization of the indigenous in the Amazon means going beyond an approach that would be reduced to proceeding on the basis of Amazonian world views, in an effort of intercultural synthesis that runs the risk of being artificial and syncretistic. The unicity of Jesus Christ and, to a certain extent, of biblical culture imposes a dialogue that is respectful of cultures but clearly oriented to conversion to the mystery of the incarnation of the Word. The transcendent unicity of this irruption of the Word into human history confers upon biblical culture a place apart in the concert of nations, and justifies its being taught to all cultures, for the sake of bringing to them that to which they aspire and toward which their values and limitations lead, for the purpose of being illuminated and healed by it, and taken up beyond themselves.”

“Two pages further on, Ouellet also applies this warning to countries like Germany, where he sees underway ‘modernizations’ that in reality endanger the reason for being of the whole Church.”

“If this reflection on evangelization is valid for the Amazon, a similar reflection holds true for the ‘new evangelization’ of countries that have long been Christian. If this is confused with a modernization of habits and customs, for the sake of making Christianity more acceptable in spite of certain negativities in its history, it is doomed to fail, and the people will not be fooled by superficial recipes that are offered to them to keep up their interest in the ecclesial institution. The Church either proposes the authentic Jesus who is identical with the Christ of faith, or it loses the reason for being of its mission, and the new powers of the media wielded by hostile hands will very soon render it superannuated and superfluous.”

In an interview with Edward Pentin for the National Catholic Register on September 23, Cardinal Sarah also expressed his concern: “I have heard that some people wanted to make this synod a laboratory for the universal Church, that others said that, after this synod, nothing would be the same as before. If that is true, this approach is dishonest and misleading. This synod has a specific and local goal: the evangelization of the Amazon.”

“I am afraid that some Westerners will confiscate this assembly to move their projects forward. I am thinking in particular of the ordination of married men, the creation of women’s ministries or giving jurisdiction to laypeople. These points concern the structure of the universal Church. They cannot be discussed in a particular and local synod. The importance of its subjects requires the serious and conscious participation of all the bishops of the world. Yet very few are invited to this synod. To take advantage of a particular synod to introduce these ideological projects would be an unworthy manipulation, a dishonest deception, an insult to God, who leads his Church and entrusts him with his plan of salvation.”

“In addition, I am shocked and outraged that the spiritual distress of the poor in the Amazon is being used as a pretext to support projects that are typical of bourgeois and worldly Christianity.”

“I come from a young Church. I knew the missionaries going from village to village to support the catechists. I have lived evangelization in my flesh. I know a young Church doesn’t need married priests. On the contrary, she needs priests who will give her the witness of the lived cross. A priest’s place is on the cross. When he celebrates Mass, he is at the source of his whole life, that is, at the cross.”

“Celibacy is one of the concrete ways in which we can live this mystery of the cross in our lives. Celibacy inscribes the cross into our flesh. That is why celibacy is unbearable for the modern world. Priestly celibacy is a scandal for the modern, ‘For the word of the cross, to them indeed that perish, is foolishness’” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

“Some Westerners can no longer tolerate this scandal of the cross. I think it has become an unbearable reproach to them. They come to hate the priesthood and celibacy.”

“I believe that bishops, priests and the faithful everywhere in the world must rise up to express their love for the cross, the priesthood and celibacy. These attacks against the priesthood come from the richest. Some people think they are all-powerful because they finance poorer churches. But we must not be intimidated by their power and money.”

And the Guinean prelate added with disarming candor: “I am convinced that Pope Francis will never allow such a destruction of the priesthood. On his return from World Youth Day in Panama on Jan. 27, he told journalists, quoting Pope Paul VI: ‘I would rather give my life than change the law of celibacy.’ He added: ‘It is a courageous phrase, in a more difficult moment than this, 1968/1970. ... Personally, I think that celibacy is a gift for the Church. Second, I don’t agree with allowing optional celibacy, No.’”—But at the same time, Francis has evoked the possibility of exceptions granted for merciful “pastoral” reasons, as he did with Amoris laetitia for the divorced and remarried.

The Danger of Schism is not Imaginary

To these criticisms can be added those of Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop Emeritus of Caracas, in an interview with Inés San Martin for Crux on September 25: “The text (Instumentum laboris) talks a lot about accompanying, following, understanding and dialoguing with, but little about the need to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that, in some ways, explains the reality of the growth of the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in the region, while the Catholic faith in the Amazon is not growing with the same force.”

And the cause of this lack of growth—continues the prelate, in an allusion to the request to ordain married men—“is not the lack of priests.” He recalls that “we have had in Venezuela, from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, a situation of a great shortage of priests in much of the territory, however the faith was lived and maintained. It is not just a matter of receiving or not receiving the sacraments, but of the experience of the faith that was had, that arrived through the catechists to the families, that communicated them to their children.”

We can also mention the statement in Aciprensa on September 26 by Bishop José Luis Azcona, emeritus bishop of the prelature of Marajó, in the Amazon: “Is it the love for the Church in the Amazon? is it love for God who sufficiently permeates the criteria of pastoral, ecclesial, practical reality as the supreme reality? or is it gnosis or Pelagius who directs the barque of the Church in the Amazon?”  And he warns, “the danger of schism is not imaginary, not even in Amazonia!”

Finally, we can mention the position of “many prelates, priests and faithful Catholics of the whole world” who, in an unsigned manifesto, published in several languages ​​on October 1, have accused four of the theses of the basic document of the synod to be “in contradiction with precise points of Catholic doctrine as always taught by the Church and with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Savior of all men.”

They write, “We have formulated, according to the classical method, four propositions, in the form of ‘theses,’ expressing the fundamental ideas of this document. In conscience and with great frankness, we say that the teaching they convey is unacceptable.”

1. Amazonian diversity, especially religious, evokes a new Pentecost (Instrumentum laboris, 30): to respect it is to recognize that there are other ways of salvation, without reserving it exclusively for one’s own faith. Non-Catholic Christian groups teach other ways of being Church, without censorship, without dogmatism, without ritual disciplines: the Catholic Church should integrate some of these ecclesial modes (IL, 138). To reserve salvation exclusively for one’s own creed is destructive of that very creed (IL, 39).

- This last statement, contained in n. 39, is particularly scandalous.

2. The teaching of pan-Amazonian theology, which especially takes into account the myths, the rituals, and the celebrations of the original cultures of the Amazon, is required in all educational institutions (IL 98, C 3). Non-Christian rites and celebrations are proposed as essential for integral health (IL 87), and it is requested to adapt the Eucharistic ritual to their cultures (IL 126, d. on rites: IL 87 & 126).

3. Among the theological places [i.e., the sources of theology, such as Holy Scripture, the Councils, the Church Fathers, sound philosophy] are the territory [of Amazonia] and the cries of its peoples (IL 18, 19, 94, 98 c.3, 98 d.2, 144).

4. It is suggested that priestly ordination should be given to older people with a family and that “official ministries” be given to women. A new vision of the sacrament of orders is proposed, which will not come from revelation but from the cultural customs of the Amazonian peoples (which includes, among others, a rotating authority). A separation should then be made between the priesthood and the munus regendi [pastoral governance] (IL129, a.2, 129,a.3, 129,c. 2).

Fr. Davide Pagliarani.

Criticism Neutralized by Conciliar Pluralism

All these criticisms are relevant in some respects, but many attentive observers find them inadequate or ineffective, not only in relation to the Roman synod and the German “synodal path,” but also regarding the various declarations and decisions of the Pope and his entourage. For several months, faced with the gravity of the present time, some are demanding a less timid attitude.

Thus, on August 7, 2019, Roberto de Mattei wrote in Corrispondenza Romana [and translated for Rorate Cæli]: “Today the battle requires men who fight with clarity pro or contra the Tradition of the Church. But if it happens that a Pope takes a stand against Tradition, we must respectfully disassociate ourselves from this, remaining firmly inside the Church, from which he, not us, seems to want to separate himself…The time for minimalism is over. The time has come when the Truth and error must look each other in the eye, without compromise. This is the only possibility the Truth has of winning.” 

On the website Chronace di Papa Francesco of July 26, the faithful made this pathetic call to Cardinals Müller and Sarah: “Dear Pastors: it is useless to grant interviews every two days to denounce the doctrinal hell that overwhelms us, if you do not also give out fire extinguishers meant to extinguish devouring flames ... An airtanker without water, above a forest on fire, is useless. We do not ask you to throw oil on the fire, but water.”

In an interview published on September 17 (see FSSPX.News), Fr. Davide Pagliarani, Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, gives the reason why all current criticisms are structurally ineffective: “To understand the silence of the Pope, we must not forget that the Church that emerged from the Council is pluralistic. It is a Church that is no longer based on an eternal and revealed Truth, taught from above by Authority. We have before us a Church that is listening and therefore necessarily listening to voices that may differ from each other. To make a comparison, in a democratic system, there is always a place - at least apparent - for opposition. They are part of the system because they show that we can discuss, have a different opinion, that there is room for everyone. This, of course, can promote democratic dialogue, but not the restoration of an absolute and universal Truth and an eternal moral law. Thus, error can be taught freely alongside a real but structurally ineffective opposition which is unable to replace the errors with truth. It is therefore from the pluralist system itself that we must emerge, and this system has as its cause, the Second Vatican Council.”