A Study of the Youth Synod's Final Document Promoting "Synodality"
On October 27, 2018, the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” was made public.
It is divided into three parts, 12 chapters, 167 paragraphs, and fills less than 60 pages. The Synod Fathers approved this document, voting paragraph by paragraph on the text in Italian, because a translation into other languages was not provided. The Vaticanist Marco Tosatti did not fail to emphasize the fact:
There was the problem of the final document, which was in Italian only. Archbishop Charles Chaput (of Philadelphia) protested, and someone wrote on Twitter: ‘How can the Synod Fathers vote on a document that they did not have the time to read, in a language that many of them do not know, with a new “Pandora’s box” opened by the insertion of controversial topics into the final text?’ Even Robert Mickens, (a progressive, very ‘pro-Bergoglio’ journalist – Editor’s note) from La Croix International commented: ‘How the devil are those who do not know Italian supposed to be able to offer a responsible critique, or to propose amendments or to vote on something that they cannot understand? ... This is a real “scandal”, in the sense of a stumbling block.’
To this day, more than a month after the conclusion of the Synod, only the Italian text is available on the Vatican website; no official translation is offered.
The “controversial topics” that Marco Tosatti mentions are the question of synodality and the issue of homosexuality, topics that received the least votes in favor, as another Vaticanist, Sandro Magister, notes:
The Synod Fathers approved the text by a very large majority in practically all cases.... There are only two points that received more than 50 negative votes, which is at any rate much lower than the threshold of 83 nays—or one third of the voters—that would have been necessary in order to refuse to approve a paragraph.
As for the first case, with 51 no votes, we see the question about greater ‘synodality’ in the Church. The six concluding paragraphs on this subject all garnered more than 30 no votes. As for the second case, we see, with 65 no votes, the controversial point concerning sexuality and homosexuality, a word that appears only two times in the whole document, in paragraphs 39 and 150, ... although its shadow looms over the whole Synod, even in places where the document silently bypasses it, for example on the topic of seminaries for forming future priests, or with regard to the scourge of abuses, which are attributed to so-called ‘clericalism’.
“Synodality” a remedy for “clericalism”
“Clericalism: that’s the enemy!”: Léon Gambetta’s slogan, seems now to be a leitmotif of Roman documents. It is employed in the final text of the Synod both for the question of synodality (“the clericalism that rules out a great number of decision-making processes”) and for the question of the abuse of minors, for which it is supposedly the chief cause.... This prompts a reaction from Lorenzo Bertocchi in an article in the October 28 issue of La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana entitled “Synod, Final Document between vague and ambiguous”, which reads:
The heart of the problem is identified with this ‘clericalism’ that Pope Francis had already pointed to as a cause several times over the course of recent months. After recalling that there are different types of abuse, ‘of power, of conscience; economic or sexual abuse’, the (Final) text (of the Synod) maintains that in order to ‘go to the root’ of the problem we must refer to ‘clericalism’ which arises especially from ‘an elitist and exclusive vision of vocation, which interprets the ministry received as a power to exercise rather than as a free and generous service.’
As opposed to this “clericalism”, “synodality” appears as the suitable remedy. Lorenzo Bertocchi shows the impact on the life of the Church:
...this synodality that is only the practical application of one of the essential points of Francis’ pontificate, namely: ‘opening up processes’. This is quite clear when we read paragraph 120: ‘The conclusion of the proceedings of the assembly and the document that gathers its fruits do not close the synodal process, but are one stage in it.... We invite the Episcopal Conferences and the Particular Churches to continue this journey, by engaging in processes of communitarian discernment that include also in their deliberations those who are not bishops, as this Synod has done.’ Therefore this is all about a method which must always be in progress (the phrase appears in English in the text) and open. Francis’ objective is clearly to lead the Church toward a continuous missionary synodality; ‘in this way,’ the document says, ‘we can advance toward a participatory and co-responsible Church.’
This insistence on synodality also grabbed the attention of Sandro Magister, who on his blog Settimo Cielo on November 12 reports that the Archbishop of Sydney, Abp. Anthony Fischer, in the November 1 issue of the National Catholic Register, described this way of proceeding as “an obvious manipulation”, thus “giving voice to the protest of not a few Synod Fathers over this contradictory way of imposing an idea of collegial government with an act of sovereignty from on high.” Furthermore the Roman Vaticanist compares this Synod with the one in 1999, when the progressive Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini,
...a Jesuit like Jorge Mario Bergoglio, sketched out the ‘dream’ of a Church in a perennial synodal state, listed a series of ‘knotty disciplinary and doctrinal problems’ that had to be addressed collegially, and concluded that for such questions ‘not even a synod could be sufficient,’ but that there was a need for ‘a more universal and authoritative collegial instrument,’ in essence a new ecumenical council, ready to ‘repeat that experience of communion, of collegiality’ which was Vatican II.
Among the questions listed by Martini is none other than the ones that today are at the center of Francis’ pontificate: the position of women in the Church, the participation of the laity in some ministerial responsibilities, sexuality, the discipline of marriage, penitential practice, ecumenical relations with other Churches, the relationship between civil laws and moral laws.
And like Cardinal Martini, Francis too keeps hammering away at the ‘style’ in which the Church should address such questions. A permanent ‘synodal style’, or ‘a way of being and working together, young and old, in listening and in discernment, in order to arrive at pastoral choices that respond to reality.’ ...
Today the idea of a new ecumenical council is fostered by few. What is more vigorous, with the encouragement of Francis, is the discussion on how to bring about the evolution not only of the synods, both local and universal, as consultative and deliberative, but also of the episcopal conferences, decentralizing and multiplying their powers and even endowing them with some ‘genuine doctrinal authority’ (Evangelii gaudium 32).
On November 1, the journalist Aldo Maria Valli denounced on his blog this “rhetoric of listening”:
In the final document of the Synod we have the rhetoric of accompaniment, or ‘walking together’ and of listening, without the goal of all this accompaniment, this ‘walking’ and this listening ever being expressed clearly. The result is a Church that no longer teaches the fear of God and does not warn against sin, but dispenses advice with a view to general wellbeing.
He very appropriately quoted an article published on the far side of the Atlantic [from Europe]:
Samuel Gregg, writing for Catholic World Report (October 29), devotes an interesting analysis to this very thing, noting that the now predominant sentimentalism is manifested above all in the way of presenting Jesus Christ. The Christ who often disconcerts His disciples by His harshness against sin, is transformed into a sympathetic liberal teacher, an inoffensive Jesus, everybody’s friend, who seems to have no ambition to transform our lives but strictly limits Himself to accompanying and consoling, and above all carefully avoids any reference to Truth, because if He talked about that, He would upset the consciences of us post-moderns, who have now stopped asking ourselves about the great absolutes and think that the only answer can come from the coexistence of several answers.
This sentimentalist Jesus encourages you to feel good right where you are, to be faithful to your conscience, to embrace your story. This is a Jesus who does not judge but guarantees heaven generally to all, because He accompanies everybody, and listens to everybody.
In order to be convinced that Aldo Maria Valli’s critiques are well-founded, it is enough to read these few sentences excerpted from the Letter of the Synod Fathers to Young People, which was published at the end of the Synod and composed in a style that the Savoyard Vicar (a fictional character who allegedly preached a “sermon” published by Rousseau) would not have disowned while professing the Rousseauian faith and eliciting copious, consoling tears from some of his listeners:
We the Synod Fathers now address you, young people of the world, with a word of hope, trust and consolation. In these days, we have gathered together to hear the voice of Jesus, ‘the eternally young Christ’, and to recognize in Him your many voices, your shouts of exultation, your cries, and your moments of silence.... We wish to be sharers in your joy, so that your expectations may come to life. We are certain that with your enthusiasm for life, you will be ready to get involved so that your dreams may be realized and take shape in your history [some translations read: our human history].... The Church is your mother; she does not abandon you; she is ready to accompany you on new roads, on higher paths where the winds of the Spirit blow stronger—sweeping away the mists of indifference, superficiality and discouragement.... The Church and the world urgently need your enthusiasm.... You are the present; be a brighter future.
Joy, enthusiasm for life, dreams, new roads... it’s all there to light up the future! The tomorrows that sing and the day-after-tomorrow that enchants....
Aldo Maria Valli adopts the judgment of Samuel Gregg, who maintains:
...the Western world is drowning in sentimentalism.... Just turn on your web-browser. You’ll soon notice the sheer emotivism pervading popular culture, media, politics, and universities. In this world, morality is about your commitment to particular causes. What matters is how ‘passionate’ (note the language) you are about your commitment, and the cause’s degree of political correctness—not whether the cause itself is reasonable to support.” A little earlier in his article, the Italian journalist writes without beating around the bush: “Mercy and forgiveness are only one step away from misericordism [mercy-as-ideology] and forgiveness-lite, and that step can be taken quickly. Just eliminate the divine law and replace it with the individual conscience, now transformed into an absolute.
On November 12, Aldo Maria Valli returned to this subject while interviewing Ettore Gotti Tedeschi on the occasion of the appearance of his latest book, L’arte maieutica della polemica (The Socratic Method in Polemics). Concerning the prevailing relativism, the former president of the Institute for the Works of Religion told him:
If ideas do not influence behavior, then behavior ends up influencing ideas. But the notorious ‘reality’ in which we ought to recognize ourselves is, essentially, the product of confused or corrupt ideas. If we want to be ‘the salt of the earth’, we must not suspend our judgment on reality. We must understand the causes of it and we must intend to influence it.... Because of this confusion, what has become ‘ethical’ is realist behavior, which is licit from a pragmatic perspective. In practice it coincides today with the two dogmas of modernity: don’t create conflicts with anyone and don’t damage the environment.
(Sources: vaticannews/NBQ/Settimo Cielo/ NCR/jeannesmits/benoitetmoi/aldomariavalli/CWR – DICI no. 379, December 2018)