A Survivor’s Guide to the Synod
by Deacon Nick Donnelly
After the difficult events of the Extraordinary Synod in 2014, I know I’m not alone in feeling a sense of anxiety and powerlessness about the Synod that opens this weekend, (4th October). Cardinal Burke is clear that we are facing a pivotal time in the history of the modern Church. He told Polish television:
“We’re in a time of crisis in the Church, a critical moment in which we may have to give our all to safeguard both the truth of the Faith not only for our own salvation but for the salvation of our world and for the generations to come”.
My own experience confirms Cardinal Burke’s sense that the Church is facing a grave crisis. I am hearing about directly, and reading about, Catholics becoming ill, disillusioned or driven to desperate measures by the chaos caused by the two Synods.
Friends tell me that the constant news of cardinals questioning, even brazenly contradicting, doctrines of the faith has resulted in relapses into clinical depression. On social media I’ve read Catholics openly considering joining the traditionalist group, the Society of Saint Pius X [SSPX] because they, mistakenly, conclude that the Catholic Church is no longer One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Other Catholics are considering leaving the Church altogether because the procession of so many cardinals and bishops betraying Christ’s explicit teaching is making them lose confidence in the claims of faith being true.
- Crisis? What crisis?
I wonder whether anyone in Rome, or in our National Bishops’ Conferences, is considering the harmful effect that witnessing so many cardinals and bishops contradicting fundamental doctrines is having on faithful Catholics? Instead of cardinals openly engaging with the concerns and distress of faithful Catholics, many either flatly deny that there is any cause for concern or engage in episcopal ‘happy talk’ that hides the reality of the situation. This episcopal denial of the grave crisis facing the Synod is starkly contradicted by their uncritical acceptance of the wide-spread rejection, even ridicule, of the Faith by ‘Catholics’.
Many of the Synod submissions from Bishops Conferences emphasise rejection of the Church’s marital doctrine and sexual ethics, as if such dissent was a valid position in the Church alongside fidelity to sacred doctrine. A creeping exclusion of the Church’s doctrine from the Synod consultation is seen in the absence of key truths of the Church’s marital and sexual doctrine in the submissions being made. For example, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales summary of responses to their Synod consultation makes no reference to ‘chastity’, ‘modesty’, ‘indissolubility’, ‘virtue’, ‘holiness’, ‘sin’, ‘confession/reconciliation’ – it doesn’t even mention ‘procreation’. But instead the Bishops’ Conference has chosen to repeatedly refer to criticism of Humanae Vitae, the prohibition of divorced & re-married receiving Holy Communion and doctrine on homosexuality.
Many faithful Catholics come to the Ordinary Synod on the Family with a weary sense of being disempowered and excluded by a Synod consultation that has ignored fundamental doctrines and selectively highlighted dissent. The failure of many cardinals and bishops to publicly defend doctrine from this relentless, two year campaign of dissent only adds to this sense of powerlessness before what we fear is an unstoppable juggernaut to ignore or distort Christ’s teaching and change the Catholic Church beyond recognition.
For all these reasons I have written this survivor’s guide to the Synod to help myself and the readers of Catholic Voice get through the next three weeks.
- What’s going to happen at the Synod?
It’s going to be a long haul Synod lasting three weeks, from October 4–25, compared to the shorter 2014 Extraordinary Synod that lasted two weeks. Its official theme is ‘the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.’
Pope Francis has explained that over the three weeks the Synod will systematically work through the Instrumentum Laboris – the working document composed from the 2014 Synod Final Report and further worldwide consultation by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. This highly controversial document has been criticised by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his exclusive interview with Catholic Voice:
“In the light of a careful analysis of the facts, one is left with the suspicion that the authors of the Instrumentum Laboris try to push forward the agenda of a certain clerical pressure group in order to change the Divine law of the non-admission [of] the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion.”
Furthermore, Voice of the Family, a coalition of faithful Catholic groups, has identified further grave deficiencies in the Synod’s working document including the following set out in the planned order for discussion at the Synod:
It prepares the ground for the acceptance of same-sex unions by acknowledging the need to define “the specific character of such unions in society” beyond “biology and sexual difference”. (para. 8)
It presents a neutral position on IVF that ignores the Church’s authoritative guidance on its immorality, and the millions of embryonic human beings killed as a result of IVF. (para 34)
It reduces the indissolubility of marriage to the level of an “ideal”. (para 42)
It again suggests that cohabitation and “living together” have “positive aspects” and can be considered legitimate forms of union. (para 57, 61, 63, 99, 102)
It denies the full rights of parents regarding the provision of sex education to their children (para 86)
It proposes, yet again, the admission of the “divorced and remarried” to Holy Communion through some form of ‘penitential way’, without amendment of life (para 120-125)
It undermines the doctrine of Humanae Vitae by proposing a false understanding of the relationship between conscience and the moral law (para. 137).
- Let prayer defeat scheming and manipulation
The majority of deficient proposals that seek to undermine sacred doctrine are scheduled to be discussed by the Synod Fathers during the last week. This well-known ploy of leaving contentious issues until late in the day is often used by left-wing militants attempting to impose their agenda on a group. In the last week faithful Synod Fathers may well be fatigued and jaded by the first two weeks. However, the faithful Synod Fathers will need to have their wits about them during this last week because their opponents are planning to propose compromises, as if it is possible to find middle ground between truth and error! Cardinal Marx, one the leaders of the ‘clerical pressure group’ seeking to overturn doctrine has admitted that they will not follow a confrontational approach but will seek to achieve compromises:
“It is very important that the synod does not have the spirit of “all or nothing.” It is not a good way. The synod cannot have winners and losers. That is not the spirit of the synod. The spirit of the synod is to find a way together, not to say, “How can I find a way to bring my position through?” Rather: “How can I understand the other position, and how can we together find a new position?” That is the spirit of the synod.”
However, in a recent interview on EWTN Prof George Weigel predicted that faithful Synod Fathers would seek to challenge the Instrumentum Laboris and the planned schedule at the first working day of the Synod. If this proves true these faithful prelates will be taking a page out of the ‘progressives’ playbook when they rejected the pre-written schemas and schedule at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. We must pray that these African, Polish and American delegates are successful in stopping this gross manipulation of the Synod. Bishop Schneider gave Catholic Voice the following advice about how to react any signs of manipulation:
“In order to stop such manipulations we must first of all, implore fervently Divine and heavenly intervention, so that the following words of God may be realized in our days during the upcoming Synod: “God frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end” (Job 5: 12-13).”
- Stay Faithful ....
- We are fighting Principalities and Powers ...
- Resist with love and truth ....
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