Thursday 13 October 2022


In my last post (cue trumpet solo!) I outlined some of the risks I see in the current synodal process:  interpreting what is said through a worldly, rather than a Catholic, understanding; the inherently unrepresentative nature of the process; and the risks of bias (deliberate or inadvertent) in recording and summarising.

There are further problems, too. These are not inherent in the process, as the first batch were, but are related to the specific way in which this has been conducted.

The first of these is the nature of the questions asked.  It is instructive to consider what was asked, and also what was not asked.  

The first question, for example was:

I.               Our Journeying Companions


Who are we on the journey with and what persons or groups are marginalised and why?

Think of those who form our parish community as we journey together. Which people or groups are on the edges of our community? Whom do we know who no longer walks with us, those who used to and now we don’t see? How do we engage with those for whom the experience of Covid has prompted thoughts about faith? How do we welcome people? 

‘We feel connected to the Church community’

This is an interesting question, when one considers how one might go about answering it.  The first bit: who are we on a journey with? is so broad and vague as to be almost unanswerable in any meaningful way. So our attention shifts to the second clause, about marginalised people or groups. That of course invites the 'women are marginalised; lgbtq+ people are marginalised' responses that are so predictable. Was that the intention? It is hard to be sure. But if it wasn't then the choice of question was clumsy, and if it was, that raises other questions.

And then, like all the other questions, it ends with a statement that is the presumed desired state of affairs (in the written submissions, respondents were asked to tick a box to indicate the degree with which they agreed with the statement).

So looking at all 10 statements gives an overview of the desiderata:
We feel connected to the Church  

We feel that the Church community listens to us

We feel able to speak our minds confidently to other Church members

 The Mass/Worship helps us in our Christian lives

We want to be able to share our faith with others in our community

We often have conversations with others who have differing beliefs

We get on well with non-Catholic Christians

We have some responsibilities in our parish

Our local parish makes decisions after listening and prayer 

We are willing to listen to people even if they have different opinions to us

 In one sense there is nothing very objectionable about most of that. One might question the predominance of feeling in the opening three; and one might certainly object to the use of Mass/Worship as if anything could be on a plane with the Mass, the source and summit of the Christian life. Moreover to see the purpose of the Mass primarily as helping us in our Christian lives is deeply problematic. 

But those objections aside, what is astonishing is what is not here. There is nothing about the other sacraments; almost nothing about understanding or living the Faith...

So who has determined that these are the issues on which it is vital to hear the views of the Faithful, and on what basis have they been chosen?

Why aren't the questions based on the structure of the Catechism of the Church: Faith, the Sacramental Life, Life In Christ and Prayer, for example.  That would have been both more comprehensive and more (how shall I say this) Catholic.

It could be really valuable to learn, for example, why people neglect the Sacrament of Penance, and how (if) they engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  That could usefully inform actions aimed at fostering and deepening Faith. But that doesn't seem to be the point.

Which, of course, raises the larger question: what is the point of this Synodal process?

Its early fruits seem to be enabling and apparently legitimising the expression of heretical and heterodox views. Was that always the intention?

Our current Holy Father hates to clarify ambiguities, it seems; is that his way of  permitting the expression of heretical and heterodox views, with plausible deniability?

Or if not, what?

These are hard questions, and I find myself repeating with more regularity than is normal the promise of Our Lord Himself: portae inferi non praevalaebunt adversus eam. 

So I suppose we have to recognise that God writes straight with crooked lines, and that the Holy Spirit will draw good from all of this as He best knows how.

I can already see some positives emerging from all of this. It is becoming clearer by the day which of the bishops around the world are untrustworthy, with regard to teaching the Faith.  And for myself, whilst I have found the current pontificate challenging, it has had the result of making me pray more, and of curing any tendency to ultramontanism I may have had, so there is that, too...

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