The Perdurance of Liberal Theology and the Synod

October 8, 2023
Now is an opportunity to resolve some long-simmering divisions

Linked below is my latest in Catholic World Report on the issue of liberal Catholic theology and its relevance for the Synod.

But before I do I want to address two issues that arose as a result of my last blog post. First, I mistakenly reported that there were only "a hundred" people at the opening Mass of the Synod. This was a mistake and there were in fact around 5,000 people or so among the "general public" who showed up. I was not including those who were there who are participants in the Synod and their family and friends. I intended to write that there were "a few thousand" at the Synod but for some stupid reason wrote "a hundred". This happens sometimes when you write as much as I do and you are thinking ten steps ahead and writing. Sometimes you write a word and when you proofread you say "why in the heck did I write that??" But I imprudently did not proofread the essay before publishing it since I was already late for a dinner engagement with friends and was in a bit of a rush to get the essay out. I have no ego in these matters (truly) and I am grateful to those respectful posters who pointed out my mistake.

Others however were not so kind and accused me of deliberately lying in order to make the Synod look bad. But I would have to be an absolute moron (and I am many negative things but a liar and a moron I am not) to write "a hundred", which is a manifestly absurd number on its face, for an event that had pictures and videos of it all over the internet. And I knew those images were on the internet because I had looked them up myself. I was not in any way trying to be deceptive and if I am guilty of anything it was that I wrote and published an essay, imprudently, when I was in a rush and still exhausted from jet lag. I humbly and completely apologize for my writing error and have corrected the essay.

But my larger point was that attendance at the Mass from the general public was sparse indeed and many news outlets have reported as much as well. And I stand by that claim. Some have also said that I was drawing too negative a conclusion fron this sparse attendance which, perhaps, had many reasons for it. However, I was not claiming -- and it is clear in the essay -- that this fact alone meant much. I was making the point that there has been a broad pattern of disinterest in the Synod among average lay people going back to the paltry 1% participation rates in the listening sessions. I was using the low Mass attendance as an example of a pattern of disinterest. And I also noted in the essay that Pope Francis himself has stated that he knows that the Synod probably holds little interest to the average lay person, but that it is important despite that fact.

And that brings me to my next point. I have gotten a few emails and private messages from friends and readers who are implying that my blog has kind of lost its original focus and has strayed too far in the direction of getting involved in these intra-ecclesial arguments. But trust me when I tell you, and my wonderful wife can attest to this, that I too have felt this tension and worry a lot with great anxiety that the blog has gotten "off message".

However, the blog will eventually return to what it was (and I long for that day) but there is something deeply troubling going on in the Church right now with regard to the major players at the Synod and there is a great need in the present moment for a kind of "all hands on deck" effort to engage the issue head-on. I cannot break confidences but I can say that I entered into this debate and came to Rome to be able to converse with other journalists who are here at the urging of some very respectable and honorable people in the Church, including a few good bishops, many priests, and influential lay people. I was reluctant to enter into this mud pit of divisiveness but felt as if I had been, in a sense, "drafted" and needed to set aside my normal life for a bit in order to do my bit for King and country.

This is not a "war" and I hesitate to use a military metaphor since I, as a Catholic Worker, loathe war. However, many of my readers who are critical of my recent writing on the Synod are perhaps unaware of things that are going on behind the scenes with regard to this Synod that are deeply troubling. Once again, I cannot break confidences, but just know that I would not be doing this if I thought this whole thing was no big deal. It is a big deal. And there are powerful forces at play who want to remake the Church into something most of you would not like. So I beg your indulgence dear readers and patience. Because this too shall pass.

Finally, some of my friends have said that I need to be more open to the Holy Spirit and to the fact that the Spirit may yet bring about good from this Synod. I hope I am open to the Spirit since we all fall short in that regard and must be ever vigilant of replacing our own will and agendas ahead of God's will. However, despite my concerns over the Synod I have every confidence -- and I mean this -- that this is in the end God's Church and not mine or any other person's and that he will preserve His Church and bring some good out of the Synod. And in the linked article below I note one of those good things that might happen. And that is that rather than dealing with liberal Catholics with ecclesial discipline and reprimand we need to take their arguments seriously and this Synod provides us with an opportunity to bring all of these issues into the light of day and have a robust debate about them in Christian charity.

But we are Catholics and thus we believe that God accomplishes his will via the means of secondary causes in this world. And one of those secondary causes is human endeavor. We are cooperators in the economy of salvation and not passive observers. Therefore, I reject the claim that "listening to the Spirit" means in this synodal context just sitting back passively and "letting God handle things". Because, as I said, God handles things via human agency and if the orthodox voices in the Church who have a platform and are in a position to speak up, but refuse to do so out of some notion of passivity=submission to the Holy Spirit, then only those who want to remake the Church will occupy the space of the public narrative of this Synod. We saw what happened, as I mention in the linked essay, after the Council when the progressive wing of the Church gained control of the post-conciliar narrative. And it was not good.

This is what we mean by our vocational mission. I am no prophet by a long shot, but do you think the prophets really wanted to engage in the critique of the institutions of ancient Israel rather than continue on with their normal lives? Do you think they wanted the criticism and even persecution that came their way? Of course not, and there are many examples of holy saints in the Church who also had to leave their normal life in order to combat the errors of their age. Once again, I am not a prophet or a saint, but my point is that I do think my current efforts are a response to what it is I think God wants me to do at this point in time. Do I want to do this? Do I secretly enjoy it? Not in any way I assure you. So pray for me that I remain steadfast in pursuing God's will and that I remain open to wherever it is he leads me.

I would also note that this trip to Rome is no pleasure cruise and I do not have the time to be really doing toursity things here. And this trip has come at a great personal financial cost that I simply cannot afford. I am a Catholic Worker after all and my wife and I have a very, very meagre income. So I came here out of a sense of duty and not because I wanted to have fun frolicking in Rome. I could have used this money for many other things, but I felt it was important for me to be here.

There is indeed a lot of negativity in the Church right now already. But that is because grave issues are stake. Important issues that people care about. And so despite my misgivings, I will continue reporting on the Synod for the next few weeks and then be done with it.

Thanks everyone.

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