There has been much commentary about Pope Francis’s self-imposed “silence” regarding Archbishop Carlo Viganò’s allegation that Francis had lifted Pope Benedict’s sanctions against sexual predator Theodore McCarrick, and then made the ex-cardinal a trusted—and very influential—advisor. It might be, however, that Francis did, in fact, give a resounding—and contemptuous—reply to the allegation, just three days after its publication on August 25. While perhaps merely a preplanned and ill-timed coincidence, the fact is that on August 28, the pope announced his naming of unabashedly pro-gay Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who heads the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, as a delegate to the synod on youth now taking place in Rome. Newark is ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s former diocese. Archbishop Viganò testified that McCarrick had helped orchestrate Tobin’s appointment there.
Only four months after taking charge of the Newark archdiocese in January 2017, Tobin allowed a gay pilgrimage, including Mass, to take place in the cathedral. While he could be on hand only to deliver the initial welcome, he nevertheless permitted the pilgrims, some of whom were “married” to same-sex “spouses,” to receive Holy Communion unconditionally. Rather than encourage the openly gay and lesbian pilgrims to live chastely, Tobin thought it appropriate, on this occasion, simply to “call them who they were.” In other words, God made them that way. This is particularly significant relative to the youth synod, for it suggests that Tobin would have “affirmed” youth in the L, G, B, T, or other false identity that they might claim for themselves. As it turns out, however, the cardinal has since requested, and been granted, a release from his obligation to attend the synod, for he has his hands full trying to control the fallout from the McCarrick scandal.
Regardless of whether the pope was intentionally signaling his contempt for Archbishop Viganò’s allegation by appointing Tobin as a delegate to the youth synod so soon after Viganò’s testimony appeared, it seems that the cardinal’s steadfast allegiance to the gay cause is what qualified him to serve in that capacity, if the other cardinals the pope has appointed to vote at the synod, to say nothing of some of the lay persons he invited to attend as collaborators and observers, serve as any indication. It speaks volumes that Pope Francis has seen fit to augment, with numerous gay-friendly episcopal delegates of his own choosing, the number of bishops chosen by their own Bishops’ Conferences to represent them at the synod. So does the fact that the pope has, since the beginning of his pontificate, consistently surrounded himself with, and given high-profile appointments to, bishops and priests who are promoting the gay agenda. Also telling is the fact that Francis and his clerical retinue continue to lay the primary blame for clerical sexual abuse at the feet of clericalism, so as to deny its root in active homosexuality.
All this suggests that Francis has no intention of purifying the Church of sodomitic clergy, except when a high profile case, such as that of McCarrick, leaves him no choice but to act. Indeed, Cardinal Müller recently confirmed what anonymous sources in the Vatican revealed, namely, that Francis blocked efforts by the CDF to laicize priests found guilty of sexual misconduct. It seems, rather, that the pope is determined to place his collaborators in positions that afford them strategic opportunities to promote the gay cause. The robber synods on the family held in 2014 and 2015 provided two such opportunities. The youth synod seems to have been devised to provide another one. Its architects seem intent on realizing the infernal, subversive plan of the late Cardinal Carlo Martini, who dreamed of exploiting youth by organizing them into the revolutionary means by which to advance the gay agenda (among others) in the Church. Let us consider how the Instrumentum Laboris (IL), or working document, for the youth synod embodies that plan. We will do well first to get an overall sense of the document’s deliberately skewed perspective.
The Subjectivism of the IL on Youth
The IL on youth follows the same, general pattern as Amoris Laetitia (AL), whose flawed and fuzzy teaching on conscience and discernment it presupposes and employs. Like AL, the IL presents a massive amount of information, in the midst of which its architects have buried land mines set to explode later on, so as to generate revolutionary changes in Church teaching and practice. The preponderance of data from sociology, psychology, and other social and human sciences is supposed to convince us that the IL lays out the “real,” empirically verifiable situations of contemporary young people, and that the cultural and anthropological problems they now face are so vast and unprecedented that the Church has to adopt wholly new ways of addressing them.
The other “incontestable” reality with which the document confronts us is that of everyday, human experience—the awareness and the understanding of self, others, and the world that accrues to each of us as we relate (or are related) consciously to the people and things around us. Our experience of God seems to arise from and reflect this more primary, “concrete” experience. “Personal experiences,” we are told, “cannot be placed in question” (IL, 55). In order to know truth, therefore, one must experience it in one’s own way, through one’s activity in the concrete situation in which one finds oneself. Accordingly, the IL informs us that the way young people approach reality “is based on the priority of concreteness and action over theoretical analysis” (IL, 26). They understand “by doing,” resolving problems spontaneously as they arise.
The document asserts that this is not an anti-intellectual attitude. But that is exactly what it is: act first, then decide how you feel about your experience. In effect, the IL is saying to youth: Reinvent the wheel for yourself as you go along. Neither the Church, nor your elders, nor even the wisdom of the ages has anything definitive to tell you. Times have changed, and your humanity has evolved! The Church is there merely to accompany you, to listen to you, and to learn from you what she should think, say, do, and be, as you discover yourself by abandoning “the constant search for small certainties” (IL, 145). Human knowledge, after all, can never really be certain of anything, except how you feel. Basing yourself, therefore, on the feelings and wishes elicited by your concrete experiences, conscience will help you “discern” the path you should choose (IL, 112), even if you don’t always live up to your ideals because of personal and circumstantial limitations (IL, 116; see the even more pernicious version of this sappy subjectivism in AL, 303, which the IL intentionally echoes here).
Tellingly, the IL regards “discernment” as “an act of human freedom” (IL, 114). Rather than being a decision of free will, however, true discernment is an act of judgment by the intellect regarding the real truth of something. In the practical sense, such judgment pertains to the real truth about the moral good that freedom ought to choose here and now, for the sake of genuinely human flourishing. But the operative principle in the IL (taken from Evangelii Gaudium, 231) is: “Realities are greater than ideas” (IL, 118). In itself, this principle is philosophically meaningless; however, in Francis-speak, it smacks of the following: In my real, concrete situation, I feel I must (continue to) do “x,” even though the Church’s moral doctrine tells me, ideally, to do “y.” Thus reconceived, “discernment” becomes willful self-assertion and freedom from moral restraint.
The accompaniment of youth by elders is supposed to facilitate this murky process of “discernment.” But God forbid that a mentor should ever make any moral demands on the freedom of youth, and thus “mortify their choices” (IL, 79)—never mind that biblical morality expresses, concretely, the essential requirements of human nature, by which freedom is set free and personal fulfillment realized. On the contrary, the IL tells us that major religious institutions just can’t seem to get in tune with our modern “conscience” (see IL, 25).
Even when the Gospel is brought to bear on one’s experience, the IL seems to suggest that the latter is the measure for interpreting the truth of the former, and not the reverse (see IL, 192, 208). The document’s insistence that all moral judgment on youth be suspended exposes its anti-intellectualism, its want of objectivity, and its disregard for the moral law, both natural and divinely revealed (IL, 3, 26, 68, 132, 142).
In a word, the problem with the IL, as with AL, is epistemological and metaphysical. The document conveys the false view that we cannot attain to truth—and even less, to absolute truth—merely by hearing and intellectually assimilating the Word of God; rather, we discover truth once we experience it from God, whom alone we can trust (IL, 55). Sure, we can refer to the Bible to help us interpret our experience. But in the Church there “coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects of doctrine and Christian life”; hence, we must “acquire an open spiritual dynamism” (IL, 3).
It follows from this dehumanizing hermeneutic of radical rupture—passed off as doctrinal and moral “development” nowadays—that all truth is provisional. In order to make life choices, therefore, we must overcome “the fear of abandoning our beliefs to open up to God’s surprises” (IL, 61). Translation: there are no objective and absolute truths, hence, no universally binding moral norms that express and actualize the true human and personal good in every “concrete situation.” We can therefore do whatever we feel like doing, all in the name of the God of surprises. The IL’s subjectivistic take on experience—subtly depicted as the sole locus and interpreter of truth–is nothing but a thinly disguised form of Modernism, which has its parallel in various theologies of liberation. I have written specifically on that topic elsewhere.
The Subversive Subtext of the IL on Youth
A subjectivistic view of experiential truth that combines Modernism and liberationism is sure to yield revolution, no holds barred. This is why the considerable attention that the IL devotes to the topic of accompanying youth, while good in itself, can be so dangerous, depending on exactly who it is that’s doing the accompanying, and why. The authors of the document acknowledge that young people can “easily fall prey to manipulation by adults,” among whom they mention unscrupulous religious leaders, “who know how to exploit young people’s idealistic ambitions for their own gain” (IL, 128). Sad to say, it seems that a plan for precisely this kind of exploitation underlies the Vatican document on youth.
To be more specific, the clerical gay network in the Church, with the blessing of Pope Francis, it seems, wants to accompany “LGBT youths” (as IL, 197 calls them, in a nod to secular, gay propaganda); that is, it wants to organize them to be “prophetic” protagonists who will usher in a change to the Church’s teaching condemning homosexual activity as an intrinsic moral evil, and identifying the sexual orientation that inclines toward it as objectively disordered. By encouraging them to rebel against nature, those “accompanying” these youths can more readily manipulate them into rebelling against the Church, so as to try and force this change, initially by instigating a change in “pastoral” practice.
Such “accompaniment” would also provide sodomitic clerics with a handy opportunity to recruit and network with more of their own. And as the Church’s sense of sodomy’s gravity lessens further with the implementation of “pastoral” practices that are more “inclusive” and “merciful,” the likelihood of a cleric’s being canonically sanctioned for committing that sin will proportionately diminish. The talk of “intergenerational alliances” in the IL, particularly as exemplified in the relationship between Eli the priest and young Samuel (see IL, 81), is therefore rather disturbing.
It is in light of the subversive undercurrent described above that we must read statements on youth throughout the IL that might otherwise seem benign and wholly unrelated to the homosexual issue. Accordingly, it is “LGBT” youth who, as “true protagonists,” bring the Church “into being” (see IL, 142). It seems no longer true, then, that the Church conceives and gives birth to her children through her sacramental life and perennial teaching. Were the Church to exercise her authority both by proclaiming her traditional moral teaching and by recourse to traditional ecclesiastical disciplines for moral transgressions (“it has always been done this way”), it would amount to a form of “control that holds people down and keeps them captive” (IL, 141). But if she is going to insist on preaching morality, then she must do so, as AL recommends, in a gradual fashion that makes no immediate moral demands on the individual. At least this approach, we are told, respects a person’s pace of growth in freedom (see IL, 175).
Still, the Church’s mission is to set freedom free, so that young “LGBT” people can be who God wants them to be (see IL, 141). Indeed, the Church is obliged to listen to them, since these young prophets, who speak more credibly than adults do on issues such as sexuality (see IL, 165), “are fully entitled to participate in the sensus fidei fidelium” (IL, 138). Or was that the sensus fidei infidelium?
“LBGT” youth want a relational Church that welcomes and integrates them without judging them (see IL, 68). They want a (gay-)friendly Church, which would share their “basic awareness of the existence of other lifestyles” and make “a deliberate effort toward their inclusion,” even when the “pluralism of differences,” or diversity, takes on “radical forms” (IL, 26). Indeed, the Church must not become trapped in a closed ideology, but must rather learn from “free and open societies” how “different identities need to engage in dialogue” (IL 149). She must resist becoming like societies that employ “immunization tools against diversities” (IL, 135), so as to justify discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, among other grounds (see IL, 48). The Church’s supreme, operative principle must be dialogue: dialogue with her young “LGBT” members, and dialogue with the world (see IL, 140).
Some Bishops’ Conferences are nevertheless wondering “what to suggest ‘to young people who decide to create homosexual instead of heterosexual couples,’” and yet still “‘would like to be close to the Church’” (IL, 197). Perhaps these poor, befuddled bishops will decide to suggest that the inherently non-procreative “lifestyle” of such “couples” is laudable because they are consistent with their moral obligation to promote environmental sustainability (see IL, 152). After all, in an age that exalts freedom to the point of placing an absolute value on each individual’s personal interpretation of his concrete experiences, it is no longer possible to render a moral judgment on how people choose to live. The “signs of the times” therefore demand that we commend them for the “positive” elements “discernable” in the lifestyle on which they have freely decided.
Bishops who subscribe to such godless nonsense, together with IL’s architects, have ultimately denied human dignity and personal transcendence, having denied our inherent power to rise above the concrete situation of our experience, through an intellectual judgment about, and a free choice to enact, the objectively true moral good. Evidently, they no longer believe that persons who freely “decide” to conduct themselves in a gravely sinful way cannot, by that very fact–despite their solipsistic discernment—“be close to the Church,” nor, therefore, to Jesus Christ, her divine Spouse. And in forsaking Him thus, they are forsaking their only real hope for eternal salvation.
The truth about the moral good is enshrined in the perennial moral teaching of the Holy Catholic Church. To express a true love of God and neighbor, we are bound to live by that truth unconditionally. The diabolical winds blowing from Rome, which are fiercely threatening to invert human perception about what is morally good and what is morally evil, are powerless to change the unchangeable truth of natural and revealed morality. And that’s the message that young people, like the rest of us, need to hear.
(Photo credit: Pope Francis leads the introductory prayer at the Youth Synod on Oct. 3, 2018; Daniel Ibanez / CNA.)