This week the USCCB released a report with the bureaucratically self-important title, “National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America for the Diocesan Phase of the 2021-2023 Synod.” Essentially, it’s a report from the bishops summarizing the results of the past year’s synodal “listening sessions” held in dioceses throughout the country.
It’s as bad as you’d expect.
Most of the input gathered consists of commonly-repeated canards that seem to come straight from diocesan chanceries, not actual people in the pews. For example, one synodal consultation reported:
People noted that the Church seems to prioritize doctrine over people, rules, and regulations over lived reality. People want the Church to be a home for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. They want the Church to meet people where they are, wherever they are, and walk with them rather than judging them; to build real relationships through care and authenticity, not superiority.
This cliche-ridden passage would only find a home in a corporate marketing or diocesan communications department. It’s full of straw-men (whoever claimed they wanted an “institution for the perfect” or to build relationships based on superiority?) and mushy language that pushes an agenda that’s soft on sin and squishy on doctrine.
There were also the typical complaints revolving around power politics. In a section titled “Co-Responsibility,” the report states, “Many want to see Church leadership take more seriously the talents and knowledge of the laity. Some expressed the need to use more effective Parish Councils and Diocesan Pastoral Councils.”
Yes, just what the Church needs: better committees!
Not surprisingly the report hit all the properly woke talking points, such as encouraging diversity, lamenting “marginalization,” overcoming racism, fighting climate change, welcoming “LGBTQ+ persons,” and empowering women. There’s little difference between what this USCCB document states on these topics and what you’d find produced by your average public university’s diversity program.
To be fair, the report also noted that “the limited access to the 1962 Missal was lamented” and “trust in the hierarchy of the Church is weak and needs to be strengthened” (there’s an understatement!). But overall, this document joins a very long list of previous USCCB documents that will be read by few and cared about by even fewer.
There’s a bigger problem than the bad points found in this document, however. Yes, the whole synodal process institutionally favors endorsing heresy and immorality, and this document reflects that. But honestly, we’ve grown used to this drivel and catechized Catholics, at least, can see those errors. We automatically shut them out as irrelevant to actual life as a Catholic. The real problem is the fatally-flawed underlying presuppositions behind this document and the whole “Synod on Synodality” process.
The assumption behind this process is that the Church is an institution that shapes itself to the wants and desires of its members. The USCCB document highlighted the statement, “People want the Church to be a home for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect.” This presumes that it matters what the people want. But ultimately, it doesn’t.
Do we really think St. Peter and the apostles sat around asking everyone to describe what they want out of the Church? Did St. Augustine of Canterbury show up on the isle and take a survey of how to incorporate paganism into Christianity? Did the 16th century Jesuits talk to the new Protestants about their grievances and then try to re-shape the Church in the desired mold?
The concept of everyone sitting around and sharing their feelings about what they want out of the Church is a modern conceit that is wholly alien to Catholicism and the proclamation of the Gospel. The Church’s mission isn’t to make us feel happy or even feel welcome. The Church’s mission is to save us, and the only way that happens is if we change our lives, not change the Church.
The Church isn’t “an institution for the perfect,” but it is an institution whose purpose is to make us perfect (cf. Matthew 5:48). That means that at times it will call us to penance and sacrifice and hardship. Nobody wants those things, and nobody is going to request those things at a synodal listening session. But our wants are irrelevant. What matters—all that matters—is what Jesus wants.
The Church is not a democracy; it is a monarch with Jesus as King. It is Him whom we should be asking, “What do you want?”, not a group of suburban Catholics in their 60’s imbued with the false self-centered presuppositions of modern culture.
The more I see of the Synod on Synodality process, the more obvious it becomes that it’s not just a colossal waste of time, it’s also actually moving Catholics away from the Gospel. The whole concept is fatally flawed and should be resisted by Catholics. We do not look to our fellow Catholics to re-shape the Church in our image, we look to Christ to re-shape us into His image by the help of the Church.