Before you embark on a long hike, it is wise to know what the route looks like and what obstacles you will encounter. You need to know what gear to bring and if the hike is a good idea to start with. To determine the latter, it is a good idea to listen to those who have made the same hike.
What does a hike have to do with the Synodal Way? Well, it seems prudent to consider many aspects before setting the Church on a path toward something entirely new. By means of listening to individuals and groups, especially those who are deemed marginalized, living on the outskirts of the Church or even outside its embrace, the Holy Spirit is expected to lead the Church and its members to a better state of being. This is not a traditional synod, and synodality as preached by Francis is decidedly not a traditionally Catholic approach to evaluate and improve the reach of the Church.
Most practicing Catholics that I have met express the concern that the whole Synodality project is little less than a setup by progressive forces in the Church. The true end game, it is said, will only favor those who want to change the Church rather than reform themselves to align with the teachings of Christ and His Church. Many concerned Catholics refer to what is going on in Germany, with Der Synodale Weg: loud cries for married clergy, Holy Orders for women, contraception, which means that abortion is lurking right behind, and a full embrace of the LGBTQ+ agenda.
You may ask yourself what a church that has already embraced all such practices looks like? It turns out that some churches have walked down that path already. You need not look further than the Church of Sweden. This Lutheran (formerly state) church of Sweden, with 5.7 million members, is a great example. Here is a picture of how such a church is governed:
What do we see here? This picture shows a voting session from an annual meeting of the Church of Sweden’s governing body, Kyrkomötet, which translates to The Church Meeting.
Representatives from the whole country, representing the thirteen Swedish dioceses, the oldest of which, Skara, was founded as a Catholic diocese in A.D. 1014, come together to consider various proposals on topics that range from Youth Ministry to Liturgy and Doctrine. The representatives are elected in national, public elections and represent the traditional political parties in Sweden, as well as several parties unique to the church context.
The bishops do not have a vote at the annual meetings, nor can they veto any proposals. If folks in Sweden so desire, the Green party or the former Communist party will define the doctrines of the church. As you may suspect, the opinions, doctrines, and priorities of the Church of Sweden are closely aligned to the political landscape in general, which in Sweden means very secular and wholly embracing of Holy Orders for women, the LGBTQ+ and Climate Change agendas, and basically all other preoccupations of the modern, secular mind.
The Church of Sweden is little more than a somewhat spiritual, not particularly Christian, nonprofit that has an outsized reach due to the massive amounts of money the church controls. Being a state church for hundreds of years and realizing most of its revenue through the tax system has many advantages. In Germany, this is even more the case, as the Catholic Church there controls truly astounding capital, real estate, and other holdings in addition to the annual revenue through the tax system.
How, then, does a “Synodal Church” describe itself?
The Church of Sweden is an open church of the people that is governed by elected church politicians together with bishops, priests and deacons.
The new way of being synodal, now proposed by many in the Catholic Church, requires the Church to change, rather than the Church proposing God’s eternal truths for us to adapt to, thus truly upsetting the apple cart. We are told that God’s Church must change per the desires of those who do not want to live according to her perennial teachings. This naturally means abandoning the mission Jesus presents to us: to preach His Gospel to the whole world and to baptize everyone in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Granted, the Catholic Church has already been in dire straits for some 60 years. If you travel in Germanic lands, you will find that the Catholic Church has largely become what the Swedish Lutheran Church is. How can we illustrate what the Swedish Church is in one picture? The one at the beginning of this article comes close: Empty. A handful of parishioners attend Sunday service in a large parish church in Malmö. In the past 50 years, the Church of Sweden has lost over two million members and has gone from having over 95 percent of the population in its ranks to about 50 percent in 2020.
Fewer and fewer people attend religious services. The sacraments, especially Baptism and Confirmation, once a given, are now ignored by most. But it is not only empty in the pews; the faith taught has also entirely eroded. What is preached is little more than what we are already fed through social media and the news.
There are about three thousand churches in Sweden, and many ruined abbeys and monasteries, wrecked as part of the Reformation. Most of these structures were simply stolen by the Protestants. That said, these buildings are now largely empty, and the faith, even the Evangelical Protestant variety, has faded away. Don’t get me wrong, you can find practicing Protestants in Sweden, but the Swedish Church is dying a slow death, much like the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The Catholic Church will follow a similar path if she adopts the ways of the “Synodal Church.” There is no pot of gold at the end of Der Synodaler Weg rainbow. The only way forward is a rediscovery of the Catholic faith in its entirety. We need the classic Roman liturgy, Gregorian chant, and the entire treasure chest of dogma and devotion that comes to us on the path of time from the apostles. Satan and the world will hate us for it, and we will not make many friends in the Church of Sweden or Der Synodale Weg. But, and here’s the upside, God will make countless new disciples from all nations. With them, we can have hope to rejoice forever in Heaven.