In private conversations, off-the-record interviews, and moments of candor, Catholic journalists have known what German Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently revealed in plain sight when discussing the Synod on Synodality on EWTN’s The World Over television program: Our Lady’s prophecy to Sr. Agnes Sasagawa in her apparition at Akita, Japan, a half-century ago is now an irremovable part of the ecclesial landscape: The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against other bishops.
Of course, the first half of Mary’s prophesy has been widely and publicly made manifest (e.g., the McCarrick evil and its sustained concealment, Vatican bank/clergy sex scandals, seminary malformation, et al.); the second half of Mary’s words, however—bishop confronting bishop—are just now emerging, like the budding of a rare and foul-smelling flower. It is becoming evident to many now that for “the work of the devil” to be restrained and brought into the light, episcopal infighting and undisguised public opposition between members of the hierarchy must be fully brought to bear—as Paul took on Peter, and then wrote of it.
Like a holstered Clint Eastwood resisting an outlaw in a sheriff-less town, Müller, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, unflinchingly dismissed Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech and his reflections on “God’s ongoing encounter with human beings.” Before a worldwide television audience, host Raymond Arroyo asked Müller to respond to old comments made by Grech, the Secretary General of the Synod on Synodality. Grech has been the face of the Synod’s worldwide “listening sessions.” Among the comments to which Müller responded were Grech’s thoughts on the blessing of same-sex couples.
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“Grech’s comments are] a hermeneutic of the old cultural Protestantism and of modernism, that individual experience has the same level as objective Revelation of God,” Müller said. After expanding his thoughts on a “certain populism in the Church,” he continued. “And surely everybody outside of the Church who wants to destroy the Catholic Church and the fundamentals, they are very glad about these declarations. But it’s obvious that is absolutely against Catholic doctrine… How is it possible that Cardinal Grech is more intelligent than Jesus Christ, where he takes his authority to relativize the Word of God?”
Müller went on to predict that should the Synod’s “hostile takeover of the Church of Jesus Christ” be successful, it would mark “the end of the Catholic Church.”
Whether or not Müller’s apocalyptic words come to pass, one thing is now clear—numberless faithful Catholics believe what Müller does: the Synod on Synodality has been commandeered to subvert and distort the moral doctrine of the Church. The reasons are multitudinous (for one, though, homosexual-friendly cardinals and bishops have been appointed to lead prominent synodal leadership roles), but for the sake of column space, this piece will focus on just a single aspect—and perhaps it is the gravest and most overlooked: in America, the synodal rules of the game were violated from the very beginning. How? Through American bishops’ wholesale dismissal of the illumination of the sensus fidei in favor of the laity’s opinions.
Simply, opinions in “listening sessions” were considered and applied without consideration and harmonization with the Church’s flame of the sensus fidei. What is the sensus fidei? The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines it as “the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals” (CCC Paragraph 92).
Dutifully, the writers of one of Rome’s official synod documents included the significance of the sensus fidei at the very beginning of the global synod. Included in their documents was the following link: https://www.synod.va/en/resources/official-documents.html, which tactfully encouraged participants to prepare for their synodal “listening sessions” with a consideration of the immemorial teachings of the Church.
Participants were presented with a link to a study entitled the “Sensus fidei in the life of the Church,” which offered a theologically-textured treatise composed by a top panel of worldwide theologians from the International Theological Commission (ITC). It was in the study that theologians fleshed out the history, prominence, and perennial vitality of the sensus fidei. They wrote in part:
The sensus fidei fidelis is a sort of spiritual instinct that enables the believer to judge spontaneously whether a particular teaching or practice is or is not in conformity with the Gospel and with apostolic faith. It is intrinsically linked to the virtue of faith itself; it flows from, and is a property of, faith. It is compared to an instinct because it is not primarily the result of rational deliberation, but is rather a form of spontaneous and natural knowledge, a sort of perception. …the sensus fidei fidelis arises, first and foremost, from the connaturality that the virtue of faith establishes between the believing subject and the authentic object of faith, namely the truth of God revealed in Christ Jesus.
These theologians strove to emphasize that opinion was to be properly distinguished from and always assessed in reference to the faithful’s impenetrable “spiritual instinct.” Because they understood that worldwide synodal leaders would soon be inundated with tens of thousands of opinions, a real attempt was made to provide Catholics with the counterweight of the sensus fidei. Clearly, the synod writers’ intent was noble; it was to clarify the paramount connection between the Holy Spirit, truth, and authentic manifestations of the sensus fidei. Importantly for those leading “listening sessions,” they also offered concrete advice on how to discern what were authentic manifestations of the sensus fidei—and what were not.
Essentially, the sensus fidei—if understood, discerned, and applied properly in listening sessions—could have served as both a brake and a key criterion of discernment in the writing of reports. (E.g.: “Sir, the desire to have your dog attend Mass with you is understandable, but let’s look to what the voice of the Church says on such matters.”)
Sadly, during “listening sessions” in dioceses throughout the United States, there was no mapping of the boundaries. Few brakemen were to be found. The result? Thousands of opinions from arguably the least catechized generation of Catholics in the history of the Church were allowed to run roughshod. The ITC’s exhaustive study on “the nature of sensus fidei” was treated as an old-fashioned and irrelevant Catholic heirloom. Their years of study on the fruit of the sense of the faithful were utterly forsaken by the Synod leaders of the USCCB, despite knowing it would be deluged by modern American Catholics’ impassioned opinions. What were some of these opinions—opinions that survived the “listening session” round to be passed on to the current “Continental Phase”? The following opinions came from Region XII (Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana):
There was a desire for stronger leadership, discernment, and decision-making roles for women—both lay and religious—in their parishes and communities: people mentioned a variety of ways in which women could exercise leadership, including preaching and ordination as deacon or priest. Ordination for women emerged not primarily as a solution to the problem of the priest shortage, but as a matter of justice.
A middle school student said, “If God says he loves everyone and he doesn’t lie, doesn’t he also love trans people?”
The Church needs to face up to its history of white supremacy and institutional racism.
Understanding that American Catholics’ sentiments would be as impassioned as they were diverse, one American theologian saw the writing on the wall. He knew the USCCB’s wholesale snubbing of the Church’s spiritual instinct would give birth to a type of Wild Wild West synodal landscape.
“Reading through the national synthesis, you see the spirit of the world has been injected and accepted by synodal leaders,” he said. “Authentic sensus fidei has been supplanted by personal experience, judging has been supplanted by listening, and the goals of clarification and resolution have been supplanted by endless listening and dialogue—perhaps until changes in Church doctrine are realized.”
The dismissal of the sensus fidei by the USCCB Synod leaders was a shotgun blast for me. They chose to deliberately ignore the wisdom of an official synod document put together by some of the best Catholic theologians in the world. Without the pulse of the sensus fidei—and its authentic manifestations—you have Frankenstein hidden inside of a Trojan Horse, with the apparent aim of changing the Church and her teachings. The injection of the spirit of the world into any synodal report at any level is diabolical.
Judging by the content of the national synthesis report, it could be argued that America’s synodal leaders, Bishop Daniel Flores and Bishop John Stowe, ascribed far more importance to Catholics’ ordinary opinions than to the voice of the Church, while choosing to ignore the ITC’s warning against embracing erroneous opinions that “do not spring from faith.” America’s national synod report was presented as “a synthesis of the honest and authentic contributions of the People of God in the United States” and that its themes “express the fruit of listening, encounter, and dialogue from communities diverse in culture, language, and social setting.”
The following two paragraphs might bore readers to tears, but they are vital to understanding the extent to which USCCB Synod leaders seemed to want to keep participants far, far away from the spiritual instinct of Holy Mother Church.
As American dioceses rolled out their synodal listening sessions this past year, the term sensus fidei in Latin and the term in English (“sense of the faithful”) never showed up in the national synthesis. In the sixteen regional reports, the term in Latin showed up only twice: in the syntheses of Regions II and XVI. The term in English showed up briefly in two regional syntheses (Regions III and VII), with no definition of the concept.
Among Rome’s official documents on synodality, the ITC study on sensus fidei appears prominently (third) on a list of twenty official synod documents. In contrast, on the USCCB’s official website for the synod, it is nowhere to be found. It is not listed anywhere under the section titled “Synod Documents,” nor the section titled “Resources,” nor the section titled “USCCB Resources,” nor the section titled “Pastoral Resources,” nor the section titled “Diocesan Resources.”
In fact, to access it from the USCCB website, one must click on a button called “MORE SYNOD RESOURCES,” after which a disclaimer pops up absolving the USCCB of any responsibility for its content. One is then taken to synodresources.org. On this site, one finds a section called “Resources from the Synod of Bishops” with four sub-categories: Communications, Methodology, Spirituality, and Theology. If one clicks on “READ MORE” under “Theology,” he or she is redirected to https://synod.va/en/resources/official-documents—where, alas, it can finally be hunted down.
Why is any of this important? The vast majority of the opinions of American Catholics have been collated and sent to Rome for the synod’s “Continental Phase” without having been tested by the fire of the sensus fidei. More to the point, on the canyonesque gulf between opinion and the sensus fidei—and why the perennial teachings of the Church should have been applied coast-to-coast in synodal listening sessions—a quick story:
Two nights before my uncle Monsignor Thomas Wells was stabbed to death, he sat across from me and my wife, Krista, on the back deck of his Maryland rectory. It was there that he changed the course of our lives. Soon after he witnessed our marriage, Krista and I had discovered that we couldn’t have children. We’d wake each morning to the wretchedness of infertility and the suffocating sadness it brought, given our desire to raise a large family.
Krista wanted to pursue having children through the tempting science of in-vitro fertilization. I wanted to adopt. We were at odds and our battles were growing in intensity. Satan was circling our small apartment like a vulture, and we were in need of rescue.
Krista had her opinion. I had mine. And the Church had hers.
Then, in the nick of time, Tommy flipped our lives by holding up the blazing furnace of what the Church taught.
With a few short sentences, he brought us to Golgotha, to the foot of the blood-soaked Cross. And for the first time in months, a pinhole of illuminative light shone through. Up to that point, we had looked upon our cross of infertility as revolting—a blanket of thorns; but Tommy told us that it was actually a gift to give God. The notion struck us as ridiculous, but the surge of warmth we felt as he spoke those words assured us that they were ordered and true. He told us that when we died to our desire to have children in an unnatural manner, God would step in to save us.
He was right; when we agreed to amputate ourselves from our desire, gave ourselves to Him, and stepped from our cave to begin to walk Golgotha, we discovered joy. Why? Because we knew Jesus had invited us to carry the full weight of His cross—blindfolded. Our simple hope was that He might tend to us. He did tend to us. Our love became heightened, and our lives never were the same.
In our great trial, my uncle then broke open an omnibus on the Church’s teaching on redemptive suffering. With a watchmaker’s touch, he explained why the Church taught that in-vitro fertilization was impermissible. In tears that night, Krista’s opinion met the Church’s, and within a week she approached me with these words, “I see why in-vitro isn’t God’s way for us. Let’s adopt.”
This small story is just one example of why America’s many sensus fidei-less listening sessions were contaminated and perhaps even wasted. Thousands of opinions were gathered, considered, and pushed forward while the authentic sensus fidei in so many dioceses was discarded.
“As we enter the ‘Continental Phase’ of the synod, it seems, listening to folks trumps clarity. Dialogue eclipses holiness. Christ’s Great Commission now has a massive barrier in front of it,” the theologian said. “How do we evangelize a world whose false spirit we seem to want to accept?…Let us pray that Pope Francis takes strong measures and issues necessary corrections before bishops gather in Rome next year for the next phase of the Synod.”
Concerning Pope Francis, Arroyo posed a ticklish question to Cardinal Müller: Why do you believe the pope is allowing this?
Müller responded: “I cannot understand it. I must say it openly because the definition of the pope is, and [based in] the Vatican Council and also the history of Catholic theology, he has to guarantee the truth of the Gospel and the unity of all the bishops, and in the Church, in the revealed truth.”
Time will tell—in fact, it will, in Rome at the culmination of the Synod on Synodality which has recently been extended to the autumn of 2024—if the conclusions promulgated at the end of the worldwide synod may be another infiltration of which Our Lady warned—perhaps the most substantial one yet.
[Image Credit: ETWN The World Over with Raymond Arroyo]