Doubtless, readers of Crisis are aware that the German “Synodal Way” recently voted to produce a document blessing same-sex couples, among other enormities. That this is heresy according to any real standard of Catholic or Christian faith, no one should doubt. But, as one perceptive observer has noted, the motivating idea behind the architects of the “Synodal Way” is far more radical than any of their individual proposals, as absurd as it may seem.
This can be summed up by something Cardinal Reinhard Marx said years ago when discussing clerical celibacy: “evolution in society and historical demands have made tasks and urgent need for renewal clear to see…further adaptations of church teachings are required.” Lest you think he was merely referring to “pastoral practice” rather than the Faith itself, he clarified that “truth is not final…naturally, we stand in a great tradition—but this is not a complete tradition. It is a path into the future.” Truth is constantly evolving, and so it needs to be shepherded by “experts” in things like sociology, sexuality, and so forth, i.e., by the very bureaucrats who have led the German Church into schism and heresy.
It should be clear by now that the people in charge of the “Synodal Way” (and in many if not most of the Church’s bureaucratic institutions) are not “liberal” Catholics. Liberal Catholics are people who have a gay son and want the Church to “recognize” his sexuality somehow, or a remarried divorcee who wants to take Communion but has no other firm objections to the teaching of the Church. These are “one issue” dissenters with no real overall agenda to reshape the Church. The people who are currently running the Western Church into an early grave are “progressives.” How do these differ from liberal Catholics, you ask?
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Twenty years ago, after the election of Pope Benedict XVI, George Weigel, with his characteristic prescience, ventured that Ratzinger’s election proved that progressive power in the Church was on the wane. The late Fr. Paul Mankowski, writing under the pseudonym Diogenes, wrote:
I’m not as sanguine as Weigel regarding the intentions of progressives. After all, they haven’t been low-profile church mice quietly pleading for a live-and-let-live Catholicism. Though the now comic 1960s culture of flowers and folk music may incline us to view them as harmless sentimentalists, they were and are revolutionaries, out to replace the old order with a new one of their own devising. (Emphasis added)
Fr. Mankowski grasped what many faithful Catholics (especially the “conservative” variety) have only realized too late: that the difference between a “liberal” Catholic who was merely a sentimentalist and a “progressive” Catholic was their level of commitment and their activist ability to subvert institutions. In that same column, he noted how progressive Catholics had “taken over” theology departments, religious education offices, and even religious congregations (he could have mentioned seminaries as well).
Their intensity of belief and ability to capture institutional power in the Church meant that, as Fr. Mankowski said, “I don’t expect progressivists to shrug and gracefully fade from the scene. What’s at stake is not a failed literary review, but the meaning of their entire lives.” The architects of the current German schism, and likely the “Synod on Synodality” as well, all answer to this description.
How did this happen, you might ask? Fr. Mankowski hints at it above. What many people thought was a harmless counterculture of peace, love, and dope concealed the ambitions of revolutionaries who wanted to remake society in the image of their Utopian dreams. You can get a good sense of their ambitions and their worldview from the excellent book by Bryan Burrough, Days of Rage, which chronicles the left-wing “underground” in the United States of the 1970s.
Groups like the Weather Underground, headed by Bill Ayers (a friend of Barack Obama), wanted to start a revolution in the United States, but they found, to their chagrin, “the people” didn’t want it. However, many of the leaders of groups like the Weather Underground wound up going into elite institutions like the law (one became a judge), academia (another became a professor) where they merged into the managerial classes that control them. Having failed to rouse the masses, they apparently decided they needed to impose a revolution from the top down, as Lenin did in Russia.
This included religious institutions. I am skeptical of theories about “infiltration” into the Catholic Church by communists or Masons, primarily because they are overly dramatic. They imagine the capture of institutions as a sort of Hollywood spy movie, replete with Vatican intrigue. But it is more mundane than that. It involves lots of dreary work and entry into tedious bureaucratic centers such as finance committees and human resources departments. Providing aid to protesters, or people on the run from the FBI, is something that any institution can be used for, if its workforce is filled with enough radical sympathizers at its lowest levels, even if its leaders are violently opposed to such radicalism.
This was already the case in many religious institutions by the late 1960s. Burrough notes that the Weather Underground was aided by what he called a “disciplined Catholic underground” in the 1970s, devoted to helping draft resisters and other “Movement” figures. One tidbit he relates suggests just how far these radicals were already embedded in the U.S. Catholic Church. During a meeting of Weatherman in Flint, Michigan, that took place in late 1969, Burrough says the members of the group used the nave of a local Catholic Church to have orgies, part of their “Smash Monogamy” campaign to undermine their last inhibitions against revolutionary acts, both violent and sexual.
Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church in the United States, unbeknownst to its members, was secretly funding a Puerto Rican nationalist and terrorist group called the FALN during the 1970s. Several members of that group managed to get appointed to the board of an Episcopal charity designed to do outreach to Hispanics. From this perch, they siphoned off the money with which they conducted FALN’s operations, which, according to Burrough, consisted mostly of killing police officers.
Progressives, political or religious, figured out that you don’t need to have the masses on your side if you control who runs the bureaucracies. Modern societies cannot function without them. Everyone, including “traditionalists” of whatever stripe, are dependent on them in their daily lives.
Faithful Catholics thought they were safe with a “conservative” pope, but progressives knew what President Trump found out, to his chagrin, during his term in office. It doesn’t matter if you can appoint the heads of large, powerful institutions if virtually all of its personnel hate the people running them and their stated beliefs. The leaders of these institutions can do nothing in the face of this concerted opposition; they are merely figure heads in practice. This is likely the meaning of what Benedict is supposed to have said to Bernard Fellay, when he begged him to end the dissent in the Church. “My authority ends at that door,” he said, pointing to the door of his apartment at Castel Gandolfo.
Thus, while faithful Catholics were raising families, trying to live out and pass on the Faith to them, contributing monetarily and volunteering their time to the Church, the revolutionaries of Land O’Lakes, of Detroit, of Essen, all the literal and spiritual soixante-huitards you thought had the decency to leave an institution whose beliefs they no longer shared, were working to turn what faithful Catholics paid for out of treasure and time into another religion entirely. With the “Synodal Way” and the “Synod on Synodality,” their hour has come.
What of the pope? I don’t know how anyone can believe at this point that Pope Francis will do anything to stop this. It ought to be clear by now that the “Synodal Way” would never have gone forward without his allowance. He will likely issue some sort of ambiguous warning but stop short of outright condemning the Germans. Despite what I wrote above, the pope’s authority is still necessary to the “revolution” these people want to carry out. They have successfully played upon the faithful’s loyalty to the pope to come this far, and they need to maintain the fiction that this is not a radical reshaping of the Faith.
They don’t need or want his approval, but they could not proceed in the face of a direct papal condemnation. None will be forthcoming as long as Francis reigns. The progressives in the college of cardinals who voted for him clearly knew they had an ally who would give them their chance to attempt this. I cannot imagine he would betray them at this late date.
So, we are left praying and hoping a future pontiff will do something about this—if, by that time, he still can. Ironically, I don’t think Catholics need to worry about these revolutionaries undermining the Church’s teaching on infallibility. They don’t believe in immutable truth anyway, so there is no reason for Francis or the “Synod on Synodality” to issue some sort of binding statement on gay unions or whatever. They only need to keep issuing vaguely worded statements that skirt Church doctrine but allow heresy in practice.
I expect this to continue for the near future, but I believe in the Lord’s promise to Peter. Rome will somehow resurrect itself from this spiritual death one day. It always does. And these people are not all powerful, omni-competent beings. They cannot destroy the entire world-wide Catholic Church by themselves (I think).
But as for the Western Church, or at least parts of it, I must confess, I am not hopeful. Some keep talking of a “biological solution” to this problem. They do not understand that this will not happen as long as these people are in control of these institutions. They do not care if priestly vocations dry up, because they want to get rid of the priesthood anyway.
And while it is true that they may not be able to replace their personnel because hardly anyone shares their insane ideals, that does not mean they will leave powerful institutions intact for a future generation of faithful Catholics. They will simply run them into the ground and scuttle them, rather than let their counterrevolutionary enemies make use of them. If you want a preview of coming attractions, you might want to brush up on the history of the Anglican Communion and its travails, because that is where the Catholic Church is headed.
No, unless you somehow dislodge these people from these bureaucratic tombs—all of them—I am not sure, humanly speaking, what faithful lay Catholics can do in the near term to stop them. It may be that there is nothing we can do, until the Lord alters the circumstances under which we suffer. Nothing, that is, except to live out the Faith these people wish to annihilate more fervently, more completely, more joyfully, with more personal responsibility and personal asceticism, than ever before: “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29).
[Image Credit: Der Synodale Weg twitter account]