Synodality versus True Identity of the Church as Hierarchical Communion
First of all, I would like to thank the organizers of this conference, especially Riccardo Cascioli, and all the staff of the La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana for giving us today the opportunity to treat topics that are of the greatest importance for all of us because they touch upon the most fundamental good of our common Holy Mother, the Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ who alone is the Savior of the World. I would especially like to thank Father Gerald Murray and Professor Stefano Fontana for the essential considerations they have presented to us today. They have just expounded, unmasked I should say, in a very convincing manner, the philosophical, canonical and theological errors, which are widespread today, regarding the Synod of Bishops and its upcoming session entitled “For a synodal Church: communion | participation | mission.”
I would like immediately to commend to your reading the book by Julio Loredo and José Antonio Ureta, Synodal Process: A Pandora's Box. 100 Questions and 100 Answers, available in Italian and many other languages. The serene and profound study which underlies this book is an invaluable aid in dealing with the pervasive confusion surrounding the session of the Synod of Bishops that will begin tomorrow.
Professor Fontana said: “The new synodality, considered in its own categories of time, practice, and procedure, is the concluding moment of a long route that has spanned all of modernity.” By drawing our attention to the philosophical sources of so-called synodality, he unmasks its worldliness. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ who alone is our Savior is not at the root and center of synodality. That is why the divine nature of the Church in its foundation and in its organic and enduring life is neglected and, in truth, forgotten.
The Holy Spirit is very often invoked in the perspective of the synod. The whole synod process is presented as a work of the Holy Spirit who will guide all the members of the synod, but there is not a single word about the obedience due to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit that are always consistent with the truth of the perennial doctrine and the goodness of the perennial discipline that He has inspired throughout the centuries. It is unfortunately very clear that the invocation of the Holy Spirit on the side of some has for its purpose the advancement of an agenda that is more political and human than ecclesial and divine. The Church's agenda is unique, namely the pursuit of the Common Good of the Church, that is, the salvation of souls, the salus animarum, which “in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse debet” [“must always be the supreme law in the Church”].
The Synod on “synodality” pursues some perspectives widespread in the Church today and also highlighted by the Roman Curia's recent reconstruction by the Apostolic Constitution Praedicate Evangelium. It mainly insists on the missionary nature and synodality of the Church as the “characteristics” [marks], the “essential features” of ecclesial life and seems to derive the structure of the Roman Curia from this starting point. But, as we profess in the Creed and as was taught in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Holy Mother Church is in her characteristics, in her essential features, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic”.
The confusion about theology, morality, and even elementary philosophy in which we live is fueled by a great lack of clarity in the vocabulary used, and this is probably intentional on the part of some. We witness a semantic slippage of some words or expressions, which makes the Church's teaching on some points incomprehensible. I could mention the expression mercy of God, for example. But sometimes new words are introduced or exaggerated without a clear definition, as in the case of the word synodality. In this case of confusion about the essential features of the Church there is a risk of losing the identity of the Church, our identity as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, as branches in the “true vine” that is Christ and of which the eternal Father “is the vinedresser.”
The moment these concepts become central and are not clearly defined, the door is open to anyone who wants to interpret them in a way that breaks with the Church's constant teaching on these issues. Indeed, Church history teaches us that the resolution of the worst crises, such as the Arian crisis, always begins with great precision in the vocabulary and concepts used.
Let us return to the essential features of the Church proposed in Predicate Evangelium in order to better understand in what direction the synod tends: missionary nature and synodality. These are two characteristics that are in some sense known, but their elevation to the essential features of the Church and, therefore, fundamental criteria of the restructuring of the Roman Curia – and now, with this synod, the essential features of the whole universal Church – leads to ambiguities and misunderstandings that must be recognized and dispelled.
It is fair to say that the whole Church is missionary. All the faithful are called, according to their vocation and personal gifts, to bear witness to Christ in the world. But in bearing witness to Christ, the faithful need the encounter with Him living in the Church through Sacred Tradition, which is doctrinal, liturgical and disciplinary. They need good Shepherds – the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in communion with Him, together with the priests, the chief coworkers of the Bishops, – who will guide them to Christ and safeguard for them life in Christ, especially through the teaching of sound doctrine and good morals, and, most perfectly and completely, through the Sacred Liturgy, the worship of God “in spirit and in truth.” Indeed, it is the teaching of the truth and Divine Worship “in spirit and in truth” that fosters the growth in the life in Christ of every believer and of the whole Church. As St. Paul teaches us, in the Church we are no longer “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming,” rather “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
According to the constant teaching of the Church, Christ instituted the Petrine office so that all Bishops and, thus, all the faithful might be united in the faith. The Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, declared, “[i]n order that the same episcopate might be one and undivided, [Jesus Christ] put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him he set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion.” This is how the Council defines the Petrine office: “The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”
The Roman Curia is the principal instrument of the Roman Pontiff in his irreplaceable service to the universal Church. In the words of the Council Fathers, “In exercising his supreme, full and immediate authority over the universal Church the Roman Pontiff employs the various departments of the Roman Curia, which act in his name and by his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors.” The Successor of St. Peter, through the Roman Curia, helps individual bishops to fulfill their fundamental service, which the Council describes in these words, “For all the bishops have the obligation of fostering and safeguarding the unity of faith and of upholding the discipline which is common to the whole Church; of schooling the faithful in a love of the whole Mystical Body of Christ and, in a special way, of the poor, the suffering, and those who are undergoing persecution for the sake of justice (cf. Mt. 5:10); finally, of promoting all that type of active apostolate which is common to the whole Church, especially in order that the faith may increase and the light of truth may rise in its fullness on all men.”
The missionary nature of the Church is the fruit of this unity of doctrine, liturgy, and discipline; it is the fruit of the living Christ in the Church, in the members of His Mystical Body of whom He is the Head. It is Christ alone who is proclaimed and preached to all nations so that many may be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is the mission of the Church entrusted to her by the Lord:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.
Christ's mission is prior to any missionary activity, to any characteristic of missionary nature. In fact, the missionary nature is only a manifestation of Christ's living presence in the Church to make “disciples of all nations,” Christ who remains always living in the Church “to the close of the age.”
Synodality, as an abstract term, is a neologism in the doctrine on the Church. It is well known that the Second Vatican Council wanted to avoid the abstract terms of conciliarity and collegiality, which are not found in the conciliar texts. It is to be assumed that the Council itself would have wanted to avoid an abstract term like synodality, if it would have known it.
The canonical tradition knows the institution of the Synod as an instrument for giving council to the sacred pastors; the Church is not described as synodal but, instead, as hierarchical communion. It is the pastors in the communion safeguarded and fostered by the Petrine Office, i.e., the hierarchy, who have the responsibility for the doctrinal, liturgical, and moral guidance of the Church. The Synod is an aid offered to the pastors so that they can fulfill their service. It never replaces and cannot replace the pastoral office willed and instituted by Christ Himself.
The Synod of Bishops is described as “a group of bishops who ... meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in the preservation and growth of faith and morals and in the observance and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world.” Father Murray has masterfully reminded us of the nature of the Synod of Bishops, according to the just cited Canon 342 of the Code of Canon Law.
I would only add that, in a similar vein, the Diocesan Synod is describe as “a group of selected priests and other members of the Christian faithful of a particular church who offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community.” Synod as a canonical institute refers to a solemn way among several ways by which all the faithful, by their vocation and their talents, assist their sacred pastors to fulfill their responsibilities as true teachers of the faith. Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law, having its original source in the Lord’s teaching on fraternal correction provides the norms governing the relationship between sacred pastors and the faithful in the hierarchical communion of the Church. The institution of the synod, among these ways, is extraordinary, requiring long and adequate preparation, and a well-disciplined celebration to avoid the misunderstandings that can easily, especially in a totally secularized and worldly culture, make the synodal process harmful to the Church.
I would now like to share with you some reflections that I expounded to the other venerable confreres of the College of Cardinals at the meeting of Cardinals a little over a year ago. They concern more directly the structure of the Roman Curia, but they are very closely related to our topic.
Missionary nature and synodality as qualities, not “attributes” or “essential features” [marks] of ecclesial life do not change the nature of the Petrine Office or the service provided by the Roman Curia to the Successor of Peter as “a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and communion.” Indeed, they presuppose the Petrine Office assisted by the Roman Curia. In light of this, some observations follow.
First. The Apostolic Constitution insists that the Roman Curia “is at the service of the Pope, the successor of Peter, and of the Bishops, successors of the Apostles.” But the service of the Roman Curia is to the Successor of St. Peter. By serving the Roman Pontiff, the Roman Curia also serves the Bishops in their relationship with the Pope. It is unrealistic to demand that the Roman Curia serves all the Bishops. In fact, they have their own Curias to help them in the fulfillment of their responsibilities as true pastors. In this, the distinct service of the Successor of St. Peter must be kept clear.
At the same time, to define the Roman Curia as serving individual Bishops would risk a mundane view of the Church in which the particular Churches would be branches or subsidiaries of the Church in Rome, all served by the same Roman Curia. It would be a distortion of the relationship of the Successor of Peter with the Bishops.
Second. The term dicastery, as a generic secular term, taken from Roman Law, for the various offices of different natures in the Roman Curia does not sufficiently express the aspect of hierarchical communion involved in dealing with doctrinal, liturgical, educational, missionary, etc. matters, and does not express the real difference, not of rank (all dicasteries are juridically equal), but of subject matter and competence.
Third. It seems right to restore in some form, at least in the next phase of the implementation of the Apostolic Constitution, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the first place among all the Congregations of the Roman Curia by virtue of its task of assisting “the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world by promoting and safeguarding the integrity of Catholic teaching on faith and morals. It does this by drawing upon the deposit of faith and seeking an ever deeper understanding of it in the face of new questions.”
Fourth. It would be important among the required qualities of Officials and Consultors to put in the first place sound doctrine and consistency with sound Church discipline.
It does not seem to me necessary to go into detail to understand that the synod that will open tomorrow is nothing more than a direct extension of what has already been highlighted by the Apostolic Constitution Predicate Evangelium. It is therefore at least odd to say that we do not know in what direction the synod will go, when it is so clear that the will is to profoundly change the hierarchical constitution of the Church. A similar process has been employed in the Church in Germany to achieve the same so harmful purpose.
It is frequently said that the insistence on the synodality of the Church is nothing more than reclaiming an ecclesial characteristic always saved by the Eastern Church. I have regular contact with Eastern bishops and priests, both Catholic and Orthodox, all of whom have told me that the way the current synod is organized has nothing to do with Eastern synods. This applies not only to the place of the laity in these assemblies, but also more generally to the way they operate and even to the issues they address. There is confusion around the term synodality, which people artificially try to link to an Eastern practice, but which in reality has all the characteristics of a recent invention, especially with regard to the laity.
Such a change in the Church's self-understanding has as a further consequence a weakening of teaching on morality as well as discipline in the Church. I do not linger long on these points, dramatically known by all: moral theology has lost all its points of reference. It is urgent to consider the moral act in its totality, and not only in its subjective aspect. The upcoming anniversary of the publication of Veritatis Splendor can help us in this. I welcome and encourage the initiatives I have seen on this issue. The commandments of the Decalogue are valid and will remain valid as they have always been in every age, simply because they are inherent in human nature.
Given all that I have observed and that we are delving into by our meeting today, I, together with four other cardinals, Their Eminences Card. Walter Brandmüller, Card. Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Card. Robert Sarah and Card. Joseph Zen, each from different continents, presented dubia to the Sovereign Pontiff over the summer to clarify a number of fundamental points pertainining to the Deposit of Faith which are being questioned today, especially in the pursuit of so-called synodality. Many brothers in the episcopate and also in the College of Cardinals support this initiative, even though they are not on the official list of signatories.
An article appeared today in Il Giornale by Vatican reporter Fabio Marchese Ragona on the dubia submitted to Pope Francis. At the end of the article, he quotes comments on the dubia by “two synod fathers” he interviewed. I quote the commentary:
We are very sorry, the times of the Church are not those of these brethren! They cannot dictate the agenda to the Pope, moreover causing wounds and undermining unity in the Church. But we are used to it by now: they just want to strike Francis.
These comments reveal the state of confusion, error, and division that permeates the session of the Synod of Bishops that will begin tomorrow. The five dubia deal exclusively with the perennial doctrine and discipline of the Church, not an agenda of the Pope. They do not deal with past “times.” The language is very revealing of the worldliness of the vision. Then, they do not deal with the person of the Holy Father. In fact, by their nature they are an expression of due veneration for the Petrine Office and the Successor of St. Peter.
These comments seem to reflect a fundamental error recently expressed by the new Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in an interview he gave to Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register. During the interview he stated that beyond the Deposit of Faith, the Roman Pontiff has a "living and active gift" that results in what he calls "the doctrine of the Holy Father." In addition, he accuses of heresy and schism those who make criticism of this "doctrine of the Holy Father."
But the Church has never taught that the Roman Pontiff has a special gift to constitute his own doctrine. The Holy Father is the first teacher of the Deposit of Faith which is in itself always alive and dynamic. Thus teaches the Dogmatic Constitution de Divina Revelatione Dei verbum of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council:
Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2: 42, Greek). So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful.
One must reflect on the gravity of the ecclesial situation when the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith accuses of heresy and schism those who ask the Holy Father to exercise the Petrine Office to safeguard and promote the Depositum Fidei.
We are told that the Church we profess, in communion with our ancestors in faith since the time of the Apostles, to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, must now be defined by synodality, a term that has no history in Church doctrine and for which there is no reasonable definition. It is obviously an artificial construction, more like a human construction than the Church built on the rock that is Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10, 4). The Instrumentum Laboris of the upcoming session of the Synod of Bishops certainly contains statements that depart strikingly and gravely from the perennial teaching of the Church. First of all, we must publicly reaffirm our faith. In this, Bishops have a duty to confirm their brothers. Today's Bishops and Cardinals need a great deal of courage to confront the grave errors coming from within the Church itself. The sheep depend on the courage of the shepherds who must protect them from the poison of confusion, error and division.
But I would like to conclude by urging you to pray to implore Heaven's help against all powers, human and preternatural, that dream of the destruction of the Church. Non prevalebunt! We know that good is always held in esteem in God's eyes and will be justly rewarded, just as evil will be punished. Many young people are aware of this and seek to live, with the support of the Sacraments, an authentic life of Faith, Hope and Charity, that is, a life ever more fully in Christ with a heart ever more given, together with the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to His Most Sacred Heart. This is clearly the true future of the Church, the only one that will truly bear fruit (cf. Mt 7, 15-17).
Today good Christians must be prepared to suffer the white martyrdom of misunderstanding, rejection, and persecution, and sometimes the red martyrdom of the shedding of blood, in order to be faithful witnesses of Christ, His “fellow workers in the truth.” Although the current confusion is particularly great, even historically significant not to say unprecedented, we cannot believe that the situation is irreversible. As I have just mentioned, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. The Lord has promised to remain with us in the Church " to the close of the age." He does not lie. He is always faithful to His promises. We can always trust the Lord living for us in the Church. And certainly we must never forsake the Lord but remain with Him in the Church which is His Mystical Body. We must always remain branches surely inserted into the Vine which is the Lord. However, we are forced to see that many souls take the road to perdition because of this confusion, so we must pray much and act to dispel it as soon as possible.
Let us invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially her Immaculate Heart, St. Joseph Protector of Holy Church, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, that each of us may remain faithful to Christ and to His Church, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic, the Holy Roman Church; and that the Church herself, without stain or wrinkle, may emerge as soon as possible from the present state of confusion and division to shorten these times in which the risk of the loss of souls is great. Salus animarum "in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse debet."
Thank you for your attention. May God bless you and your homes always, and may the Virgin Mother of God, St. Joseph, Saints Peter and Paul, and all the Saints guide you and safeguard Your way.
Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke
 Julio Loredo and José Antonio Ureta, Synod Process: A Pandora's Box. 100 questions and 100 answers (Rome: Tradition Family Property Association, 2023).
 Can. 1752.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 811.
 “... unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam.” Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, “Constitutio Dogmatica de Ecclesia Lumen gentium,” 21 Novembris 1964, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 57 (1965) 11, n. 8. [LG]. English translation: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992), p. 357, no. 8. [LG Eng].
 Jn 15, 1.
 Jn 4, 24.
 Eph 4, 14-15.
 Cf. Mt 16, 18-19; Lk 22, 31-32; Jn 21,15-19.
 “Ut vero Episcopatus ipse unus et indivisus esset, beatum Petrum ceteris Apostolis praeposuit in ipsoque instituit perpetuum ac visibile unitatis fidei et communionis principium et fundamentum.” LG 22, n. 18. English translation: LG Eng, p. 370, no. 18.
 “Romanus Pontifex, ut successor Petri, est unitatis, tum Episcoporum tum fidelium multitudinis, perpetuum ac visibile principium et fundamentum.” LG, 27, n. 23. English translation: LG Eng, p. 376, no. 23.
 “In exercenda suprema, plena et immediata potestate in universam Ecclesiam, Romanus Pontifex utitur Romanae Curiae Dicasteriis, quae proinde nomine et auctoritate illius munus suum explent in bonum Ecclesiarum et in servitium Sacrorum Pastorum.” Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, “Decretum de pastorali Episcoporum munere in Ecclesia Christus Dominus,” 28 Octobris 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966) 676, no. 9a. English translation: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992), p. 568, no. 9.
 "Debent enim omnes Episcopi promovere et tueri unitatem fidei et disciplinam cunctae Ecclesiae communem, fideles edocere ad amorem totius Corporis mystici Christi, praesertim membrorum pauperum, dolentium et eorum qui persecutionem patiuntur propter iustitiam (cf. Matth. 5, 10), tandem promovere omnem actuositatem quae toti Ecclesiae communis est, praesertim ut fides incrementum capiat et lux plenae veritatis omnibus hominibus oriatur." LG 27-28, n. 23. English translation: LG Eng, p. 376, no. 23.
 Mt 28, 18-20.
 Cf. LG 25, n. 21b. English translation: EV1, p. 165, n. 335.
 “... coetus est Episcoporum qui ... statutis temporibus una conveniunt ut arctam coniunctionem inter Romanum Pontificem et Episcopos foveant, utque eidem Romano Pontifici ad incolumitatem incrementumque fidei et morum, ad disciplinam ecclesiasticam servandam et firmandam consiliis adiutricem operam praestent, necnon quaestiones ad actionem Ecclesiae in mundo spectantes perpendant.” CIC-1983, can. 342.
 “... coetus delectorum sacerdotum aliorumque christifidelium Ecclesiae particularis, qui in bonum totius communitatis diocecesanae Episcopo dioecesano adiutricem operam praestant....” CIC-1983, can. 460.
 Cf. Mt 18,15-18.
 “… è al servizio del Papa, successore di Pietro, e dei Vescovi, successori degli Apostoli.” Papa Francesco, Costituzione Apostolica sulla Curia Romana e il suo servizio alla Chiesa nel mondo Praedicate evangelium, 19 marzo 2022,
https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/it/apost_constitutions/documents/20220319-costituzione-ap-praedicate-evangelium.html, Art. 1. [EP].
English translation: Pope Francis, “Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia and its Service to the Church in the World Praedicate evangelium,” March 19, 2022,
https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_constitutions/documents/20220319-costituzione-ap-praedicate-evangelium.html, Art. 1. [EP Eng].
 “… aiutare il Romano Pontefice e i Vescovi nell’annuncio del Vangelo in tutto il mondo, promuovendo e tutelando l’integrità della dottrina cattolica sulla fede e la morale, attingendo al deposito della fede e ricercandone anche una sempre più profonda intelligenza di fronte alle nuove questioni.” EP, Art. 69. English translation: EP Eng, Art. 69
 Cf. EP, Art. 14 § 3, and Art. 16. English translation: EP Eng, Art. 14 § 3 and Art. 16.
 “Siamo molto dispiaciuti, i tempi della Chiesa non sono quelli di questi confratelli! Non possono dettare loro l’agenda al Papa, causando peraltro ferite e minando l’unità nella Chiesa. Ma ormai ci siamo abituati: vogliono soltanto colpire Francesco.” Fabio Marchese Ragona, “Cinque «dubia» sul Sinodo di Francesco. Dalla benedizione ai gay alle donne sacerdote: i cardinali conservatori scuotono il Vaticano,” Il Giornale, 3 ottobre 2023, 17. English translation by author.
 “… living and active gift ... the doctrine of the Holy Father.” Edward Pentin, “Exclusive: Archbishop Fernandez Warns Against Bishops Who Think They Can Judge ‘Doctrine of the Holy Father,’” National Catholic Register, September 11, 2023.
 Cf. Ibid.
 “Sacra Traditio et Sacra Scriptura unum verbi Dei sacrum depositum constituunt Ecclesiae commissum, cui adhaerens tota plebs sancta Pastoribus suis adunata in doctrina Apostolorum et communione, fractione panis et orationibus iugiter perseverat (cf. Act. 2, 42 gr.), ita ut in tradita fide tenenda, exercenda profitendaque singularis fiat Antistitum et fidelium conspiratio.” Sacrosanctum Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum II, “Constitutio Dogmatica de Divina Revelatione Dei Verbum,” 28 Novembris 1965, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 58 (1966), 822, n. 10. English translation: Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, rev. ed. (Northport, NY: Costello Publishing Company, 1992), p. 755, no. 10.
 Mt 16, 18.
 3 Jn 8.
 Mt 28, 20.© Raymond Cardinal Burke
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