Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s Analysis of Youth Synod Final Document
LifeSite: Your Excellency, as a general question, how does the final document of the recently concluded Synod on ‘Young People, the Faith and Vocational discernment’ differ from past final documents in its language, content and style.
Bishop Schneider: The main difference between the final document of the Youth Synod and previous synod documents consists in the fact that it was immediately approved by the Pope. As to the content, it was the first time that a worldwide assembly of Catholic bishops has dealt specifically with the theme of young people. The language and the style are also quite different from previous synod documents in so far as it lacks doctrinal clarity and abounds with expressions of sentimentalism, a trait which, to some extent, also characterized the Final Report of the Synod on Family in 2015.
According to the new apostolic constitution on the structure of synods, Episcopalis Communio, if the final document is “expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff” or if he “has granted deliberative power to the Synod Assembly, according to the norm of canon 343 of the Code of Canon Law,” it “participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter.” What is your view on this? How should the laity understand this?
We first have to clarify the meaning of “Ordinary Magisterium.” This expression is new and did not exist until the time of Pope Pius IX. However, Pope Pius IX and the First Vatican Council never used the expression “Ordinary Magisterium,” but rather “Ordinary Universal Magisterium.” This exercise of the Magisterium was understood as being infallible, which means that the entire episcopacy, together with the Pope, taught unchangeably at all times and in all places infallibly those things which are necessary for salvation. Beyond the infallible definitions of the Pope (called “ex cathedra”), the infallible doctrinal definitions of the Ecumenical Councils, and the infallible constant teaching of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium, there are no documents of the Magisterium which possess the qualification “infallible.”
In order to avoid any confusion with the infallible “Ordinary Universal Magisterium,” it would be better to use expressions such as “Ordinary Daily Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops” or “Daily Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops.” From a theological point of view, it is possible — and at times, from the pastoral point of view, it is also helpful — to make such distinctions; for instance, when the Roman Pontiff, together with the College of Cardinals, or with representatives of the entire episcopacy, or with a regional group of bishops, issues a non-infallible document as a part of the Ordinary Daily Magisterium.
Role of a synod
Episcopalis Communio, n. 3, says: “The Synod of Bishops, whose name evokes the Church’s ancient and very rich synodal tradition, held in particular esteem by the Eastern Churches, would normally exercise a consultative role, offering information and counsel to the Roman Pontiff on various ecclesial questions, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, the Synod might also enjoy deliberative power, should the Roman Pontiff wish to grant this.” What light do the Fathers of the Church shed on the role of a synod? And can a synod in its present form be deliberative?
In the age of the Church Fathers, there were frequent regional meetings or synods of bishops which had three aims: to reject heresies, to define Catholic doctrine more precisely, and to resolve highly relevant disciplinary questions and correct abuses and lax discipline in the life of the Church. In those times, there were no meetings of bishops just to have meetings, or to discuss pastoral programs, as is the case with the current practice of the Synod of Bishops, initiated by Paul VI in 1965. Meetings to discuss pastoral programs were unknown in the times of the Church Fathers. They met only when there was a real and acute emergency, and they preferred to use their precious time for prayer and for the work of direct and zealous evangelization.
As to our current situation, since the Second Vatican Council the Roman Pontiff has increased the participation of the bishops from various regions in the decision-making and consultative processes of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia: first, there are bishops who are members of the dicasteries; second, there are bishops who are consultants to the dicasteries.
One ought not to forget that the College of Cardinals is the primary advisory body of the Roman Pontiff. The vast majority of cardinals today are also diocesan bishops who come from various regions around the world. Today, therefore, we have three stable groups composed of members of the episcopal college whose role is to advise and help the Pope in governing the universal Church. The institution of a permanent Synod of Bishops is, to my opinion, an unnecessary multiplication of institutions. Regrettably, this leads to a greater bureaucratization of the life of the Church that in turn consumes a large amount of money at a time where the Church continuously declares herself to be a Church of the poor.
Furthermore, the frequent and basically unnecessary meetings of the Synod of Bishops steal the bishops’ precious time, which they ought to use primarily for prayer and for the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel (cf. Acts 6:4).
As to whether a synod in its present form can be deliberative: I would say that in an exceptional way and with clearly defined norms, this is possible. If, however, such a deliberative synodal assembly were to be held on a regular basis, it would become confused with the deliberative power of an Ecumenical Council, which is a strictly collegial and universal, and as such, an extraordinary form of the exercise of the episcopal ministry. A permanent deliberative episcopal assembly on the universal level is problematic from a dogmatic point of view, since the Lord instituted Peter and his successors as the ordinary supreme universal governance in the Church and not the whole episcopacy. Quasi-permanent deliberative synodal assemblies would entail the negative effects of “conciliarism,” which the Church had already experienced in the 15th century.
Your Excellency, the Instrumentum laboris (IL) has made its way into the final document (n. 3). During the synod the IL was widely criticized for various reasons, the main one being that it was too sociological in nature. It also contained the loaded acronym “LGBT” used by the homosexual lobby. One synod father, who reportedly was speaking for many bishops, said he hoped the working document would “die” so that a new one would “germinate and grow.” What are your views on the inclusion of the Instrumentum laboris in the final document?
The “LGBT” acronym is a cunning slogan being used in the global propaganda campaign to promote the homosexual ideology and the legitimization of homosexual activity. The neutral and uncritical mention of such a term in a document of the Holy See is unacceptable and it demonstrates by this simple fact a kind of collaboration of the Holy See with the dictatorship of the totalitarian homosexual ideology in our days. The inclusion of the Instrumentum laboris in the Synod’s final document represents a dishonest way to grant acceptance through the backdoor, as it were, to the unacceptable political acronym “LGBT.”
The paragraph most opposed by the Synod Fathers was number 150, with 65 voting against (of a total of 248). What is your assessment of n. 150, particularly its use of the term “sexual orientation” and its call for a “deepened anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration” about sexuality?
The reference to the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons provides the correct interpretation of the term “sexual orientation.” However, it is generally known and easily proven that today the term “sexual orientation” is highly ambiguous, and is mainly used by the ideological propaganda arm of the homosexuality lobby and the United Nations. The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses the term “homosexual tendency,” which more appropriately expresses various inordinate psychological and moral inclinations, or the concupiscence due to the original sin. The term “orientation” implies a positive reality, a positive aim, and should, therefore, not be used to express a homosexual tendency.
For a true Catholic, and all the more for the Magisterium, a deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration about sexuality can only mean the following: to show more clearly the revealed truth about human sexuality, as God has conceived and created it, and as the Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church has taught it unchangingly and always in the same sense and meaning. Such a deeper elaboration should necessarily include the esteem for the virtue of chastity.
Regrettably the final document of the Youth Synod lacks a clear Catholic statement on chastity. It would have been spiritually very useful for young people, if the final document had quoted statements on chastity, such as the following by Pope John Paul II: “True happiness demands courage and a spirit of sacrifice, refusing every compromise with evil and having the disposition to pay personally, even with death, faithful to God and his commandments. How timely this message is! Today, pleasure, selfishness and directly immoral actions are often exalted in the name of the false ideals of liberty and happiness. It is essential to reaffirm clearly that purity of heart and of body go together, because chastity ‘is the custodian’ of authentic love” (John Paul II, Angelus July 6, 2003).
Number 121 of the final document, on the synodal form of the Church, also met with considerable opposition, with 51 Synod Fathers voting against it. Although synodality was barely discussed during the Synod, it dominated the third part of the draft final document, surprising many of the Synod Fathers. Some suggest that synodality will be used to usher in heterodox teaching. What are your views and concerns about the final document’s emphasis on synodality?
The fact that the strictly ecclesiological and somewhat “clerical” theme of “synodality” was given such prominence in the document of a synod on the pastoral care of young people is in itself astonishing, and seems suspect. Indeed, some among the high-ranking clergy used the Synod on young people — and thus the good young people themselves, the little ones — to promote their own agenda of enhancing their decision-making power in the Church, and to introduce their own ideology into the life of the Church, justifying their aims through vague references to the Fathers of the Church.
It is ironic that n. 121 of the final document mentions St. John Chrysostom in support of “synodality,” when it was precisely St. John Chrysostom who was condemned by “synodality,” i.e. by a synod of bishops. Indeed, the synodal condemnation of St. John Chrysostom quoted the canons of the Arian synod of Antioch, which for its part condemned St. Athanasius.
Two of the greatest Fathers and Doctors of the Church, St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom, were victims of “synodality.” They were condemned by synods. Nowadays St. John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius, together with St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, are represented in the monumental statues that hold aloft the chair of St. Peter in the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Furthermore, we know well what St. Gregory Nazianzen, one of the greatest theologians among the Church Fathers, thought about “synodality.” He said: “I am resolved to avoid every meeting of bishops, for I have never seen any synod end well, nor assuage rather than aggravate disorders” (Ep. ad Procop.). Pushing through the theme of “synodality” in the final document, in disregard for authentic synodal methods — since this topic was not sufficiently debated in the synod hall, and there was not enough time to read the final text, which was given to the bishops only in Italian – is a demonstration of an exasperated clericalism. Such “synodal” clericalism intends to transform the life of the Church into a worldly and Protestant parliament style with continuous discussions and voting processes on matters that cannot be put to a vote.
Role of women in the Church
Number 148, on the role of women in the Church, has also been cited as one of the more controversial passages in the final document. One source close to the Synod said this paragraph’s reference to women being present in “ecclesial bodies at all levels,” disrupts the apostolic nature of the Church, represents a “deep rejection” of Christ’s intentions for episcopal leadership, and undermines the spiritual fatherhood of priests. Do you agree? Do you believe there are legitimate ways the Church can better involve women in the decision-making process? And what are the limits?
The inclusion of the theme “the role of women in the Church” in the synod debate and in its document demonstrates once again the abuse of our dear young people, of the little ones, by high-ranking clerics who want another Church, who want to give the unwomanly ideology of feminism a basis for action inside the Church. A true Catholic woman does not like to have power in deciding ecclesiastical policy, or in issues that, by their nature, belong to the divinely established hierarchy. A true Catholic woman detests struggles for power in the life of the Church. The most far-reaching decision-making power of a Catholic woman in the life of the Church is the Christian exercise of motherhood in the family. Can there exist a greater decision-making power than that of a mother who forms a future saintly priest, a future saintly bishop, a future saintly pope? What tremendous decision-making power belongs to a young woman who becomes a Bride of Christ in her religious life, and who through her cloistered consecrated life represents the heart of the Church? There are, of course, holy women who are Doctors of the Church. We know them: St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, not to mention two other patronesses of Europe, St. Bridget of Sweden and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. They taught the Church with what they received from the Church, and not with their own ideas. They were enabled to do so by their life of contemplation, of holiness, and of love for the integrity of the doctrine of the Church.
In times of great tribulation in the life of the Church, and out of love for the Church, holy women were not afraid to raise their voices in order to express a filial correction to bishops and popes. Clerics, however, were often cowards and chose not to express a necessary correction to higher-ranking hierarchy because they were concerned about their own career. The holy women mentioned above did not belong to decision-making bodies of the Church in their respective age. Let us not put Catholic women into clerical decision-making bodies or they will lose their liberty to publicly correct abuses perpetrated by clerics, or to express filial corrections toward the higher levels of the hierarchy. We do not need new clericalized women who will become part of the ecclesiastical bureaucracy. The Church in our days urgently needs new St. Hildegards, new St. Catherines of Siena, new holy women who by their wisdom and prayer enrich the understanding of the Faith, and who by their courage admonish negligent and abusive clerics on all levels.
What is your view of the final document’s treatment of conscience? (See n. 107-109)
The final document’s statements on conscience n. 107-109 reflect the teaching of the Church and are quite acceptable. For a more complete understanding of conscience, however, it would have been helpful had the document also mentioned the dangers of errors in conscience and the obstacles to a rightly formed conscience. It would have been profitable for young people if the final document had included explanations on conscience such as, for example, that of Blessed John Henry Newman: “The sense of right and wrong, which is the first element in religion, is so delicate, so fitful, so easily puzzled, obscured, perverted, so subtle in its argumentative methods, so impressible by education, so biased by pride and passion, so unsteady in its course, that, in the struggle for existence amid the various exercises and triumphs of the human intellect, this sense is at once the highest of all teachers, yet the least luminous. Conscience is not a long-sighted selfishness, nor a desire to be consistent with oneself” (Letter to the Duke of Norfolk).
What is your view of the final document’s treatment of the sexual abuse crisis that has affected especially particular regions of the world? (See n. 29-31). Archbishop Charles Chaput has said the passages were “inadequate and disappointing on the abuse matter” and that Church leaders outside countries hit by the abuse crisis “clearly don’t understand its scope and gravity.” There is “very little sense of heartfelt apology in the text,” he said, and clericalism “is part of the abuse problem, but it’s by no means the central issue for many lay people, especially parents.”
I agree with the observations of Archbishop Chaput. The document’s response to the issue of sexual abuse in the life of the Church is surely inadequate. The most painful and one of the deepest wounds in the life of the Church — namely, the sexual abuse of children and adolescents by clerics — was not specifically mentioned and was therefore swept under the carpet of an enumeration of different types of abuse, such as an abuse of young people, abuse of power, abuse of conscience, economic abuses, etc.
The text dodged the core issue and avoided putting the finger on the wound. Failing to speak about the proven fact that homosexuality played a crucial role in the causes of the sexual abuse of minors, is either dishonest or ideologically motivated, i.e. done to protect homosexuality, or is politically motivated, i.e. done to be politically correct with mainstream opinion, which denies the connection between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of minors.
In a recent academic study, the Ruth Institute (located in Lousiana, USA) presented clear evidence of the connection between the sexual abuse of minors and the homosexualization of clergy. According to this study, 78% of the abused minors were not children, but postpubescent male adolescents. The document of the Synod of Youth 2018 will surely go down in history as a great omission on the part of the hierarchy in admitting one of the main causes of the sexual abuse of children and adolescents, which is clerical homosexuality. Is not such a denial of evidence in the synod document also a form of clericalism?
What positive elements do you see in the final document?
There are of course several positive elements in the final document. One could mention for instance the following:
- The call to holiness, especially in n.165.
- A beautiful and theologically correct description of the Sacred Liturgy in n. 134; the importance of silence, the awe before the Mystery, etc.
- The importance of prayer, contemplation, Eucharistic adoration, interiority, pilgrimages, and popular devotions.
- The need to give answers and reasons for our Faith, quoting 1 Peter 3:15.
- The mention of not creating a new Church in n. 60.
- The mention of grace - seven times; however, the word “action” is mentioned twice as much as “grace.”
- The importance of spiritual direction.
- The mention of ascesis and the spiritual battle, and the formation of conscience.
- The prayer for vocations.
- The beautiful conclusion in n. 167.
Omissions and tendentious terms
Your Excellency, is there anything you would like to add?
In order to evaluate a document one has also to consider the omissions and tendentious terms. These omissions and tendentious terms reflect a specific ideology. Indeed the basic approach of the document clearly manifests a tendency towards naturalism, anthropocentrism, doctrinal ambiguity, vague sentimentalism, and subjectivism. This tendency can be identified unmistakably as neo-pelagianism clothed in clericalism.
One has to consider, for example, the following omissions, which speak for themselves: there are no words such as: “sacred”, “holy”, “rock”, “eternal”, “eternity", “supernatural”, “heaven” (in the sense of eternal life); “win, conquer”, “resist”; “defend”; “soldier”; “victory”, “goal, aim”, “virtue” (in the theological sense), “soul” (instead “body" is mentioned 19 times), “truth” (not in the theological or metaphysical sense, but only in psychological and human relationships), “objective”, “objectivity”, “clear”; “conviction”; “law of God”; “observance”, “commandments”, “penance”, “obedient”, “obedience”, “martyrdom” (in the sense of dying for the sake of the Catholic Faith and for Jesus Christ), “reverence and respect towards God.”
There are also the following tendentiously used words: “human” (20 times, whereas “Divine” is used only twice); “body” (19 times, whereas “soul” is never used); “history” (15 times); “experience” (52 times); “liberty and freedom” (38 times); “action and activity” (25 times, whereas “grace” only 7 times); “earth” (6 times); “ecology” (3 times); “synodal and synodality” (105 times).
It is astonishing that the following biblical quotations, which are most apt for the formation of young people, are missing in the final document:
- “A young man came up to him, saying, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’… If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Mt. 19:16-17);
- “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19);
- “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air” (1 Cor 9, 26);
- “Rooted and built up in him and confirmed in the faith” (Col. 2:7);
- “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Tim. 2:22);
- “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1);
- “You are established in the truth that you have” (2 Peter 1:12);
- “This is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith” (1 John 5:4).
The timeless voice of the Church
The following words of John Paul II and of Pius XII reflect the timeless voice of the Church in instructing young people. This voice is timeless in its content and in its language:
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” … Are we not the generation whose horizon of existence is completely filled by the world and temporal progress? … When we place ourselves in the presence of Christ, when he becomes the confidant of the questionings of our youth, we cannot put the question differently from how that young man put it: ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’. Any other question about the meaning and value of our life would be, in the presence of Christ, insufficient and unessential. … In his dialogue with each of you, Christ repeats the same question, “Do you know the commandments?” This question will be infallibly repeated, because the commandments form part of the Covenant between God and humanity; they form the foundation of behavior, determine the moral value of human acts, and are connected with man’s vocation to eternal life, and the establishment of God’s Kingdom here among us. … If necessary, be resolved to go against the current of popular opinion and propaganda slogans! Do not be afraid of the love that places clear demands on people. These demands — as you find them in the constant teaching of the Church — are precisely capable of making your love a true love” (John Paul II, Letter to the Youth of the World, March 31, 1985).
“Catholic young people, this is what you desire to be, and fully so. You oppose the irreligiousness and unbelief that surrounds you with your firm, living and active faith. Your faith can only be steadfast and luminous if you know it, not in a superficial and confused way, but clearly and intimately. Your faith is alive if you live according to its maxims and keep God’s commandments. The young man who sanctifies the feasts by facing any difficulty or trouble, who often approaches the Table of the Lord, who is truthful and loyal, ready to help the needy, who respects girls and women, and has the strength to close his eyes and heart to all that is impure in books, images, ‘films’ — truly shows that he has a living faith. And take note that, if it is not alive, faith is not even active. If others often make such great efforts for the evil one’s undertakings, how much greater must your zeal be for the cause of God, of Christ, and of the Church! Catholic young people, be men with a supernatural spirit, for whom union with Christ, the glorious resurrection and eternal life are worth more than all human things. The Catholic world carries within itself an inexhaustible source of prosperity and goodness even in the field of earthly life, precisely because it places the eternal simply above the temporal. If it were not so, its strength would be extinguished. […] In our time, humanity has heard the message of “overturning all values” (Umwertung aller Werte)…. Precisely in these years of economic and social upheaval, religious and eternal values have powerfully demonstrated their absolute indestructibility: God and his natural law; Christ and his Kingdom of truth and grace; the Christian family are always the same and always the backbone and measure of every economic and public order; the sweet and sure hope of the next world, of the resurrection and of eternal life” (Address of Pius XII to the Youth of the Italian Catholic Action, September 12, 1948).
One must regret the fact that the Church’s first synod on young people did not quote an important work of a great Saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Basil, which deals specifically with the theme of young people. It is worth quoting from this Patristic work, at least the following statements, which are timeless and so up to date for young people today. St. Basil writes:
“We Christians, young [people], hold that this human life is not a supremely precious thing, nor do we recognize anything as unconditionally a blessing which benefits us in this life only….. We place our hopes upon the things which are beyond, and in preparation for the life eternal do all things that we do […] If one should estimate and gather together all earthly weal from the creation of the world, he would not find it comparable to the smallest part of the possessions of heaven; rather, that all the precious things in this life fall further short of the least good in the other than the shadow or the dream fails of the reality. Or rather, to avail myself of a still more natural comparison, by as much as the soul is superior to the body in all things, by so much is one of these lives superior to the other. […] Truth should be made the guide of one's life, so that if one must needs speak against all men, and be in ill-favor and in danger for virtue’s sake, he shall not swerve at all from that which he considers right” (St. Basil the Great, To Young Men, chapters 2;9).
Rather than giving young people, metaphorically speaking, nutritious and healthy homemade bread, by providing them with an authentic doctrinal, spiritual and pastoral formation in its content and language, the final document of the synod on young people failed to do this, and can therefore metaphorically be called “overly sweetened lemonade.” Sweet lemonade is not for everyone and not for all times, while healthy and nutritious homemade bread is food which has an unperishable taste and gives true strength. Such were the authentic magisterial documents of the Church for over two thousand years, for they reflected faithfully and unambiguously in their content and their language the unchanging Tradition of the Catholic Faith, which is witnessed to in a privileged manner by the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church, and also by the many youthful martyrs and confessors.
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