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Pope rues ‘ideological’ criticism of Synod [News Analysis]

September 04, 2023

Pope Francis decried the influence of ideologies on the Church, and suggested that concerns about the Synod on Synodality reflect such unhealthy ideological pressures, in a session with journalists on his return flight from Mongolia on September 4.

On doctrine and synodality

“In the Synod, there is no place for ideology,” the Pope told reporters. He recalled that he had spoken to a Carmelite nun, who voiced concerns that the Synod would change Catholic doctrine. Such concerns, he said, have their roots in ideologies.

“Always, when one wants to detach from the path of communion in the Church, what always pulls it apart is ideology,” the Pope said. Without directly addressing concerns about potential changes in Church teaching, he insisted that the Synod would not alter Catholic doctrine.

The problem, the Pope explained is “’doctrine’ in quotation marks.” He likened that understanding of doctrine to “distilled water that has no taste and is not true Catholic doctrine—that is, in the Creed.”

On Russia and China

Pope Francis acknowledged that he had angered Ukrainians with his August 25 talk to an audience of young Russians, when he praised the leadership of 18th-century tsars. But he said that his comments had been taken out of context by those who thought he was defending the Soviet absorption of Ukrainian territory.

“I was not thinking of imperialism when I said that,” the Pope told the reporters. (He said told the young Russians, that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great had presided over “a great, enlightened empire of great culture and humanity.”)

“Maybe it wasn’t the best way of putting it,” the Pope conceded, “But in speaking of the great Russia, I was thinking not so much geographically but culturally.”

Here the Pope denounced the “imperialisms that want to impose their ideology,” and added that “when culture is distilled and turned into ideology, it’s poison.” That sort of ideology, he said, “usually becomes a dictatorship, right?” (This comment came before the Pope used similar language when he was questioned on concerns about the Synod.)

Answering a reporter’s question about China—whose government had denied permission for Catholic bishops to travel to Mongolia for the papal visit—the Pontiff said: “The relationship with China is very respectful, very respectful.”

Defending the Vatican’s secret deal with the Chinese regime, the Pope said: “The channels are very open. For the appointment of bishops there is a commission that has been working with the Chinese government and the Vatican for a long time.”

Five years have passed since the Vatican agreement with China was signed, and dozens of Chinese dioceses remain without acting Catholic bishops. In July, when Bishop Shen Bin was installed in Shanghai, it was the the first time since 2021 that a new bishop had taken over the leadership of a Chinese diocese. And that bishop was installed without Vatican approval—prompting Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, to say that the move “seems to disregard the spirit of dialogue and collaboration established between the Vatican and the Chinese side over the years.”

Other Topics

In other remarks during his question-and-answer session, Pope Francis:

  • repeated his oft-expressed condemnation of “proselytism,” saying: “It is important that evangelisation is not conceived as proselytism. Proselytism always restricts.”
  • said that he would like to visit Vietnam, and “if I don’t go, surely John XXIV will go.”
  • dodged a question about whether his increasing immobility will restrict his future travel plans, but acknowledged that “traveling is not as easy as it was at the beginning” of his pontificate.
  • reacted to an AP reporter’s question about whether the Synod could be more open to public scrutiny by saying “this is not a TV program.”

—Phil Lawler


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  • Posted by: ph48 - Sep. 05, 2023 7:20 PM ET USA

    My ideology is Catholic. I am not overly concerned that the Synod on Synodality will change Catholic Doctrine. The Holy Spirit will keep that from happening. Nevertheless, I am concerned that those who hope to change doctrine, rather than clarify it, could cause scandal. It is reasonable to be concerned, and criticizing the faithful for articulating such concerns is tantamount to falling into "clericalism."

  • Posted by: b_ulmen7713 - Sep. 05, 2023 5:20 PM ET USA

    hmm, John XXIV? Is this a peek behind the curtain, or merely speculation? Its certainly a very specific name.

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Sep. 05, 2023 10:08 AM ET USA

    Papal projection flying in the face of reality! The Church's teachings on sexuality are being denied, and the Pope does not correct, but promotes people in fact (Jesuits and others) who think they can change the Church's teachings on homosexuality and overrule Scripture and Apostolic Tradition. The Pope has been influenced by Arrupe-Jesuit Marxism, liberation theology (a la Boff),and Peron who said"for my friends everything for my enemies not even justice" Physician heal thyself comes to mind!

  • Posted by: mhains8491 - Sep. 04, 2023 8:39 PM ET USA

    Pope Kaos and Confusion, continues to make a train wreck of Christ's beautiful bride. He has no self awareness of the msss he is creating.