The Final Catholic Generation?
What's going on at this "Synod of Synods" the Vatican is hosting in Frascati (from which the art above was taken)? According to Catholic theologian Larry Chapp, some dodgy business. Excerpt:
It looks for all intents and purposes as an attempt to alter fundamental Church teachings on a range of important issues all in the name of “listening”. Listening to what, exactly? The Belgian bishops have just approved a new ritual for blessing same-sex “unions” despite repeated Vatican statements to the contrary. Many German bishops, Cardinal Marx included, have said that even if their own “synodal way” did not reach the two-thirds majority required to change Church teaching and practice, they were going to still implement it in their dioceses. Cardinal Hollerich, the relator appointed by Pope Francis to run the upcoming Synod on synodality, is on record opposing Church teaching on homosexuality. And Cardinal Tobin of Newark has just released the results of the “listening” sessions in his Archdiocese, and it seems the Holy Spirit sounds a lot like the ladies on The View.
Is any of this what the Council meant by collegiality? In a word… no. The entire affair comes across as a ruse, a game, and a cynical strategy for doing an end run around Church teaching.
Add to this the fact that the ruling style of Pope Francis has been anything but collegial or synodal, and you end up with a deep suspicion that “synodality” is merely a synonym for liberalization. Whether it be by papal diktat as in Traditionis custodes, or the canning of a Puerto Rican bishop without due process and for no stated reasons, or the suspension of ordinations in a vocationally thriving French diocese – also for no stated reason – or the faux “democracy” of the neo-Montanist synodal “listening”, it all amounts to the same thing: the baptizing of the plausibility structures of secular modernity.
And this is not what the Council meant by collegiality, either juridically or theologically.
Here's a page from the Vatican's "Synod Resources" page. The Synod clearly wants to push the Church to affirm homosexuality. One of the stories:
A Belgian Catholic reader answered the question I posed here the other day, about what faithful Catholics in that country are doing while their hierarchy melts down morally and theologically. I have slightly tweaked this to protect his privacy:
In your article about the Flemish bishops and following the quote from card. Arinze, you asked "What do faithful Catholics in Flanders do now that their bishops are blessing serious sin? Live in some sort of underground situation? What would that look like? "
Well, in Belgium the bishops get quasi unanimous approval. In the secular media of course, but also, and very strongly, in the remaining Christian community, in the theological department of Leuven university, and among the teachers of religion. Cardinal De Kesel is an outspoken defender of liberalism and modernity and the Church should integrate with liberalism. He repeats in speech after speech, and in his recent book, that "we should be grateful for liberalism, because a theocracy would be awful".
The bishops do verbal gymnastics to say that the blessing is not a blessing but, etc. But the coordinator they nominated, Bombeek, was already a big step further. He wants to know now what the Church is going to do about the children of same sex couples. The boulder rolls over the land and is not stopped.At the theological department of Leuven University, the president Pollefliet insists that he does not want to hear the word Tradition or Dogma in any discussion. And the rector of the University itself, Luc Sels, writes in a newspaper article a year ago that he fights since decennia against the notion of Natural Moral Law. That from a university that was the beacon of Thomism in the world for centuries.
Only a tiny minority disapproves of this move of the bishops. They keep quiet. They come together for Latin Mass in 5 to 7 remaining churches. They comfort each other, organize Sunday catechism for their children (a bit of Benedict Option...) and wait for a new conservative pope. I am amongst them.
Here, by the way, is an English translation of the Rite of Blessing of Same-Sex Couples published by the Flemish bishops:
Prayer for love and fidelity
During pastoral meetings, the question is often asked about a moment of prayer to
to ask God that He may bless and perpetuate this commitment of love and faithfulness.
It is best for those involved to discuss what content and form that prayer can take in concrete terms
with a pastoral manager. Such a moment of prayer can take place in all simplicity.
Also, the difference must remain clear with what the Church understands by a sacramental
This moment of prayer can, for example, proceed as follows.
o Opening word
o Opening prayer
o Scripture reading
o Commitment of both parties involved. Together they express before God how they feel
commit to each other. For example:
God of love and faithfulness,
today we stand before you
surrounded by family and friends.
We thank you for allowing us to find each other.
We want to be there for each other
in all circumstances of life.
We speak here with confidence
that we want to work on each other's happiness,
day by day.
We pray: give us strength
to be faithful to each other
and deepen our commitment.
We trust in your closeness,
by your word we want to live,
given to each other forever.
o Community prayer. The community prays that God's grace may work
are in them to care for each other and for the wider community in which they
to live. For example:
God and Father,
we surround N. and N. with our prayers today.
You know their hearts and the path they will take together from now on.
Make their commitment to each other strong and faithful.
Let their house be filled with understanding,
tolerance and care.
Let there be room for reconciliation and peace.
Let the love they share bring them joy
and serve them in our community.
Give us the strength to walk with them,
together in the footsteps of your Son
and strengthened by your Spirit.
o Our Father
o Closing prayer
The Pope told them not to do this. The Flemish bishops did it anyway. The French-speaking bishops of Belgium are expected to follow their Flemish brothers. I think they just got hasty; Francis is going to get the Church there anyway, it seems. And if not Francis, then the successor that the College of Cardinals packed with Francis appointees will choose.
Meanwhile, my TAC colleague Harry Scherer went to the last Latin mass in the Archdiocese of Washington, whose cardinal archbishop forbade them all following the pope's recent restriction. Excerpt:
Yes, the congregants were aware that the Mass was in some sense historic, an occasion they will recall to their grandchildren at a Sunday brunch after a Solemn High Mass decades from now. The sounds from the choir loft were majestic, the smell of incense intoxicating, and the fellowship of friends in worship re-assuring. But the moment was rooted in something deeper than the continuing history of the traditionalist movement, such as it is: the worship of Almighty God through the unbloody sacrifice of Calvary offered in a form of worship handed down to them by their ancestors. That the old women, solitary men and women, zealous students, and bright-eyed couples will no longer gather at Saint Anthony’s is a sorry shame. That the priest’s mellifluous voice will not pronounce the hallowed formulas of this ancient liturgy is cause for grief indeed. Those who came together for the “Final Latin Mass” did not come by their sorrows cheaply—they’re paying for their emotion. Until the next Votive Mass of Thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity is offered at Saint Anthony’s, they can rest assured that their rejection of decadent cynicism was their way of keeping to the narrow path.
I do not understand it. I honestly do not understand. The Catholic Church seems to be run by men who want to destroy it. Why else would you do this to the Latin mass people? Why would you mount this silly Synod process? They're all going to end up driving the faithful European Catholics into the SSPX or Eastern Orthodoxy. A Catholic put it to me like this the other day: "The Catholic Left has power, but it only has power to destroy. They don't build anything. Everything they touch dies."
I thought of all this today when my friend Father Ben Kiely posted to Twitter a link to this great February 17 Substack essay by Ed West. In it, West writes about the great little history book The Final Pagan Generation, by Edward J. Watts, which I've also written about before in this space. It's an account of how the pagan Roman elites lived and thought in the decisive fourth century, when the Empire became Christian. In short, they didn't realize what was happening to them. They knew that there was this new thing called Christianity, but they just couldn't grasp that it was over for paganism. After all, Rome had always been pagan. To imagine a non-pagan Rome was unthinkable, literally. What's so eerie about this book is how it feels like it's describing very many Christians of our own century. Here's Ed West:
As institutions were taken over by Christians, conservative-minded pagans were reluctant to overturn the system, even when emperors and their courtiers had now adopted a revolutionary creed. ‘Romans born in the first quarter of the fourth century consequently showed little inclination to challenge this prosperous imperial order,’ Watts writes: ‘And yet it was this generation’s faith in the foundations of the imperial system and their craving for political stability that enabled Christian emperors to mount increasingly powerful challenges to established religious life in the later fourth century.’
The Christians had a number of advantages, a major one being that they simply cared more. Tertullian had been against mixed marriages because the Christian spouse would be subject to the smell of burning offerings for the pagan gods. That kind of intolerance tends to win out, because many pagans would convert just to please their spouse, and Christianity gained huge numbers from secondary conversion (the majority of them husbands.)
On the issue of sex, the two cultures had very different attitudes. Christianity placed great restraints on male sexual desires, stigmatising adultery, divorce, prostitution and the sexual use of female slaves, which our Christian and post-Christian culture regards as rape but to a Roman man was perfectly accepted. Infanticide, practised especially against girls, was also prohibited, all of which helped give the new religion a large gender imbalance at first.
Christians brought what the French writer Chantal Delsol called a ‘normative inversion’ to pagan Rome. ‘They prized much that the Romans held in contempt and condemned much that the Romans prized, particularly in matters related to sex and family.’
This is what's happening now, to us. We have lived through a "normative inversion" on many values, especially sexual and family values -- except this time, it's the Christian ones that have been thrown aside. And look, those activists trying to queer the Catholic Church are probably going to win, because, as West says about the fourth-century Christian underdogs, they simply care more. What's more, inside the Catholic ranks, as well as in America itself, the craving for stability is going to mean that the normies keep giving ground to the activists, until it's all over.
There must have been private mumblings among pagans about what was happening. Maybe they thought it was a fad, like various other foreign religions that had been successfully integrated into Roman life. They didn’t understand that Christianity was different, that it was a totality; it wasn’t enough to allow the pagans to continue, because pagan ideas caused harm, to the believer and to the wider community.
Yep, this is the point I try to make in Live Not By Lies: that the woke will not leave Christians (or anybody else who defy them) alone. You saw that poor Catholic pro-life activist in Pennsylvania who was humiliated and arrested by the FBI in front of his kids the other day? This is going to start happening more and more.
By the final years of that century, writes West:
It was all over. Some ‘pagan communities continued to thrive in the Roman world into the seventh century and beyond’ but their days were numbered. They had lost control of Rome’s institutions, but more importantly they had lost control of society’s taboos; Christians might now dictate what could and could not be said, and what god was real. If you lose the courage to attack your opponents’ weak points, because of the threats to your livelihood or status, to offend their sacred ideas, then you will lose.
This has now happened to Christians in the West. Within the Catholic Church, I bet defense of the Church's 2,000 year old teaching on homosexuality will not be heard, because people there understand that to do so would be to threaten their livelihood or status. Those who believe in the magisterial, scriptural teaching have lost control of society's taboos, even within the society of the Church. The LGBT activists, as well as all the Catholic progressivist agitators, simply care more.
Christians who profess any traditional form of the faith -- or one that resists modernity on certain neuralgic points -- are going to be fighting for their lives, metaphorically and maybe even literally. Over on the Evangelical side, Kevin DeYoung has a good piece about the process that fellow Evangelical conservatives follow on their way to accommodating themselves to the new social realities, so as to preserve their status. Excerpt:
Rarely do evangelical leaders and institutions leap all at once from the open celebration and defense of orthodoxy to the open celebration and defense of (what they once believed was) heterodoxy. In fact, when evangelical capitulation on LGBTQ issues makes the news it is rarely a surprise. There are almost always a series of familiar steps.
First, there is silence. The evangelical leader or publication or institution that used to be clear on matters of sexuality and marriage just doesn’t talk about those issues anymore. No matter what controversy erupts or what new cultural pressure cries out for clarification, nothing is said. It’s as if the sexual revolution ceased to exist.
Next, comes complexification. Even though the church around the globe, for virtually two millennia, had no trouble coming to settled and universal convictions about these issues, now questions about homosexuality and sexual differentiation become hopelessly complicated. The issues, it said, demand multidisciplinary expertise such that the only humble conclusion is to be unsure of any conclusion.
Then, there is usually an explicit pivot to other issues. Sex and marriage are set aside as minor ethical conundrums or minimized as a distraction from more urgent concerns. The bigger concerns may be racial justice and poverty (for those left of center) or missions and evangelism (for the more conservative sort), but in either case there is a deliberate move to ignore the swirling sexual vortex threating to destroy everything in its path.
Read the whole thing -- it's good.
There is nowhere to hide from this. We are going to have to stand and fight -- and prepare for how to continue the authentic life of the Church if we lose.
UPDATE: A Catholic friend says that "with each new outrage," he recalls these 2017 words of Cardinal Caffarra, the former Archbishop of Bologna. Sister Lucia was the nun who was the only one of the three Fatima visionaries to remain alive at the time:
Your Eminence, what can you tell us about the letter you received from Sr. Lucia while you were working to found the Pontifical John Paul II institute for Marriage and Family in Rome?
In 1981 Pope John Paul II founded the Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. The first years (1983-1984) were very difficult. The Institute was not wanted.
Who didn’t want it?
It was not wanted within and outside of the Church, because of the vision it was proposing. And so I was very concerned. Without asking anyone, I thought: “I will write to Sr. Lucia.”
How did that come to mind?
Just like that. But as you know, from the beginning the patroness of the institute has been Our Lady of Fatima. It is contained in the Apostolic Constitution. There the pope places the institute under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin of Fatima. So much so — I hope it is still there — that when one enters the institute, at the end of the corridor there is a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and the chapel of institute is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.
And so, I thought to write to her. So I wrote, but simply saying: “The pope wanted this Institute. We are going through a very difficult time. I ask you only to pray.” And I added: “I do not expect a reply.” Her prayers were enough for me.
As you know, in order to have any contact with Sr. Lucia, even by letter, one needed to go through her bishop. So I sent the letter to the bishop, and he passed it on to Sr. Lucia.
To my great surprise, after not more than two or three weeks, I received a reply. It was a hand-written letter and quite long. I have given sworn testimony of what the letter said. The letter ended, saying (in 1983 or 1984): “Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
This remained engraved on my heart, and amid all of the difficulties we have encountered — and there have been so, so many — these words have always given me a great strength.
When you initially read Sr. Lucia’s words, did you think she was speaking of that moment in history?
I began thinking a few years ago, after almost thirty years: “Sr. Lucia’s words are taking place.” This decisive battle will be the thesis of my talk today. Satan is constructing and anti-creation.
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You should also know that under Pope Francis, the Pontifical Academy for Life has been gutted, and is now under the leadership of Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. Criticisms of Paglia's leadership can be found here, including a moment on Italian TV when he said that abortion rights were a "pillar" of Italian society.
As a diocesan bishop, Paglia commissioned a homoerotic mural for his cathedral. The gay artist said in an interview that he intended the images to be "erotic," and yeah, they are. He even put Paglia in it: