Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Where Is The Catholic Tom Wolfe?

Report from Vatican's Synod on Synodality celebrates diversity, inclusion, journeying, and other logs in bonfire of bureaucratic vanity
Screen Shot 2022-10-28 at 3.51.42 PM

Where is the Catholic Tom Wolfe? We need him to send up the bonfire of the bureaucratic vanities as the Vatican's Synod on Synodality crowd carbonizes the Catholic faith. I exaggerate, but I don't think much. It's really quite incredible to see what Team Francis is doing to the Catholic Church at a time when the world -- especially the Western world -- desperately needs to hear its message. You know, the one that progressives are ashamed of. I'm in a bad mood today because I've been reading about how psychologically devastated young people are today, and heard from a friend who is a university administrator that he has never seen anything remotely as critical as the mental unhealthiness of kids today, who lack any firm ground on which to stand. The Church -- the Catholic Church, and all churches! -- should be there with the help and the hope these kids need! It should have confidence in its countercultural message! Instead, Rome seems determined to embrace the world.


Here's a link to the SoS's new report. I'd love to know what this paragraph means, but I don't speak Church Latin:

In terms of global-local tension – which in ecclesial language refers to the relationships of local Churches among themselves and with the universal Church – the dynamic of the synodal process places before us a novelty that is constituted precisely by the Continental Stage that we are currently living. Apart from a few regions characterized by a particular historical dynamic, so far the Church lacks established synodal practices at the continental level. The introduction of a specific Continental Stage in the process of the Synod does not constitute a mere organizational ploy, but corresponds to the dynamics of the incarnation of the Gospel which, taking root in areas characterised by a certain cultural cohesion and homogeneity, produces ecclesial communities with particular features, linked to the traits of each culture. In the context of a world that is both globalised and fragmented, each continent, because of its common historical roots, its tendency towards socio-cultural commonality and the fact that it presents the same challenges for the mission of evangelisation, constitutes a privileged sphere for stirring up a synodal dynamic that strengthens links between the Churches, encourages the sharing of experiences and the exchange of gifts, and helps to imagine new pastoral options. 

Actually, I kid! That's not Church Latin. It's Advanced Bureaucratese, and what it means is that the progressive churchocrats are going to create a way to let European Catholic churches embrace homosexuality and transgenderism without making it obligatory for churches in other regions around the world to do it. At least that's what I think it says. It could say anything, though -- which is probably the point. Elsewhere in the report, it calls for "decentralization" -- which I hear as a call to let the liberal German Church and the liberal Low Countries churches do what they want to do.

Granted, I'm an outsider to this project, but no outsider to reading the euphemistic language of progressive churchmen trying to advance their agenda without being up front about it. Reading the document sets off all kinds of alarm bells in that regard. Quotes:

"Through this process we have discovered that synodality is a way of being Church – in fact, it is the way of being Church’. ‘The Holy Spirit is asking us to be more synodal.'


What is this Mainline Protestant argle-bargle? More:

Clarifying the DCS’s function also allows us to focus on what it is not: it is not a conclusive document, because the process is far from being finished; it is not a document of the Church’s Magisterium, nor is it the report of a sociological survey; it does not offer the formulation of operational indications, goals and objectives, nor a full elaboration of a theological vision. Nonetheless it is theological in the sense that it is loaded with the exquisitely theological treasure contained in the experience of listening to the voice of the Spirit enacted by the People of God,
allowing its sensus fidei to emerge.

It's good to know that this isn't a policy-making body (for reasons I'll explain later), but you watch: the Synod is going to be used by highly-placed Church progressives as a cover to push through their preferred policy changes. "We asked the People of God, and we're just doing what they asked us to do."

One of the things the process stands for, according to the document:

. listening as openness to welcome: this starts from a desire for radical inclusion – no one is excluded -- to be understood in a perspective of communion with sisters and brothers and with our common Father; listening appears here not as an instrumental action, but as the assumption of the basic attitude of a God who listens to his People, as the following of a Lord whom the Gospels constantly present to us in the act of listening to the people who come to him along the roads of the Holy Land; in this sense listening is already mission and proclamation;

When progressive Catholics start talking about "radical inclusion," they're not talking about including the Latin Mass people that the Pope has denounced repeatedly as deplorable. They're talking about normalizing LGBT.


The DCS will be understandable and useful only if it is read with the eyes of the disciple, who recognizes it as a testimony to the path of
conversion toward a synodal Church. This means a Church that learns from listening how to renew its evangelizing mission in the light of the signs of the times, to continue offering humanity a way of being and living in which all can feel included as protagonists.

Hang on. Conversion "toward a synodal Church" -- away from what? What ecclesiological changes are they proposing? Since when did the mission of the Catholic Church (or any church) becoming "offering humanity a way of being and living in which all can feel included as protagonists"? Whatever happened to repentance, holiness, salvation?

This kind of talk pops up in the report:

Elsewhere, expressions emerge that evoke rather the idea of distance between family members and a desired return, the end of a collective alienation from one’s identity as a synodal Church. To use a biblical image, one could say that the synodal journey marked the first steps of the return from an experience of collective exile, the consequences of which affect the entire People of God: if the Church is not synodal, no one can really feel fully at home.

There seems to be a deep urge to make everybody "feel fully at home." This is what "radical inclusion" is about. It's all meant to disarm anyone who believes that Catholic moral and theological teaching is a framework for repentance and liberation from sin. We have all seen and heard LGBT activists complain that they feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church. By "unwelcome," they mean that they do not feel that their sins are affirmed as good. I'm not Catholic, but when I was Catholic, and even now as an Orthodox Christian, I am aware every time I walk into a church for services that I am a sinner. I do not want the church to tell me that my sins don't matter. I want the church to be the means through which God forgives those sins and gives me the grace to go and sin no more. That's not what these progressives want. And they're trying to frame their revisionist agenda in the language of hospitality, so that Catholics who believe the Catholic Church ought to teach what it has always taught can be framed as spiteful and mean-spirited.

Enlarging the tent requires welcoming others into it, making room for their diversity.

Do you see what's going on here? Maybe I'm just too jaded by Church-Left modes of chat, but this is part of the synodal swindle that's going on. They're going to push to change Catholic teaching to bring it in line with Western progressivism.

(It's sometimes easier to paste in screengrabs, so I'll start doing that.)

All the conservative Episcopalians, or ex-conservative Episcopalians, are seizing up right about now. They've heard all this before! "God is doing a new thing" -- a reference to a verse in Isaiah -- is what progressives in the churches say every time they want to prepare people to accept as divinely inspired something that overturns what was previously unquestionable. Look, I know I must sound edgy and paranoid, but if you've watched this kind of thing play out before, it's easy to be triggered. The progressive playbook never changes. The report quotes a synod participant favorably:

"The dream is of a Church that more fully lives a Christological paradox: boldly proclaiming its authentic teaching while at the same time
offering a witness of radical inclusion and acceptance through its pastoral and discerning accompaniment.”

"Radical inclusion and acceptance." "Pastoral and discerning accompaniment." The new St. Louis Jesuit hymns practically write themselves. They're obsessed with this theme.

To be fair, there's nothing wrong with the institutional Catholic Church (or any hierarchical church) endeavoring to be more sensitive to the views, complaints, and experiences of its lay members. One reason the sexual abuse scandal grew so out of control is clericalism. As someone who wishes the Catholic Church well, though, I wish I had confidence that this Synod process was something more than a stage-managed attempt to manufacture the appearance of consent for doctrinal liberalization.

Among those who ask for a more meaningful dialogue and a more welcoming space we also find those who, for various reasons, feel a tension
between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships, such as: remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a polygamous marriage, LGBTQ people, etc. Reports show how this demand for welcome challenges many local Churches: “People ask that the Church be a refuge for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. They want the Church to meet people wherever they are, to walk with them rather than judge them, and to build real relationships through caring and authenticity, not a purpose of superiority” (EC USA). They also reveal uncertainties about how to respond and express the need for discernment on the part of the universal Church: “There is a new phenomenon in the Church that is absolutely new in Lesotho: same-sex relationships. […] This novelty is disturbing for Catholics and for those who consider it a sin. Surprisingly, there are Catholics in Lesotho who have started practising this behaviour and expect the Church to accept them and their way of behaving. […] This is a problematic challenge for the Church because these people feel excluded” (EC Lesotho). Those who left ordained ministry and married, too, ask for a more welcoming Church, with greater willingness to dialogue.

My question is this: if people feel excluded because they want the Church to affirm their sin, and it won't, why is that the Church's problem? You get the feeling that they would rewrite the Prodigal Son parable to compel the father to go to the pig sty where his son was living, and roll around with him in the muck so he wouldn't feel bad about himself. I'm sensitive about this because when I became a Catholic in 1993, I had to repent of unchastity. It's not easy being a 26-year-old male living in a big city, trying to obey Church teaching. The experience of church back then made me feel like a freak. I was trying really hard to die to myself, and to become more fully the Christian that the Church demanded I become, but the Church leaders, even back then, seemed far more interested in those who had no interest in obeying her teaching than in we who were struggling to be faithful to it. In my parish in Fort Lauderdale, there were more than a few of us singles, but the only time we ever heard a thing from the pulpit about sex and sexuality was when Father railed against "homophobia" in the Church. I think a much bigger problem than a Church that doesn't listen is clergy and lay church leaders who don't actually believe what the Church teaches.

Contained in the reports is the dream of such a Church: one deeply involved with the world’s challenges, and capable of responding to these through concrete transformations. “The world needs a ‘Church that goes forth’, that rejects the division between believers and non-believers, that looks at humanity and offers it more than a doctrine or a strategy, an experience of salvation, a ‘coup of gift’ that responds to the cry of humanity and nature” (EC Portugal).

What does this mean? It's absolutely true that the Church has to offer the world "more than a doctrine," but it's not at all clear from this report what the Synod actors want the Catholic Church to do, other than to make people feel included. What is "the experience of salvation" this person writes about? What does it mean to reject "the division between believers and non-believers"? Does being a Christian, or a Catholic Christian, mean something? What sets a Christian apart? Liberal Catholics who have criticized the Benedict Option idea have said that the Pope expects the faithful to "go to the peripheries" to take them the Gospel. The Pope is right -- to a point. What he's neglecting is that in many places -- certainly in the United States -- very many Catholics know next to nothing about the substance of the faith. For example, only one-third of US Catholics polled accept the Church's teaching on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist -- about as basic a fact of Catholicism as there is. You can't give people on the peripheries what you don't have. If, however, they're missionaries for "inclusion" in a community that doesn't stand for much more than feeling included and affirmed, well, that's easy to do.

The People of God express a deep desire to hear the cry of the poor and that of the earth.

Yeah, and in Latin America, many of those poor are becoming Pentecostal or Evangelical. I once talked to an Evangelical missionary who served in Guatemala. He told me he was shocked to see Catholic clergy in the areas where he worked incorporating pagan rituals into the celebration of the mass. A scholar who studied Latin American religion told me that a big reason for Evangelical conversions there among the poor and the working class is that for whatever reason, Evangelical forms of Christianity got men to stop drinking, cheating, and beating their wives.

Look at this passage:

What would people be healed and liberated from? The report never really says. Maybe it assumes that all Catholics agree on that, so it doesn't need to be stated. Well, they're wrong, and I think the reports authors understand that. And how can that passage from the report sent by the Argentine bishops be interpreted as anything other than a call for a radical democratizing of the Catholic Church? "The only legitimate authority in the Church must be..."? This is radical stuff!

Lots of talk in the report about the role of women in the Church, but nothing about the problem of getting men to come back to mass. Why is that, do you think? Despite its all-male clergy, the Catholic Church, at least in the US, is a rather feminized institution. Look:

You know who considered it a closed issue? Pope St. John Paul II, who closed the issue forever in his 1994 document Ordinatio sacerdotalis, which held that the Catholic Church does not have the power to ordain women. The progressives are never, ever going to give this up.

In reading the report, over and over it returns to the importance of embracing "synodality" and the "synodal way," and so forth. What on earth does that mean? From reading past reporting on the synod process, it seems to mean the institutional church being more consultative with a wider variety of Catholics than in the past. But as Ed Condon and J.D. Flynn point out, there's a curious lack of theological discernment baked into the process -- one in which the Catholic bishops have basically been told by Rome to shut up and be good stenographers, and let the Pope decide what's what after the process is over. Who can have confidence in that?

From the report:

A mission for what? See, this is a big reason why I push the Benedict Option: because so few Western Christians in any church really know what the faith teaches and requires of us. Christianity, Catholic and otherwise, is collapsing in Europe and North America, especially among the young. If Catholics don't know the faith, and practice the faith, then what's the purpose of mission? I've read the entire 45-page report, and aside from vague, though insistent, emphasis on celebrating diversity and inclusion, there's no real concept of what the Catholic Church is for -- at least not a concept in continuity with what it has been.

So why do I, a non-Catholic, care? Because the Catholic Church has been the spiritual rock on which the West was built. I remember back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I was first drawn to Christianity as an adult, it was John Paul II who first caught my attention. I was drawn to his magnetic personality at first, but then to his dynamic fidelity to the tradition. Many of the Protestant churches were being pulled under by the currents of modernity, but I expected that the Catholic Church would be a rock of resistance. What I didn't realize until after I became a Catholic was how far Rome was from the local parish -- which was often de facto Mainline Protestant. But Rome held, and that was enough. Now it looks like Rome might not hold. Well, I don't believe what Catholics claim about the papacy or the See of Rome, so I don't take it as a matter of faith that Rome can't fall. But if Rome should fall into progressive heresies, then woe to all of us Christians living in the West.

I mean, look, the world is on fire, and they're talking, and talking, and talking, about celebrating diversity and inclusivity, and "journeying together," blah blah blah. What is the point?

UPDATE: Readers write. Here's one letter:

Rod, thank you for writing on the Catholic Church's synodal mess. It's a slow-motion train wreck, pushed for by bureaucratic-minded careerists who are trying to steer where they think the wind is blowing. The temptation of the church to align itself with power is present in every age, and this one will end no less disastrously. 

The hypocritical part that kills me is the cloaking of all of it in language of self-righteousness while they methodically dismantle the faith. It's not specific to social issues and sexuality, either - though those are the most obvious manifestations. It's the stripping of mysticism from the sacraments, a repudiation of beauty, an iconoclasm and patricide that accepts the enemy's premise that what was called good for generations by our fathers and mothers was actually hateful and exclusionary. Chuck it, and get on board with what's happening now. Meanwhile the church gets emptier because the faithful are rudderless and drifting away at a faster pace. Maybe they're even drawn to more extreme political views or conspiracy theories to try to make sense of these changes.

It's clericalism at its worst, paper-pushers in chancery buildings churning out statements in the style of a progressive NGO's press release. They take away the ancient and true faith from the people who value it, and expect us to be happy that they've given these tin calves instead. 

Wait for them to rewrite the parables in these new mindsets, where they feel 'the spirit' is taking them. I can just hear the prodigal father saying to the faithful son, "You know, your brother was right. What a waste of time this all is. Let's sell the family home and spend it all in bars and brothels. Imagine all the people we'll reach, when we're eating out of troughs just like them. Now that's inclusivity!" 


As I said to the Mennonite congregation before being shunned, we are now getting together not to repent, but to celebrate one another's sins. This surely follows the arc of Sodom, to tolerate, then celebrate and ultimately, to participate.


Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now
Bogdán Emil
Bogdán Emil
They are trying to codify the unofficial liberal religion, pantheism, which claims that we're all One. The next logical step is Apocatastasis, which claims that we all go to Heaven. Everything is groovy, baby, so just go with the flow. Not the Mindszenty kind of flow, but the unstoppable flow of whateverness. The careless, pointless, nameless tide.

We don't care too precisely about what the hell this mystery is (it could be just a collection of atoms, or it could be God, and we're all God), the point is: it's all good, baby. It's all going to be okay. Evil is a concept, a distraction that causes false divisions between us. There probably is no God, but even if there is a God, there's definitely no Satan.

There is no Evil, there is only true love, ice cream, and stupid people, those who don't understand strict determinism. The Universe will die in heat-death, we're already dead husks anyway, might as well live for today and fully explore ourselves in the world of Whatever.

We're basically doing fine and dandy, and we're all gonna be dead, eventually entropy will turn all this to nothingness, or maybe it's an eternal cycle of reincarnations. Multiple universes. Like I said: whatever. Either way, there certainly is no Hell, there's no way for you to end up in there. What matters is the exploration and fulfillment of the Self, which is the only thing there really is. The One True Self. The Universe.

Against these kinds of ideas by the free-thinkers who want to melt into an ocean of Oneness there stand those who divide light from darkness, who part the waters from the solid ground, who know good from evil, Creator from creation. They're not determinists, they believe in God independent of his creation, and they believe in the soul and its freedom, in consequential choices to be made. The consequences will be either good or bad, but seriously.

Liberals spend a lot of time quipping lightheartedly about "consequences." The casually dismissive quipping is rooted in pantheism and apocatastasis. Conservatives meanwhile understand that consequences are real, and can be either seriously good, very excellent, the highest possible, OR, they can be seriously bad.

Conservatives know that the worst outcome is possible. They know there is a means to avoid it. Liberals scoff, put their arms around your shoulder, and tell you that it's all going to be okay, just relax yourself, here comes the tide. Let's welcome it, there's nothing you can do about it anyway. Might as well dig it. Get with the times, join the team -- being God ain't such a bad thing. At least it's fun while it lasts.
schedule 1 year ago
Margaret Willson
Margaret Willson
"Among those who ask for a more meaningful dialogue and a more welcoming space we also find those who, for various reasons, feel a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships, such as: remarried divorcees, single parents, people living in a polygamous marriage, LGBTQ people, etc."

'People living in a polygamous marriage'. Unbelievable. Does 'inclusive' mean that the Church will have to condone polygamy?

Also 'sisters and brothers'. It's a short trip from 'sisters and brothers' to 'siblings', the term now favored by mainline Protestants. 'I confess to almighty God, and to you my siblings, that I have greatly sinned.....' Oh wait, the very concept of sin is uninclusive.
schedule 1 year ago