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Monday, June 10, 2024

The Synodal Church is Shaping Up to be Protestantism in Union with a Bishop of Rome

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The Synodal Church is Shaping Up to be Protestantism in Union with a Bishop of Rome

In his 1928 encyclical on religious unity, Mortalium Animos, Pope Pius XI wrote that Christian unity can only be achieved through the process of non-Catholics returning to the “one true Church”:

“[T]he union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it. To the one true Church of Christ, we say, which is visible to all, and which is to remain, according to the will of its Author, exactly the same as He instituted it.”

We do not hear this often from bishops today but it remains true, no matter who argues otherwise. The ecumenical movement, which animated Vatican II and has been the driving force for numerous post-Conciliar initiatives, is an attempt to circumvent and oppose the truth that Christian unity can only occur through the return of non-Catholics to the one true Church. In reality, though, the false ecumenism promoted by Rome today can only unite those satisfied with Satan’s lies rather than those who thirst for God’s truth.

The ecumenical movement, which animated Vatican II and has been the driving force for numerous post-Conciliar initiatives, is an attempt to circumvent and oppose the truth that Christian unity can only occur through the return of non-Catholics to the one true Church. In reality, though, the false ecumenism promoted by Rome today can only unite those satisfied with Satan’s lies rather than those who thirst for God’s truth.

As discussed in previous articles, Francis opened the ongoing Synod on Synodality by citing Yves Congar as an inspiration behind the Synod’s effort to “create a different church”:

“The Holy Spirit guides us where God wants us to be, not to where our own ideas and personal tastes would lead us. Father Congar, of blessed memory, once said: ‘There is no need to create another Church, but to create a different Church’ (True and False Reform in the Church). That is the challenge. For a ‘different Church,’ a Church open to the newness that God wants to suggest, let us with greater fervour and frequency invoke the Holy Spirit and humbly listen to him, journeying together as he, the source of communion and mission, desires: with docility and courage.”

Knowing that the Synod on Synodality is completely imbued with the false ecumenism that has thrived since Vatican II, it is natural to consider how the newly created Synodal Church relates to the “one true Church” of which Pope Pius XI wrote in Mortalium Animos. Specifically, is the Synodal Church intended to be a new church which superficially resembles the “one true Church,” but lacks the characteristics that have historically prevented non-Catholics from joining the Catholic Church?

To evaluate this, we can review (a) several statements in the “Synthesis Report” from the October 2023 Synodal session in Rome, and (b) certain developments that have taken place since the October 2023 session that have subtly advanced the Synodal objectives.

People of God. To begin with, the most prominent ecumenical feature of the Synodal Church is the identification of its members as “the People of God” rather than Catholics, as the Synthesis Report from the October 2023 session indicates:

“As members of the faithful People of God, all the baptised are co-responsible for mission, each according to his or her vocation, competence and experience. Therefore, all contribute to imagining and discerning steps to reform Christian communities and the Church as a whole.”

So “all the baptized” are members of the People of God, but we know that “all the baptized” includes many Protestants who have no desire whatsoever to follow the Catholic Church’s teachings or be subject to the authority of the Successor of Peter. Nonetheless, the Synodal documents treat “all the baptized” as part of the Synodal Church. Thus, according to the Synod on Synodality, Christian unity does not depend upon the return of non-Catholics to the “one true Church” but rather a recognition that all baptized persons are already part of the People of God and members of the Synodal Church.

Even if the Synodal Church’s members were to “approve” the exact theological content of Catholicism as it existed prior to Vatican II, the Synodal Church would still be inherently Protestant in nature because its “source of truth” is not what was taught by Christ to the Apostles, and faithfully transmitted throughout the centuries, but instead the current consensus of the People of God.

Church Doctrine. Merely telling non-Catholics that they are part of the new Synodal Church, though, might offer little hope of obtaining the unity desired by Francis if those non-Catholics still had to accept immutable Catholic teaching. However, the Synthesis Report tells us that, so long as they have been baptized, non-Catholics are part of the group whose religious beliefs form the “sensus fidei,” which determines whether a “particular doctrine or practice belongs to the Apostolic faith”:

“Therefore, among all the baptised, there is a genuine equality of dignity and a common responsibility for mission, according to the vocation of each. By the anointing of the Spirit, who ‘teaches all things’ (1Jn 2:27), all believers possess an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, the sensus fidei. This consists in a certain connaturality with divine realities and the aptitude to grasp what conforms to the truth of faith intuitively. Synodal processes enhance this gift, allowing the existence of that consensus of the faithful (consensus fidelium) to be confirmed. This process provides a sure criterion for determining whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the Apostolic faith.”

While there can be a legitimate understanding of how the sensus fidei (sense of the Faith) of those who actually profess the Catholic Faith can help safeguard Catholic doctrine, Dr. Gavin Ashenden’s November 2, 2023 article in the Catholic Herald exposed the stunning falsehood of the Synodal conception of how the consensus of the baptized determines whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the Apostolic faith:

“The audacity that lies behind this statement is as breathtaking as it is threatening. In a piece of progressive Gnosticism ‘intuitive’ authority is being claimed for a handpicked group of people who have it in common that they support secular progressive values over traditional orthodox ones. But that is exactly the strategy that is being adopted to achieve a revolution of dogma and teaching in the Church.”

We saw this in practice at the October session in Rome, as a “handpicked group” of laity, religious, and clergy sat around tables in the hideous Paul VI Hall to contemplate and vote upon issues related to Catholic moral teaching. The fact that many of these participants were openly hostile to Catholicism did not matter: in the Synodal Church, their opinions on moral theology matter more than what the Catholic Church has always taught. The resulting “faith” of the Synodal Church ends up being a dumbed-down Protestantism to fit the lowest common denominator of progressive beliefs.

Critically, though, even if the Synodal Church’s members were to “approve” the exact theological content of Catholicism as it existed prior to Vatican II, the Synodal Church would still be inherently Protestant in nature because its “source of truth” is not what was taught by Christ to the Apostles, and faithfully transmitted throughout the centuries, but instead the current consensus of the People of God. Hence, when Francis condemns Traditional Catholics for being “rigid” and “backward,” he is denouncing our insistence on retaining the basis of our Faith, which distinguishes Catholics from members of the Synodal Church, and other Protestants.

Accompaniment is the Synodal Church’s back-up plan for awkward situations in which the Synodal process cannot find enough baptized heretics to agree to overturn Catholic moral teaching. In practice, accompaniment tells the members of the Synodal Church that they need to accept sinners as they are, with their sins, because those who cannot follow the Synodal Church’s moral teaching, lax as it may be at any point in its evolution, need to feel respected rather than judged.

Accompaniment. Another non-Catholic feature of the Synodal Church is accompaniment, as described in the Synthesis Report:

“The Assembly expresses its closeness to and support for all those who accept being alone as a choice made in fidelity to the Church’s Tradition and Magisterium on marriage and sexual ethics, which they recognise as source of life. Christian communities are invited to be close to them, listen to them and accompany them in their commitment. In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their marriage status, identity or sexuality also ask to become heard and accompanied. There was a deep sense of love, mercy and compassion felt in the Assembly for those who are or feel hurt or neglected by the Church, who want a place to call ‘home’ where they can feel safe, be heard and respected, without fear of feeling judged.”

Accompaniment is the Synodal Church’s back-up plan for awkward situations in which the Synodal process cannot find enough baptized heretics to agree to overturn Catholic moral teaching. In practice, accompaniment tells the members of the Synodal Church that they need to accept sinners as they are, with their sins, because those who cannot follow the Synodal Church’s moral teaching, lax as it may be at any point in its evolution, need to feel respected rather than judged.

So these three components of the Synodal process — treating all baptized as the People of God, basing the Synodal Church’s doctrines on the consensus of the People of God, and “accompanying” those who reject the Synodal Church’s doctrines — essentially work together to make the Synodal Church into a Protestant Church that happens to have a “Bishop of Rome” at its head. This goes a long way to making the Synodal Church unobjectionable (in theory) to some Protestants, but there remains the problem of the Bishop of Rome. And even with Francis acting as the Bishop of Rome, there is still some faint resemblance to the “authority of the Successor of Peter,” which renders the one true Church problematic for Protestants.

To address this problem, the Synthesis Report includes the following vague nonsense about the new role of the Bishop of Rome in the new Synodal Church:

“The synodal dynamic also sheds new light on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. Indeed, synodality articulates symphonically the communal (‘all’), collegial (‘some’) and personal (‘one’) dimensions of the Church at the local, regional and universal levels. In such a vision, the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome is intrinsic to the synodal dynamic, as are the communal aspect that includes the whole People of God and the collegial dimension of the exercise of Episcopal ministry. Therefore, synodality, collegiality, and primacy refer to each other: primacy presupposes the exercise of synodality and of collegiality, just as both of them imply the exercise of primacy. Promoting the unity of all Christians is an essential aspect of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. The ecumenical journey has deepened understanding of the ministry of the Successor of Peter and must continue to do so in the future.”

From these words it is not clear how the “Bishop of Rome” fits within the Synodal Church, but it seems evident that the role will need to evolve to accommodate the desired unity of Christians.

For better or worse, the period since the October 2023 Synodal session in Rome has given us a few glimpses of how the role of Bishop of Rome might change in the Synodal Church. We can see this both in Francis’s May 2, 2024 meeting with “participants in the Assembly of Primates of the Anglican Communion” as well as the Fiducia Supplicans scandal.

For better or worse, the period since the October 2023 Synodal session in Rome has given us a few glimpses of how the role of Bishop of Rome might change in the Synodal Church. We can see this both in Francis’s May 2, 2024 meeting with “participants in the Assembly of Primates of the Anglican Communion” as well as the Fiducia Supplicans scandal.

Francis said the following about the Bishop of Rome’s role during his meeting with the Anglicans:

I realize that the role of the Bishop of Rome is still a controversial and divisive issue among Christians. Yet, in the splendid phrase of Pope Gregory the Great, who sent Saint Augustine as a missionary to England, the Bishop of Rome is servus servorum Dei, the servant of the servants of God. As you know, the Catholic Church is engaged in a synodal journey. . . I pray that a better understanding of the role of the Bishop of Rome will be among the fruits of the Synod. The Synthesis Report at the end of the first session called for a deeper study of the link between synodality and primacy at various levels, local, regional and universal. The most recent work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission may prove a helpful resource in this regard.”

Although these words do not directly indicate the way in which the Synodal Church would reshape the Bishop of Rome’s role, two things are evident: Francis desires to change the role to make it more palatable to non-Catholics; and the Bishop of Rome is to be seen more as a “servant of the servants of God,” with a strong emphasis on the “servile" status of the Bishop of Rome.

The work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission to which Francis referred — the 2017 document, “Walking Together on the Way” — provides the following additional detail:

“In the Roman Catholic context, there are signs of an openness to reconsidering the role of the papacy. This was brought to prophetic focus by Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint. When acknowledging Christ’s desire for the unity of all Christian communities, he spoke of finding a way to ‘exercise primacy’ without ‘renouncing what is essential to its mission’, while being open ‘to a new situation’. He invited leaders and theologians of other churches to engage with him in ‘a patient and fraternal’ dialogue about how the particular ministry of unity of the Bishop of Rome might be exercised in new circumstances (UUS §§95–96; Gift §4). Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium reiterates this call with urgency (§32).”

So there is evidently some urgency to find a “new situation,” in which the Bishop of Rome’s role would become less objectionable to Protestants.

Beyond these overtures to the Anglicans, the Fiducia Supplicans scandal appears to provide an indirect, yet more telling, indication of the evolving role of the Bishop of Rome within the Synodal Church. To see this, here are the words of Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, the Congolese Cardinal on Francis’s Council of Cardinals, on why the African bishops rejected the document authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions:

“In this declaration, there was a whole cultural problem, because the African continent perceived Fiducia Supplicans as cultural colonization. . . I don’t think this text was necessary at the time . . . We had just come out of the first session of the Synod on Synodality, and we’re now waiting for the second session. All these questions we raised during the first session of the synod; we’re going to come back to them and we would have gained a lot by waiting for the end of the second session and mature this kind of subject in a spirit of synodality.”

In any case, it is obvious that the Synodal Church led by Francis is nothing like the “one true Church” of which Pope Pius XI wrote in Mortalium Animos. Instead, the Synodal Church is shaping up to be a Protestant church in union with a neutered “Bishop of Rome.”

Although it is theoretically possible that Francis and Cardinal Victor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández decided to release Fiducia Supplicans without thinking about how it (a) related to the ongoing Synod on Synodality, or (b) would be received by the African bishops, it is quite a remarkable coincidence that the episode helped demonstrate a few things that perfectly advance the Synodal goals:

  • Placing greater importance on the Synodal process than pronouncements from Rome
  • Showing the way in which bishops conferences can fundamentally disagree with — and even reject — declarations from Rome on important matters of faith and morals while remaining “in union with the Bishop of Rome”
  • Advancing moral positions (on the blessing of same-sex unions) that are fundamentally opposed to what the Catholic Church teaches, thereby undermining the entirety of Catholic authority
  • Further alienating the Traditional Catholics who opposed Fiducia Supplicans because they are rigid/backward/hateful for rejecting Fiducia Supplicans, whereas the African bishops were rejecting Fiducia Supplicans because it was not a good cultural fit for Africa

In any case, it is obvious that the Synodal Church led by Francis is nothing like the “one true Church” of which Pope Pius XI wrote in Mortalium Animos. Instead, the Synodal Church is shaping up to be a Protestant church in union with a neutered “Bishop of Rome.”

Few, if any, serious non-Catholics will actually want to be part of the Synodal Church; and, according to the words of Pope Pius XI, no Catholic is permitted to associate with it either:

“[It is clear that the Apostolic See cannot on any terms take part in their assemblies, nor is it anyway lawful for Catholics either to support or to work for such enterprises; for if they do so they will be giving countenance to a false Christianity, quite alien to the one Church of Christ.”

As distressing as all this seems, we now have a situation in which many of the worst heretics are gathering in the anti-Catholic Synodal Church, thereby separating themselves from the Catholic Church. Those faithful bishops who remain in the Catholic Church may eventually come to the conclusion that the Synodal Church’s neutered Bishop of Rome cannot also be the Successor of Peter for the one true Church. If that happens, we can pray that they would cooperate with God’s grace to elect an actual Catholic pope, who would then restore the Traditional Latin Mass, repudiate the errors that have proliferated since Vatican II, and properly consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us! Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

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Last modified on Monday, June 10, 2024
Robert Morrison | Remnant Columnist

Robert Morrison is a Catholic, husband and father. He is the author of A Tale Told Softly: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Hidden Catholic England.