by Deacon Nick Donnelly

After the difficult events of the Extraordinary Synod in 2014, I know I’m not alone in feeling a sense of anxiety and powerlessness about the Synod that opens this weekend, (4th October). Cardinal Burke is clear that we are facing a pivotal time in the history of the modern Church. He told Polish television:

“We’re in a time of crisis in the Church, a critical moment in which we may have to give our all to safeguard both the truth of the Faith not only for our own salvation but for the salvation of our world and for the generations to come”.

My own experience confirms Cardinal Burke’s sense that the Church is facing a grave crisis. I am hearing about directly, and reading about, Catholics becoming ill, disillusioned or driven to desperate measures by the chaos caused by the two Synods.

Friends tell me that the constant news of cardinals questioning, even brazenly contradicting, doctrines of the faith has resulted in relapses into clinical depression. On social media I’ve read Catholics openly considering joining the traditionalist group, the Society of Saint Pius X [SSPX] because they, mistakenly, conclude that the Catholic Church is no longer One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Other Catholics are considering leaving the Church altogether because the procession of so many cardinals and bishops betraying Christ’s explicit teaching is making them lose confidence in the claims of faith being true.

Crisis? What crisis?

I wonder whether anyone in Rome, or in our National Bishops’ Conferences, is considering the harmful effect that witnessing so many cardinals and bishops contradicting fundamental doctrines is having on faithful Catholics? Instead of cardinals openly engaging with the concerns and distress of faithful Catholics, many either flatly deny that there is any cause for concern or engage in episcopal ‘happy talk’ that hides the reality of the situation. This episcopal denial of the grave crisis facing the Synod is starkly contradicted by their uncritical acceptance of the wide-spread rejection, even ridicule, of the Faith by ‘Catholics’.

Many of the Synod submissions from Bishops Conferences emphasise rejection of the Church’s marital doctrine and sexual ethics, as if such dissent was a valid position in the Church alongside fidelity to sacred doctrine. A creeping exclusion of the Church’s doctrine from the Synod consultation is seen in the absence of key truths of the Church’s marital and sexual doctrine in the submissions being made. For example, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales summary of responses to their Synod consultation makes no reference to ‘chastity’, ‘modesty’, ‘indissolubility’, ‘virtue’, ‘holiness’, ‘sin’, ‘confession/reconciliation’ – it doesn’t even mention ‘procreation’. But instead the Bishops’ Conference has chosen to repeatedly refer to criticism of Humanae Vitae, the prohibition of divorced & re-married receiving Holy Communion and doctrine on homosexuality.

Many faithful Catholics come to the Ordinary Synod on the Family with a weary sense of being disempowered and excluded by a Synod consultation that has ignored fundamental doctrines and selectively highlighted dissent. The failure of many cardinals and bishops to publicly defend doctrine from this relentless, two year campaign of dissent only adds to this sense of powerlessness before what we fear is an unstoppable juggernaut to ignore or distort Christ’s teaching and change the Catholic Church beyond recognition.

For all these reasons I have written this survivor’s guide to the Synod to help myself and the readers of Catholic Voice get through the next three weeks.

What’s going to happen at the Synod?

It’s going to be a long haul Synod lasting three weeks, from October 4–25, compared to the shorter 2014 Extraordinary Synod that lasted two weeks. Its official theme is ‘the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world.’
Pope Francis has explained that over the three weeks the Synod will systematically work through the Instrumentum Laboris – the working document composed from the 2014 Synod Final Report and further worldwide consultation by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. This highly controversial document has been criticised by Bishop Athanasius Schneider in his exclusive interview with Catholic Voice:

“In the light of a careful analysis of the facts, one is left with the suspicion that the authors of the Instrumentum Laboris try to push forward the agenda of a certain clerical pressure group in order to change the Divine law of the non-admission [of] the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion.”

Furthermore, Voice of the Family, a coalition of faithful Catholic groups, has identified further grave deficiencies in the Synod’s working document including the following set out in the planned order for discussion at the Synod:

It prepares the ground for the acceptance of same-sex unions by acknowledging the need to define “the specific character of such unions in society” beyond “biology and sexual difference”. (para. 8)

It presents a neutral position on IVF that ignores the Church’s authoritative guidance on its immorality, and the millions of embryonic human beings killed as a result of IVF. (para 34)

It reduces the indissolubility of marriage to the level of an “ideal”. (para 42)

It again suggests that cohabitation and “living together” have “positive aspects” and can be considered legitimate forms of union. (para 57, 61, 63, 99, 102)

It denies the full rights of parents regarding the provision of sex education to their children (para 86)

It proposes, yet again, the admission of the “divorced and remarried” to Holy Communion through some form of ‘penitential way’, without amendment of life (para 120-125)

It undermines the doctrine of Humanae Vitae by proposing a false understanding of the relationship between conscience and the moral law (para. 137).

Let prayer defeat scheming and manipulation

The majority of deficient proposals that seek to undermine sacred doctrine are scheduled to be discussed by the Synod Fathers during the last week. This well-known ploy of leaving contentious issues until late in the day is often used by left-wing militants attempting to impose their agenda on a group. In the last week faithful Synod Fathers may well be fatigued and jaded by the first two weeks. However, the faithful Synod Fathers will need to have their wits about them during this last week because their opponents are planning to propose compromises, as if it is possible to find middle ground between truth and error! Cardinal Marx, one the leaders of the ‘clerical pressure group’ seeking to overturn doctrine has admitted that they will not follow a confrontational approach but will seek to achieve compromises:

“It is very important that the synod does not have the spirit of “all or nothing.” It is not a good way. The synod cannot have winners and losers. That is not the spirit of the synod. The spirit of the synod is to find a way together, not to say, “How can I find a way to bring my position through?” Rather: “How can I understand the other position, and how can we together find a new position?” That is the spirit of the synod.”

However, in a recent interview on EWTN Prof George Weigel predicted that faithful Synod Fathers would seek to challenge the Instrumentum Laboris and the planned schedule at the first working day of the Synod. If this proves true these faithful prelates will be taking a page out of the ‘progressives’ playbook when they rejected the pre-written schemas and schedule at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. We must pray that these African, Polish and American delegates are successful in stopping this gross manipulation of the Synod. Bishop Schneider gave Catholic Voice the following advice about how to react any signs of manipulation:

“In order to stop such manipulations we must first of all, implore fervently Divine and heavenly intervention, so that the following words of God may be realized in our days during the upcoming Synod: “God frustrates the devices of the crafty, so that their hands achieve no success. He catches the wise in their own craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end” (Job 5: 12-13).”

Stay Faithful

Cardinal Raymond Burke was recently asked how should faithful Catholics respond if the Synod “takes a strange turning”? To which his Eminence gave a short two-word reply, “Stay faithful”. For Catholics in the UK and Ireland, who share a history of suffering centuries of persecution under the English Protestant State, an essential element of our practice of faithfulness is fidelity to our priests, bishops and the pope. For centuries we could rely on the vast majority of priests and bishops because they remained steadfast defenders of the Faith, even under the threat of imprisonment, torture and martyrdom. It breaks my heart to write this, but this is no longer true.

During this crisis when many priests and bishops are betraying the Faith we need to re-examine the source of our personal faith. When many of you were christened your godparents were asked by the priest, “What do you ask of the Church of God?” And they replied, “Faith”. We received the grace of faith from the Mystical Body of Christ, from the Bride of Christ, not from the priest, our bishop or pope. Bishop Schneider exhorts us to hold onto this fact of our supernatural life in Christ during the storms around the Synod:

“We must remain faithful to our baptismal vows. In baptism, you promised to remain faithful to the faith: not a part of faith, but the entire Catholic faith. You have not done your baptism greeting to the Pope, or your bishop, but to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so you have to report after your death, not the pope or the bishop, but to God. That is why we need to keep our fidelity, and even be ready to die for every truth of the Catholic faith.”

We are fighting Principalities and Powers

wolfWhen I studied, and undertook, the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola for three years I learnt that one of the signs of the activity of Satan and evil spirits for faithful Christians in a state of grace, free from mortal sin, is confusion, disorientation and disquiet. St Ignatius advises that when souls are advancing in holiness, the influence of the devil is sensed as “rough, accompanied by noise and disturbance, like a drop of water on stone”. I’m certain that the disturbance suffered by so many faithful Catholics during the last Synod, and in the run up to the current Synod, is a sign that the attacks on the Faith are inspired by the devil.

Cardinal Burke has explicitly talked about the influence of Satan behind the present confusion at the heart of the Church:

“The pervasive confusion and grave error about the most fundamental truths, the most beautiful realities, and the lasting goods of human life and its cradle, the human family, as they come to us from the hand of God, are the tragic signs of Satan’s presence in our midst. When we see how he has succeeded in corrupting a culture which was once Christian and in sowing the seeds of confusion and error even within the Church herself, we can easily become frightened and discouraged.”

If, during the current Synod, we witness cardinals and bishops causing chaos within the heart of the Holy See by yet again undermining our Lord’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, we need to recollect that this occurs through the permissive will of God. As St Thomas Aquinas so succinctly put it, “God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good.” If we remain faithful, no matter the cost, in the face of their faithlessness, the activity of the evil one will be turned by God to the advantage of His plan of salvation. Have hope!

Resist with love and truth

Both Cardinal Burke and Bishop Schneider exhort faithful Catholics to resist our bishops if they fail to defend the divine truth entrusted to the entire Church by God. St John Fisher also used the word ‘resist’ when his fellow bishops visited him in his prison cell in the Tower of London to persuade him to join them in betraying the doctrine of indissolubility and the apostolic nature of the Church. St John Fisher replied:

“The fort is betrayed even of them that should have defended it. And therefore seeing the matter is thus begun, and so faintly resisted on our parts, I fear that we be not the men that shall see the end of the misery.”

Four hundred and eighty years later the fort is again being betrayed by those who should defend it, and therefore the challenge of resistance faces all faithful Catholics. Our Lord promised St Peter that the “gates of hell will not prevail” (Mt 16:16) but as the Catholic novelist Louis de Wohl writes “Each of us must live as if that promise of Christ depended upon him alone”. (The Last Crusader, p.320).

The way we resist will determine if we co-operate with God’s plan to bring good for the future Church out of the present evil, or if we contribute more evil to the growing catalogue of evil. Therefore, we must resist those bishops refuse to defend the Faith with love and truth. When feelings of anger, anxiety or powerlessness assail us during the next three weeks I pray that God’s love fill’s our hearts, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”. (1 Cor 13:7-8).