It is now clear to all objective observers that the two “synods on the family”, held in 2014 and 2015, were intended from the beginning to try to force changes in Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. The process culminated in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, promulgated by Pope Francis in April 2016, which contains numerous heretical propositions. The Synod Secretariat continues to be led by the same men who presided over the manipulation of the 2014 and 2015 synods. The President remains Pope Francis, the General Secretary remains Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri and the Special Secretary remains Archbishop Bruno Forte.
After reviewing the preparatory document, which sets the agenda for the period leading up to the October 2018 synod, Voice of the Family wishes to sound an early note of warning about the Secretariat’s plans for the next synod. We know from experience that the content of the preparatory document of a synod, and the answers to the accompanying questionnaire, will have very significant influence on the content of the Instrumentum Laboris and thus on the direction of the synodal debates. It is therefore essential for Catholics to prepare now in order to limit the harm caused by the Synod Secretariat’s attempts at using the “youth synod” to launch yet another assault on the Catholic faith.
The preparatory document views vocations from a worldly, naturalistic, perspective
The Church has traditionally used the term “vocation” to indicate a call to holy orders or to the observance of the evangelical counsels in the religious life. Marriage, when elevated to the supernatural order as a sacrament, is also often spoken of as a vocation. The spiritual and temporal good of the family is dependent on all of these states of life being lived out according to God’s design.
It is therefore of immediate and obvious concern to us that a preparatory document for a synod on the theme “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” should scarcely speak about any of these supernatural callings. The document instead implies that a vocation is anything that a young person might choose to do. Listed alongside the authentic vocations we find “professions”, “forms of social and civil commitment”, “lifestyle”, “the management of time and money”, “volunteer work” and “service to the needy or involvement in civil and political life”. (Introduction and II.2) Nowhere does the document note the crucial distinction between the authentic vocations and other life choices. When “marriage, ordained ministry, consecrated life” are listed together, in the introduction, as states of life an “etc” is added to suggest that the list could be expanded further. It is perhaps also of significance that marriage is listed first, whereas it is a lesser calling than the religious life and holy orders.
All of the authentic vocations are ordered to the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. They are directed towards union with God in this life, and for all eternity, in the beatific vision of heaven. Yet the document doesn’t speak about vocations in this sense at all and makes barely any mention of the sacraments or the life of grace. While repeatedly referring to the “fullness of joy” and the “fullness of life” it fails to define these terms with regard to union with God and eternal life, giving the consistent impression that these are to be understood in a purely natural sense. Indeed, the document presents “vocational discernment” as a “question of how a person is not to waste the opportunities for self-realization” (II.2). We find only one reference to “spiritual life in the next”, and this in a quote from a fifth century Syrian bishop, Philoxenus of Mabbug, who seems to have rejected the definitions of the Council of Chalcedon. Even here the Secretariat cannot present eternal life as an end in itself, but must make it palatable to modern ears by stressing that it is about opening a “person to the full exercise of freedom” (II.Intro).
In a particularly unsettling passage we read that:
The Church cannot, nor does she wish to, abandon them [young people] to the isolation and exclusion to which the world exposes them. That young people’s lives might be a good experience; that they do not lose themselves in violence or death; and that disappointment does not imprison and alienate them, all of this has to be of great concern to one who has received life, been baptized in the faith and is aware that these are great gifts. (II. Intro)
The emphasis here is on young people’s lives being a “good experience” and on their deliverance from temporal evils. There is no indication, here or in the rest of the document, of the reality of spiritual dangers or of eternal damnation, or that the Church’s primary mission is the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. The Secretariat seems determined to reduce everything to purely natural ends. “Missionary experiences” are no longer about spreading the gospel but are rather about “altruistic service and a fruitful exchange” (III.3). “The rediscovery of pilgrimages” is robbed of supernatural meaning, and rendered only “as a form and manner of proceeding on life’s journey” (III.3). The presence of non-believers is not a spur for evangelisation but only an opportunity for “increased possibilities for fruitful dialogue and mutual enrichment” and “greater listening, respect and dialogue” (I.1).
The Synod Secretariat has not heeded the command of Christ: “You, therefore, must go out, making disciples of all nations, and baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all the commandments which I have given you” (Mt 28:18-20). There can be no understanding of the purpose of the authentic vocations without an understanding of Our Lord’s “great commission.”
The document fails to present many of the most serious problems facing young people today
The vast majority of young people in the west are exposed, from a very early age, to a culture which seeks to indoctrinate them in an approach to sexuality which is contrary to the natural law and to the truths about human nature revealed by God to the Catholic Church. This poses serious threats to the physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual development of young people, who are widely encouraged to engage in pre-marital sexual activity, to use contraception, to have recourse to abortion, to welcome, and indeed experiment, with immoral forms of sexuality, such as homosexual acts. Through multiple forms of media young people are continually bombarded by immodest sexual images, by pornography, and by continued denigration of the authentic understanding of human sexuality. “Gender ideology” is being aggressively imposed by governments and powerful lobby groups and many young people are growing increasingly concerned about their future ability to freely practise the Catholic faith, and live according to natural reason. Most of all, all these evils imperil the eternal salvation of their souls.
The Synod Secretariat seems uninterested in these problems. They are concerned with those problems that are already acknowledged by the secular world. These include issues such as “unemployment”, “increase in flexibility in the labour market”, the “environment”, and “multi-culturalism” (I.1, I.2). This is, in our view, a serious abdication of responsibility on the part of the Synod Secretariat, which has a responsibility for the eternal good of souls. It suggests that the Secretariat is more concerned with pleasing the world than with tackling many of the most serious problems facing young people.
The preparatory document undermines the Church’s legitimate teaching authority
The document states that:
By listening to young people, the Church will once again hear the Lord speaking in today’s world. (Intro)
This statement is erroneous on a number of levels:
It implies that the Church is not currently hearing the Lord. This is contrary to the promise made by Our Lord Himself when he stated that “I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the world” (Mt 28:20). The Church will never fail to teach the true faith, despite the human failings of her members.
The statement further implies that “young people” should guide the Church. The truth is of course precisely the opposite. It is “young people”, along with everybody else, who need the guidance of the Church.
The statement also seems to imply that the current teachings of the Church are not suited to “today’s world”. On the contrary, the gospel was “handed down, once for all, to the saints” (Jude 1:3) and is perfectly suited to all places and all times, because it is the word of God Himself.
The document manifests a similarly erroneous approach when it states:
As in the days of Samuel (cf. 1 Sam 3:1-21) and Jeremiah (cf. Jer 1:4-10), young people know how to discern the signs of our times, indicated by the Spirit. Listening to their aspirations, the Church can glimpse the world which lies ahead and the paths the Church is called to follow. (Intro)
This statement is absurd. “Young people” have no special insight into the “signs of the times” or the “world which lies ahead” and they certainly are not best placed to dictate “the paths the Church is called to follow”. In fact Sacred Scripture, the Tradition of the Church and the collective wisdom of humanity associate wisdom with old age and call on us to respect the elderly. “Rise up from thy seat in reverence for grey hairs; honour the aged, as thou dost fear God, the Lord thy God” (Lev 19:32) states the book of Leviticus and St Peter confirms “you, who are young, must defer to these, your seniors” (1 Pet 5:5). St Thomas Aquinas explains why the greater experience of the aged means that, in general, they are more advanced in the virtue of prudence, the highest of the natural virtues, than the young (ST II:II q. 47, a.15).
We must also note there is no “world” which “lies ahead” that is fundamentally different from one in which we live. Human societies are indeed subject to flux and change, but, we must stress, there will be no change to the natural law, or to the constitution and teaching of the Catholic Church before Our Lord returns in glory. The Synod Secretariat’s approach is redolent of the theories of the evolution of the Church and society already discussed in Voice of the Family’s analysis of the final report of the 2015 synod.
The document, for the most part, presents “young people” as a homogenous group (defined as those between the ages of 16 and 29). We are told more than once that the Synod Secretariat’s characterisation of the young is based on “studies” but the authors have neglected to provide any references to support their claims. The view of “young people” presented here actually seems to be rather typical of clerics who have yet to leave behind the mentality of the 1960s. The young people of the Secretariat’s imagination are all zealous for change in society and in the Church. They would “like the Church to be closer to people and more attentive to social issues, but realize that this will not happen immediately” (I.2) and they “wish to be an active part in the process of change taking place at this present time” (I.1). It is these young people who “propose and pratice [sic] alternatives which show how the world or the Church could be” (I.3).
Much of the rest of the document’s treatment of young people is equally flawed. It stresses division between the generations and the supposed uniqueness of modern youth:
Today’s generation of young people live in a world which is different from that of their parents and educators. Economic and social changes have affected the gamut of obligations and opportunities. Young people’s aspirations, needs, feelings and manner of relating to others have changed as well. (I.2)
Such assertions ignore the profound unity and similarity of outlook that often prevail between generations, especially in non-western countries. Whatever the Synod Secretariat may imagine, the experience of Voice of the Family, in our work on five continents, is that the basic needs and aspirations of young people, are, in fundamental matters, the same as those of their parents and grandparents.
The document has a negative view of the Church’s Tradition
The preparatory document makes little attempt to present itself as being rooted in the Tradition of the Church. There isn’t a single reference in the entire document to any of the fathers, doctors or saints of the Church. There are however 20 references to documents or addresses of Pope Francis. There is one citation of Pope Benedict XVI, but no references to his predecessors. There are two references to Vatican II, but none to any other ecumenical council. The only other person cited, as mentioned above, is a fifth century Syrian bishop of very doubtful orthodoxy.
Indeed the document does not hide its disdain for the past, stating that “the goal of every serious pastoral vocational programme” is “truly free and responsible choices, fully removed from practices of the past” (II.2). In another context, a similar sentiment is expressed: “the old approaches no longer work and the experience passed on by previous generations quickly becomes obsolete” (I. 3). The document in fact calls upon the Church to abdicate her teaching authority:
In the task of accompanying the younger generation, the Church accepts her call to collaborate in the joy of young people rather than be tempted to take control of their faith. (II.4)
In truth, the ecclesiastical hierarchy has been entrusted with a revelation directly from God, which must be transmitted inviolate to young people, who have the right to receive from the Church the fullness of the faith.
The document adopts a negative attitude to parents and older people
The Synod Secretariat has a record of working to undermine the legitimate rights and authority of parents. They pursue the same approach in this document. In section I.2 the role of “parents and adult educators” is acknowledged to be “crucial” but the rest of the section is devoted to criticisms. “The older generations,” we are told, “often tend to underestimate young people’s potential” and “emphasize their weaknesses and have trouble understanding the needs of those who are very young.” Parents “oftentimes… do not have a clear idea of how to help young people focus on the future” and the “two most common reactions are preferring not to say anything and imposing their own choices. Absent or overprotective parents make their children more unprepared to face life and tend to underestimate the risks involved or are obsessed by a fear of making mistakes.” These criticisms may of course be true in many cases, but, given the previous reluctance of the Secretariat to uphold parental rights, it would have been refreshing to hear something positive said about parents here at a time when they are coming under ever greater pressure.
The Secretariat is of the view that “if society or the Christian community want to make something new happen again, they have to leave room for new people to take action” (I.3). In other words older people should be encouraged (or forced?) to leave their positions, even in the Church, because “where the age of those who occupy positions of responsibility is high” this “slows down the pace of generational change” (I.3). This could not be more different from the traditional view of the elderly outlined above. There are clear parallels between this attitude and that which so often lies behind the growth in support for euthanasia or “assisted suicide”, namely, that the elderly and the disabled are often considered, or consider themselves, to be burdens on their families and the upcoming generations.
The document emphasises “experience” over doctrinal formation
In our analysis of the Final Report of the Ordinary Synod of the Family we showed how the approach adopted by the Synod Secretariat was pervaded by the heresy of Modernism. In particular, we drew attention to the emphasis on “experience” over adherence to revealed truth. We wrote:
Religious doctrines, in the modernist system, are reflections on a sentiment that wells up from within the heart of man and not primarily truths taught by an external body, such as the Church. They are the result of the individual reflection of each man and woman, shaped by their unique experience. As each individual, and human society, is subject to change over the course of time consequently, ‘the formulae too, which we call dogmas, must be subject to these vicissitudes, and are, therefore, liable to change.’ Thus ‘dogma is not only able, but ought to evolve and be changed.’ (St Pius X, Pascendi, 12)
The modernist therefore asserts the primacy of sentimental experience in religious matters. Experience, not assent to teaching proposed from without, is the source of religious doctrine.
The same emphasis on “experience” can be found in this new document:
Faith is presented as “listen[ing] to the Spirit” with “all one’s powers of mind and emotion” and engaging in a “dialogue with the Word.” It is further claimed that “this challenge must be faced by each Christian community and the individual believer” (II.1). Nowhere is faith given its accurate definition: the assent of the intellect to the truths revealed by God to his Church.
“Seminaries and houses of formation” are presented as having “the task of providing young people who respond to God’s call, with experiences, including an intense community life, which will make them, in turn, able to accompany others” (III.3). They are not presented as being places for doctrinal and spiritual formation.
The questionnaire asks bishops “in what manner is your diocese planning experiences for the pastoral vocational programme for young people?” rather than asking how bishops are intending to form young people in the Catholic faith.
The method of vocational discernment proposed in section III is founded on young people making decisions regarding their “vocation” (whatever that actually means in the context of this document) based largely on their subjective emotional experiences. There is scarcely any reference in the exposition of this method to any doctrinal content regarding the objective nature of vocations.
The Church is presented as wanting young people’s lives to be a “good experience” (PD, II. Intro) rather than actually good, that is, ordered towards the good.
The theological virtue of faith is also presented erroneously on the following occasions:
Faith is described, with words taken from Pope Francis, as “something which enhances our lives” (II.1). This is a grave distortion of the truth. Faith is not just something which “enhances our lives”, rather it is absolutely necessary for our eternal salvation: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16).
Faith is further described “as contributing to building ‘a universal brotherhood’ among the men and women of our time”. (II.1) Thus the document gives faith a natural end, “universal brotherhood”, rather than identifying its supernatural end, which is union with God.