Press Review: The Synod on Synodality’s “Instrumentum laboris” (2)

August 12, 2023

On June 20, 2023, the Vatican published the Instrumentum laboris, which is the working document which will serve as a framework for the work of the synod on synodality, next October. Some journalists have noted the radical change in preparation and others notice hints of the Synodal Church in fermentation. Finally, others examine the process that has been set in motion.

On the Vatican Monday site on June 26, Andrea Gagliarducci opportunely recalls the constant use Francis makes of the synods that preceded the next synod on synodality. This gives us a fairly precise idea of what will happen in October 2023 and October 2024, during the two scheduled sessions.

The Vaticanist writes: “Since the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has wanted the Church to be in a ‘permanent state of synod,’ so the discussions have remained open and never defined. Amoris laetitia, which many see as being at the heart of doctrinal drifts, is an open document that brings no conclusions and leaves everything to the personal initiative of the faithful, priests, and bishops.”

Querida Amazonia did not open the door to the viri probati, or men of proven faith, perhaps married, who could celebrate where priests did not reach. It just said that more reflection is needed.”

He adds: “It is striking that the Pope does not want to take a position on these issues, yet he has taken clear-cut government decisions, such as those concerning further restrictions on the celebration of Mass with the ancient rite or those that have, in practice, imposed on bishops the duty to be judges of first instance in matrimonial nullity proceedings.”

“In [synodal and post-synodal] discussions, however, Pope Francis seems to want to leave the impression that there is active listening taking place and that final decisions are not made. This, however, risks fueling confusion and favoring the personal initiatives of those who are more courageous,  more astute, or just ill-intent. Initiatives leading to a new thrust of doctrinal change are difficult to reject. In the long term, the risk is creating one or more schisms by dint of having many discussions.”

On the progressive Spanish site Religion Digital, they hardly bother with oratorical precautions. On June 24, the Jesuit Juan Masia bluntly called for “an examination of the evolution of doctrine and its canonical expression. Concretely, it would be useless for the synod and the pope himself to say: ‘Beginning today, let us bless these results,” if this change is not preceded by changes at the doctrinal, disciplinary, and canonical levels.”

Clearly and bluntly, he declares: “If I may allow myself a vulgar expression, I will add impatiently: 'Let us open these two messes which are Canon Law (that of 1983) and the Catechism (of 1994), to remove many unusable things and make room to replace them and add other things that are necessary to ensure the continuity of the synodal journey.… The revision of these two texts is an essential subject for the realization of ecclesial synodality.”

This is radical, but logical: since, according to the progressives, the Church must become institutionally synodal, it is necessary that Canon Law and the Catechism be synodalized. And the Instrumentum laboris is not against such institutional reform, far from it.

He even launches “a call for the renewal of seminary programs, so that they are more oriented towards a synodal sense and more in contact with the whole of the people of God.” Clearly, ecclesiastical personnel must be trained before they can exercise a ministry within a Church that has become synodal.

On June 26, on his blog, the anonymous compatriot of Pope Francis, who writes The Caminante Wanderer, prefers to call the Instrumentum laboris: Instrumentum doloris. And in order not to weep, he uses irony: “The Instrumentum labori (yes, with that rude Latin spelling error as it appeared in its first version) is a document intended for reading by only a few ascetic specialists.”

“No faithful Catholic, of average piety and mental health, will sit in his house to read such a tome with unction, according to the production of unheard-of tons of words that say nothing that we haven’t seen in recent years.”

And he anticipates the October session: “It will be a pleasure to see the spectacle of prelates, priests, nuns, lay men and women working those pages. It has been announced that the meetings will not be held in the Synod Hall but in the Paul VI Hall, in order to place numerous tables around which the work teams made up of of twelve people each will meet.”

This topographic arrangement, explains Fr. Giacomo Costa, "facilitates the dynamics of conversation in the Spirit." It would not be strange if a group of experts in educational sciences asked synodal fathers and "mothers" to express their ideas and feelings through little animals kneaded in plasticine, jointly developing a poster and ending with a dramatization. All this in the breaths of the Spirit.

In a more serious tone, Fr. Joachim Heimerl, a priest in Vienna, Austria, and university professor, wrote on the site on June 27: “Slogans like ‘synodality is in the DNA of the Church’ are ideological at best, but they are not Catholic. Of course, the upcoming Synod of Bishops 2023/24 is officially only an advisory body; unofficially, however, it is already much more.”

“This can be seen, among things, from the fact that lay people take part in the synod and are also entitled to vote. It is clear that this fundamentally contradicts the definition of a synod of bishops. But it is also clear that the significance of this synod will increase enormously as a result. Already today it is considered in the media as a ‘Church parliament’ or a ‘mini-council’ and the statements to the contrary by the synod secretariat only reinforce this unfortunate impression.”

“The fact is that with the upcoming synod, a paradigm shift is to be introduced in the Church, which the recently published working document clearly proves. The objective of the synod thus becomes clear: ecclesiastical celibacy must be abolished and, with the introduction of women deacons also the sacrament of Holy Orders. In addition, the sacrament of marriage must be further softened, namely through the ‘blessing’ of homosexual couples and by the acceptance of whatever kind of – pagan – polygamy. There are also a number of other proposals, all as stupefying as the next.”

The Austrian priest denounces a synod trapped in advance: “There are two perfidious things about this working document: firstly it mainly contains questions that are only rhetorical in nature and only want positive answers. And secondly, it is already raised to the level of binding force in advance, in that the Synod Secretariat designates it as a ‘document for the entire Church.’”

“The fact that this is just a sleight of hand and – pardon me – an outright lie, is evident from the genesis of the text; the participation of the ‘entire church’ was only slightly above zero! But truth is not what matters to the synod organizers.”

“Cardinals Grech and Hollerich already want to increase the pressure on the pope; after all, it is hard to imagine that Francis would brace himself against the ‘entire Church.’ So to prevent this from happening in the end, Hollerich has taken precautions with ‘watertight’ security. He is constantly pushing the it as the work of the Holy Spirit, even before the synod has begun.”

“Now, no synod can claim the Holy Spirit for itself, and it has not the slightest doctrinal authority. Cardinal Hollerich's ‘Holy Spirit’ is just a cheap alibi to push through a left-wing agenda that fundamentally contradicts Holy Scripture and all Church teaching to date. - No ! This synod has no more to do with the Holy Spirit as the idea that Jesus founded a ‘synodal Church,’ and even less a Church that wants to conform unrestrainedly to the world.”

And he concludes, turning to the terrible precedent of the German Synodal Path: “On the other hand, it is already certain that the Synod will harm the whole Church. A glance at gloomy Germany is sufficient for this: the ‘synodal path’ there has meanwhile torn apart the local churches, the German episcopate has in fact separated itself from the Roman Church and is divided internally; the ‘synodal church’ has become the church of German heretics who continue to usurp their bishoprics.”

Faced with this truly tragic situation, only the words of Jesus Christ can dispel any temptation to despair: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18); “And behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Mt. 28:20). Spes contra spem, to hope supernaturally against all human hope.