The False Front is Showing on this Potemkin Synod

The Synod on Synodality is just around the corner in October and already one can feel the excitement building among rank-and-file Catholics for what promises to be the first time the Church has ever really listened to them. At least, that is what synodal cheerleaders like Austen Ivereigh and Massimo Faggioli are breathlessly announcing, claiming that the Holy Spirit has finally broken through the cracks in the ecclesial sidewalk and is ushering in a new era of “being Church”.

Never mind that only 1-2% of Catholics worldwide participated in the listening sessions. Never mind that the potted-questions they were handed were not the result of the scientific, well-established protocols for poll taking or opinion gathering. Instead, they were the product of ecclesiastics out of their depth and who thus framed leading questions such as: “What is your experience of exclusion and inclusion in the Church?”

Besides, contrary to my sarcastic opening line, the vast majority of Catholics probably do not even know that such a Synod on Synods is even taking place.

Never mind all of that because there is an ongoing effort among the promoters of the Synod to create an image of the event as straightforward and unproblematic, with definitional specificity and a clearly articulated set of safely orthodox goals. That this is—finally!—the implementation of Vatican II and its ecclesiology (apparently, ahem, after a long interruption by two papacies), that nothing doctrinally untoward is going on here, and that all claims to the contrary are hyperbolic hyperventilations from the loony right-wing of the American Church. The image is being presented of a Synod that represents a true “listening” to the “people of God” with the latter being misconstrued, as I have pointed out elsewhere, as a kind of mysticism of proletarian egalitarianism.

But none of this is true. We are being presented with a Potemkin Synod, the true goals of which remain hidden in mystery behind the outward façade of an almost conservative sense of ecclesial respectability. Even Pope Francis now admits that the upcoming Synod probably holds little interest to most Catholics owing to its self-referential and rather technical nature and therefore, on its face, has only a small bearing on the real lives of people in the pews.

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