The long-awaited (and long-feared) “Synod on Synodality” begins today, and perhaps it’s best to ask a basic question, one that is both obvious and yet obscure:
What exactly is “synodality?”
If Church leaders think it important to spend so much time and (our) money addressing synodality, wouldn’t they also want Catholics to be clear about what they are talking about? Yet in all my discussions with fellow Catholics, both online and in real life, I’ve found that almost no one can give a straightforward definition of synodality.
To be fair, the official Vatican website on the synod does give a definition. It states,
Synodality denotes the particular style that qualifies the life and mission of the Church, expressing her nature as the People of God journeying together and gathering in assembly, summoned by the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel. Synodality ought to be expressed in the Church’s ordinary way of living and working.
Synodality, in this perspective, is much more than the celebration of ecclesial meetings and Bishops’ assemblies, or a matter of simple internal administration within the Church; it is the specific modus vivendi et operandi of the Church, the People of God, which reveals and gives substance to her being as communion when all her members journey together, gather in assembly and take an active part in her evangelizing mission.
My apologies: I realize that including this meandering definition has caused about half of my readers to fall into a stupor, their eyes having glazed over about two sentences in. The definition is pure “Vaticanese”—a cross between a bureaucratic government manual and a loopy New Age handbook. It’s a lot of words that, taken together, mean…nothing.
This is on purpose, however, for by meaning nothing it can be made to mean anything. “Synodality” thus becomes a cover for implementing fundamental changes to Catholicism. Using terms like “journey together” and “gather in assembly” put a happy face on the radical deconstruction of the Catholic Faith. Read: “We can hold hands on the way to hell!”
It’s important that we are straightforward about the threat of synodality, which hides in ambiguities while aiming to reconstruct the Church. This confusion surrounding synodality is addressed in one of the most recent dubia submitted to the pope and made public this week by five Cardinals, including Cardinals Zen, Burke, and Sarah. They ask Pope Francis:
You have insisted that there is a synodal dimension to the Church, in that all, including the lay faithful, are called to participate and make their voices heard. Our difficulty, however, is another: today the future Synod on “synodality” is being presented as if, in communion with the Pope, it represents the Supreme Authority of the Church. However, the Synod of Bishops is a consultative body of the Pope; it does not represent the College of Bishops and cannot settle the issues dealt with in it nor issue decrees on them, unless, in certain cases, the Roman Pontiff, whose duty it is to ratify the decisions of the Synod, has expressly granted it deliberative power (cf. can. 343 C.I.C.). This is a decisive point inasmuch as not involving the College of Bishops in matters such as those that the next Synod intends to raise, which touch on the very constitution of the Church, would go precisely against the root of that synodality, which it claims to want to promote. Let us therefore rephrase our dubium: will the Synod of Bishops to be held in Rome, and which includes only a chosen representation of pastors and faithful, exercise, in the doctrinal or pastoral matters on which it will be called to express itself, the Supreme Authority of the Church, which belongs exclusively to the Roman Pontiff and, una cum capite suo, to the College of Bishops (cf. can. 336 C.I.C.)?
Essentially, these faithful Cardinals are asking, “Is the Synod now the highest authority in the Church, able to change Church doctrine?” We know (and these Cardinals know) that the only Catholic answer to this question is “no.” Yet by asking this question they raise the heart of matter: is synodality a “particular style” or is it a new religion altogether? I would argue the latter.
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