Open Letter from Lay Catholics to the Bishop Delegates of Synod 2018 on Youth
- Bishop Delegates of Synod 2018
Millions of lay Catholics across the world are deeply distressed and confused by a clear shift in the priorities of our Church leadership. Given the constant flow of un-Catholic (and sometimes literally anti-Catholic) news or initiatives coming from the hierarchy, we decided to look at the working document for Synod 2018. We don't like what we see. We feel compelled to express to our bishops our deep disappointment in the direction they are pushing our Church and the reasons for this disappointment--many of which are amply evidenced in the blueprint for Synod 2018. We have called ourselves Catholics for Doctrinal Consistency.
A Letter from Lay Catholics to the Bishop Delegates of Synod 2018:
Why this Barely Catholic Blueprint?
Reverend Holy Father, Reverend Synod Fathers:
We address this letter most respectfully to the Holy Father and to the bishop delegates who will gather for Synod 2018 on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. We are Catholics from various countries who feel compelled to write by our growing dismay at a clear trend that has emerged in our Church—indeed, a trend that has become impossible to ignore, given its glaring visibility in the direction many in our Church hierarchy seem determined to head.
The Depressing Example of the Recent “World Meeting of Families”
This Synod on Youth comes close on the heels of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. At that meeting, many Irish Catholics and others watching from abroad were deeply troubled by the almost total exclusion of Catholics in Ireland who had fought strenuously on the Catholic side against the Irish government’s two recent betrayals of Catholic teaching: first, the legalization of same-sex marriage; second, the legalization of abortion, both passed in abrogation of the original Catholic charter of the Irish constitution.
We ask: After suffering such defeats at the hands of liberal secularists, why did local Irish Catholic activists have to suffer the additional snub of being excluded from the Church’s own World Meeting of Family events? Why, indeed, were many leaders in the Irish Church nearly completely silent during the crucial political battles that led to the unfortunate changes in Irish law? Why was the World Meeting of Families so organized that a more traditionally Catholic counter-event needed to be organized? Why, especially, was a figure like LGBT activist Fr. James Martin given such prominence at what should have been a time to firmly restate Catholic teaching on sexuality, the family, and the right to life of the unborn?
None of these questions on that recent Church-sponsored event have been answered, and now we see with dismay that another high-profile event, this time an actual synod, seems designed to push yet again an “opening to the world” that does not include any strong restatement of what our Church has to offer to the world.
A Disordered, Barely Catholic Blueprint
We read the synod’s working document, the *Instrumentum Laboris*, and note in it the following:
1) There is an outrageously over-exaggerated focus on the Church’s supposed need to “listen” to young people, as if the Church were their student needing to learn from them essential truths of life. The document justifies this focus on *listening* by noting that 1) youth are a vibrant and essential part of humanity and 2) the survey data gathered from young people indicated that many of them want a Church that “really listens”, that doesn’t judge or tell them what to do.
We would say two things on this.
First, it is our view that this “finding” from the data is not in the least surprising, as it indicates nothing other than the perennial overconfidence of youth, who proverbially assume that things of concern to them or things that drive their peer culture are essential “truths about the world” as such. To read the *Instrumentum Laboris* is in some ways almost like reading a letter from an adult pleading with us to listen to an upset teenager who yells from his room at his parents about how they “don’t understand” or they “aren’t cool” or that their taste in music “is garbage”.
Further, that youth are a vibrant and essential part of humanity is obvious, but also a banality in this context. Why? Because youth will not be youth forever. They will *grow up*, and when they do, they will not be calling for many of the things they are calling for now as youth. Having grown up, they will have a more mature grasp of what is essential and true, and it is then that many of them will be equipped to grasp and cherish the difficult truths of the Cross.
Yes, the adults in the room should respect youth *to a degree*, should indeed listen to youth *to a degree*, but should not take their cues from them on the most important things.
Which leads to our second point. *Because the Church and its mission is THE most important thing.*
Many of us who have noticed recent trends pushed in our Church can’t help but feel that this presentation of youth, this stress on listening to youth as a path forward for the Church, is nothing but a stalking horse that seeks to *use youth* to push further “reform” or “opening” of Church teaching on moral issues, especially on family and sexuality. At least one of our members noticed last year that when the call went out for “input” from youth on their needs and opinions, it was, again, Fr. James Martin whose face appeared on the slide next to the web page where the survey was offered. Is this mere coincidence? It seems unlikely. The *Instrumentum Laboris* makes us suspect that what bills itself as a synod on youth will prove to be (rather like the World Meeting of Families) another event promoting what *Western* youth think about the Church’s teachings on family and sexuality. And we strongly oppose this kind of event conducted in the name of our Church.
In brief, young people might indeed be listened to, but this document, through sheer repetition, suggests that what young people have to “offer” is something more essential for the Church to hear than what the Gospel has to offer. And that is an amazing fact. That an actual synod working document presents global youth as possessors of a truth that should guide the Church in ways the Gospel or Church tradition cannot is astounding. And it is *not* Catholic.
2) The *Instrumentum Laboris* is written in a vague sociologese that, as serious scholars will recognize, is suitable for arguing nearly anything. Thus many of its arguments are little more than verbiage and, sadly, *very many* of those arguments have little to do with what is essential to the Church.
The attempt the document makes to extend Church activity across cultures would be admirable if it weren’t for the fact that the document clearly states that the Church cannot consider itself the “center” of anything in particular (par. 140), but must be a “partner in dialogue” in making the world a better place, willing to “collaborate” with anyone and everyone. On the contrary, we believe our Church is more and other than just another NGO or international institution addressing global issues. Further, there are groups and powers that we should not collaborate with, as our assistance in their project will compromise our own mission. (Cf. in this regard, the Chinese Communist Party.) The point should be obvious, but apparently it is not so to whoever framed the *Instrumentum Laboris*.
3) Also in this “sociological” vein, the *Instrumentum Laboris* seeks to expand the concept of *vocation* beyond religious vocation to include any and every life calling, making the Church potentially something like a global job fair or global community college. This is a mistake. There are already myriad secular organizations that work in these areas, and suggesting that priests and religious across the globe have a responsibility to the faithful (and the unfaithful) to lead them in their work choices is yet another example of watering down the Church’s mission by trying to do too much.
4) The *Instrumentum Laboris* seems to misunderstand the reason many youth in the 21st century are drawn to the Church to begin with. We believe they are drawn to Church, with its profound truths about the ultimate meaning of human life, because it offers something different and clearly holier than what is offered by secular political culture. Most essentially, of course, the Church offers a relationship with the Son of God and grace through His sacraments. But this synod working document, quite otherwise, seems to suggest that what the Church must do to attract more young people is get on board with the same list of social struggles engaged by left-liberals and socialists in the wider culture. We read:
——The rage of young people in the face of rampant corruption, growing structural inequality, contempt for human dignity, human rights violations, discrimination against women and minorities, organized violence, and injustice does not seem to be taken into due account [by the Church].——
Yes, in line with the Church’s Social Doctrine, we do think these struggles are important, but the truth is that mere political engagement is not what draws new converts to full communion with the Church. No, in our view it is in some ways precisely the opposite. It is because the Church has answers that secular leftism does not have; it is because the Church tells the truth about human nature and sexuality where sexual leftism distorts and promotes sin and disorder—it is these that make many 21st-century young people realize that “Wow. The Church is right and my secular leftist cohorts at school, with their identity politics and gender-bending, are wrong.”
Looking at the quoted list above, the synod working document would make the Church more like the typical Western university campus and less like the Body of Christ. It is the wrong direction, again bound to relativize and water down what is essential in the true Church. The very language of the document makes this clear, with words like “open” and “openness”, in their usual liberal sense, appearing nearly as often as “holy” or “holiness” (27 times for open/openness, 35 times for holy/holiness); with the word “dialogue” appearing nearly twice as often as the word “Christ”; with the word “Cross” appearing only twice in the whole long text; and with the words “discern” or “discernment” appearing a numbing 114 times, almost 20 times more often than the word “God”. Truth to tell, this working document and much else published by our Church in recent years makes us wonder if we are led not so much by Christians as by “Discerners”. Is it maybe time for some in our hierarchy to split away from us mere Catholics and create a new “Most Holy Church of the Discerning Ones”?
The *Instrumentum Laboris* makes scant reference to faith as a challenge and presents its youthful, more vigorous Church as something more like a college roommate one might “hang out” with rather than as the Body of Christ. Or alternatively it presents the Church as a multicultural political/educational organization with no special Christian mandate. Or yet again, it presents the Church as a job fair or school cafeteria where kids can discuss what they want to do in life—and there will be no “moralism” or “upsetting” judgments.
We must also state that we are disappointed to see that Church dignitaries like Cardinals Cupich and Tobin have been especially invited by the Holy Father to attend the Synod. These two figures attained their current high station in our Church partly thanks to the efforts of disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a known gay sexual abuser who for years used his authority to push himself on seminarians, luring them into his bed, and who in recent years was given crucial roles as Vatican adviser and diplomat. We are among the many Catholics who, to speak frankly, do not believe these men when they say they knew nothing of Theodore McCarrick’s predations. We are Catholics, not fools. Theodore McCarrick’s rehabilitation and recent importance in our Church’s international workings remain unexplained, a fact that is deeply distressing to tens of millions of Catholics who can only look on in confusion. We ask the Holy Father to consider the distress that has been caused by the knowledge that this man was given such prominence and to explain how it came about.
We are not seeking to promote conflict within our Church, but to forestall what we fear may be conflict to come. We especially fear more and more that a division within the Body of Christ is being opened up by the glaring contradictions between long-established Church teaching and what seems the indifference of parts of the hierarchy to crucial parts of that teaching—especially as regards the Church’s teachings on sexuality and the family and the unique sacred mission of the Church in the world. We are distressed not only by the sexual abuse crisis and cover-ups of the last century, but also by the documented sexual disorder in many Catholic seminaries. We fear that this atmosphere of tolerance for sin among clergy has become a serious threat to our Church.
This is why we have written this letter on the Synod on Youth. We see with deep sadness that this synod looks set only to deepen the wounds of division.
As faithful Catholics, dedicated to our Church, we believe that the young people who have most to offer in terms of living and spreading the Gospel are those who recognize in the Church “a sign of opposition” to the world. These young people will almost certainly turn away from a Church that joins the world in its fetishization of sexual disorder. These young people, who have seen with their own eyes the gross excesses of the sexual revolution, who have suffered from those excesses, are the ones thirsting for the truth offered by the real Church. They do not want to see the Church dressed up in the style of Hollywood or MTV; they do not want yet another institution legitimizing the sexual liberalism they see destroying families and human dignity all around them; they do not smile when they see the Holy Father in photo ops with pro-abortion pop stars.
How is it that those organizing the Synod on Youth cannot see this?
We write this letter then to preempt what we fear will be a not-so-Catholic Synod that illegitimately uses “discernment” to discern its way into closer harmony with the bankrupt mainstream liberal culture of the West. If the Synod eventually comes to such conclusions, watering down the truth of Catholic teaching in order to 1) flatter the sexual revolution and LGBT activists or 2) make of the Church a mildly politically engaged Youth Center, we will be deeply troubled to have to face yet another piece of strong evidence that our Church is on the wrong path.
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