In the first talk, Card. Zen spoke about the International Theological Commission’s document “Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church.” In this second talk, Card. Zen speaks about the defiance of certain theologians who, despite actively participating in the Second Vatican Council, felt that their position had not been fully accepted, and so they set about publicizing their own reading of the Council, disturbing broad sectors of the Church. An example of this, both eloquent as negative, is that of the “Dutch Catechism” and the Church in Holland, and the abrupt decline in vocations and faithful that continues even today, year after year. It is the consequence of the abuse or misinterpretation of synodality, when those who have to govern do not do so, and those who do not have to govern rise to rule. A totally democratic Church would cease to be the Church founded by Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, it is said today that “clericalism” is the main obstacle to synodality, which affects the whole Church. But is this diagnosis correct? The facts show that it is not, the main problem of the Church today is the lack of fidelity to tradition and excessive democratization. In fact, there is no greater clericalism than pushing the faithful into positions of leadership in the Church, making them forget the core of their vocation, to sanctify themselves in the world and to sanctify the world. Another negative example is that of the current German Church and its “synodal path,” which has already led to very serious consequences. The German “synodal path” is the fruit of a totally secularized vision, the presence of the Holy Spirit is not seen in it. And all these misunderstandings have in a certain way been caused and promoted by too extreme expressions of the Instrumentum Laboris that came from the Holy See for the Synod on Synodality. It is necessary to pray for the formation of priests in seminaries, and for the fidelity of each one to his own vocation and role within the Church, for the faithful to participate actively, and for pastors to govern and guide their flock.
Fr. Pablo Trollano IVE
Dear friends, at our last conference we introduced the current synod whose topic is “synodality,” and we also introduced a very important document (“Synodality in the Church”); the preparatory document of the Roman Curia quotes it at the very beginning, which shows that it is very important. This document explains what “synodality” is, whose Chinese translation is “共議同行,” in English is “synodality.” “Synodality” is an abstract noun, means an (abstract) spirit, is the spirit of synodality, although the spiritual (abstract) is difficult to grasp.
Synodality must have a pattern, its form can be seen in the history of the Church: the first Ecumenical Council (of Jerusalem) is exemplary in this respect. There are Ecumenical Councils, there are also Regional Episcopal Councils, and there are also Synods of Bishops and Priests. An excellent example of this is, as mentioned last time, the Council of Trent. It was a very critical time, the Church was in great need of renewal, it was very great, and lasted for many years, bigger even than Vatican Council II, because it went through three Popes, -the II Vatican Council only went through two Popes-, it was a very hard and demanding work but, at last, it can be said that God used this way to save the Church, truly renewing it.
In relation to the notion of “synodality,” Vatican Council II spoke very clearly, because the main topic of the Council was The Church. Already in the 1st chapter of Lumen Gentium it is indicated what is the church: the church is the presence of God, -there are not only men and women- but it is the presence of God. The 2nd chapter speaks of the “People of God,” God wants all mankind to become one people to follow and obey him. Before, people used to think that the Church was only the bishop and the temple, it is not so, it must be the People of God. It is only in the 3rd chapter of Lumen Gentium that it begins to speak of the Bishop. Therefore, Vatican Council II says that it is the Holy Spirit who guides the Church, distinguishing two levels, from top to bottom, and from the bottom to the top. From top to bottom by the hierarchy of sacred order, the Pope, the Bishops, and the priests who assist both; below are all the lay faithful who possess the priestly and prophetic ministry, so all must actively participate, this is something very clear.
Let’s continue with our talk today. The truth is very precious, but man is prone to go to extremes, sometimes too far to the left, sometimes too far to the right, we have to be careful, and keep the golden mean. Vatican II was summoned by Pope John XXIII and by Pope Paul VI. At the beginning, it was full of hope, it was a very difficult process, but it ended successfully. The name of Pope John Paul I is very interesting, John and Paul, a double name, expressed that he wanted to follow the line of John XXIII and Paul VI, unfortunately, he died very soon after. Pope John Paul II said: I will also use this name, John Paul II, I will also follow them, I have no way of my own, but the Council is my way. Thus, in the Church was given this very accurate address.
But this is not necessarily the case of other people in the Church. Some theologians, despite their contribution to the Council, however, at the end of the Council, they felt that their thought was not fully accepted, and so, they went their own way. I’m sorry to have to give some concrete examples. The best known example: let’s talk about the Dutch experience and the experience of the German Church today. Let’s look at the experience of the Dutch Catholic Church. At Vatican Council II some well-known theologians from the Netherlands participated in the Council accompanying their bishops, and played an important role. But the Council is not decided by theologians, it is the bishops who, after listening to the theologians and after a detailed discussion of all, approve the final document by absolute majority. Therefore, with respect to the Council it is not necessary to pay attention to what the theologians say, to know the teachings of Vatican Council II it is necessary to read the documents of the Council.
Well, those theologians, after they attended the Council, felt that their words had not been fully accepted, and so, they kept on spreading their own position. Holland, very quickly, published its “Dutch Catechism,” shortly after the conclusion of the Council in 1966 had already been published. It was a best seller at the time, because in many parts it was unorthodox, proposing a new theology. The Holy See, of course, was very concerned, at that time, Pope Paul VI thought it necessary an amendment, but they did not amend it. With the backing of these theologians the National Pastoral Council of the Netherlands was very powerful, and they held a meeting in 1970, inviting the bishops to attend. The Bishops already knew that it was to challenge them, they said that the Church should be democratic, that all together should govern the Church. Before this, the bishops resisted, for they judged that the Church must be governed by the bishop. Who would have expected that the bishops, when attending the meeting, in front of the crowd of theologians and lay people finally said: “Well then, let us rule together!” and so they surrendered. This was a great failure.
It’s fair to say that, since that year on, the Church in Holland began to decline. Traditionally, there were more Protestants than Catholics in Holland, but in the 1960s, 1970s, that is, in the period of the Council, in the Netherlands there were more Catholics than Protestants. The number of Catholics then was 40% of the country’s population, from that moment on, it was progressively decreasing. Pope John Paul II was concerned about this, in 1979 he traveled to the Netherlands to convoke a Synod of Bishops, the results were not very satisfactory, but he did everything he could. He wanted to visit the Netherlands again in 1985, received opposition from many, but finally went. Anyway, before the Pope’s visit, a great controversy arose in the Dutch Church, a very large meeting was held, even from that day a movement was created, called “May 8th Movement” against the Pope’s visit to the Netherlands. In 2014, Pope Francis also intended to visit the Netherlands, the local bishops advised the Pope not to go, saying that, not that they didn’t want to receive him, but that they were concerned about the lack of interest of the Dutch about the Pope’s visit. How sad!
At the time of the Council, Catholics in the Netherlands were 40%, in 2003, had dropped to 30%, which dropped again to 22% in 2015, and has been decreasing every year since then. Registered Catholics are one thing, another thing is the faithful who actually go to church. In 2006, for example, The number of faithful was about 20% of the population, but only 1.2% went to Mass, because of this, many temples closed, some have become restaurants, others into shopping malls. Really sad. But the most important thing is to ask: What about the faith of these faithful? There are the numbers from the statistics, according to the 2015 statistics, only 13% of the faithful believe in Heaven, 17% believe in a Personal God, those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, or sent by God, are less than 50%, less than half, so faith is weakening. Occasionally, of course, some bishop stands up, and does not follow this trend, but they are the fewest. So, at the moment, the Catholic Church in the Netherlands has almost disappeared, temples are not open on weekdays, The number of temples is already reduced, and they are not open, they open only on Sundays. This clearly reflects that if a church does not follow the plan for God it is destined to failure. It is an example of what not to do, I hope that we can keep the golden mean, on the one hand, the spirit of participation, walking together synodically, but it is also necessary to accept the government of the hierarchy. This is an experience to which we must pay attention.
This is an example. Now, why do I want to bring into question these negative circumstances? Because, about the documents that came from the Roman Curia, I believe that from the direction for the implementation of this Synod it is possible that certain dangers may arise, because I see that some of the expressions are very extreme. The document says that “synodality” is, of course, the essence of the Church, and has always been so. Nowadays, within the Church there is the opinion that obstacles have arisen against synodality, and the whole church must deal with this which affects it very deeply, what is it that affects it? Clericalism! Pope Francis referred many times to Clericalism, he said that we must get rid of the culture of Clericalism, which is like a ballast of the past.
We concede that in the past there may have been clericalism in the Church. In fact, it is the tendency to abuse of authority by those who exercise it. But, at present, within the Church is there such a danger? It seems not, the present danger is the excessive democratization!
Looking around us, is there really clericalism in sacred orders? I believe that the faithful of today would not tolerate clericalism, now we are all much more informed, knowledge about the Church has also grown, that’s why I think that clericalism is overemphasized, it is even said that sexual abuses are due to clericalism. Sexual abuse is committed by a person in authority against a subordinate, but this situation is not particularly serious in the Church, in fact, it exists more in families, in which people in authority abuse their power, in which a superior abuses a subordinate. So, to say that the biggest problem of the Church now is clericalism, this is not necessarily reality.
The example of the Netherlands reflects that the current situation is very dangerous, the same situation has arisen in Germany. In recent years, they have started to promote the so-called “synodal path,” but his “synodal path” wants absolute democracy, the laity demand the same authority as the bishop, to vote together on the affairs of the Church. The issues they voted on were all very radical, for example, that women can have access to the priesthood, -Pope John Paul II has already opposed it, and the Church has discussed this issue many times, always in disagreement, so it’s not that it hasn’t been discussed before; secondly, they consider that, in electing a bishop the faithful should have more weight, that is, the bishops should be elected by the faithful -this is not correct either, the bishops are appointed by the Pope-; homosexual unions should be blessed by the Church; homosexual conduct should not be considered a sin; the Church should review morals; furthermore, as advised by the Amazon synod, if there are not enough priests, those who have been married for years and have proven virtue, may also become priests; within the Church marriages that do not follow the norms of the Church should not be discriminated against, same for those who are in favor of homosexuality; the church should not, due to irregular marital situation or incorrect declarations, to dismiss them, or not to employ them in the church. What terrible statements! And the Pope knows it, Pope Francis has said that it is good that it is discussed, but I can’t see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the synodal path of Germany, it seems to be a completely worldly vision.
Yet the synod of bishops used the same word, “synodality” -“synodality” itself is a very good notion-, however, it can be abused. Those who are now conducting this Synod in the Holy See, will they respect the tradition of the Church? will they want to rise up in revolt? Anticlericalism taken to the extreme is very dangerous, because if those who should govern don’t do it, then those who should not rule will rise to rule, and this is a great danger. Now, the Holy See has called us to walk “synodically,” it is certainly very correct, the Church has been from the beginning a “synodal” Church until the recent Ecumenical Council everything has been “synodal,” but, if it is absolutely democratized, it would cease to be the Catholic Church.
I don’t know if it would be correct to express it this way: “The Catholic Church is not a democratic institution, but it has the spirit of participation,” because we affirm that the people of God are also priests, are also prophets, but there is another ministerial priesthood, with the successors of the Apostles presiding over the Church.
In saying this, I seem to be throwing cold water, it’s not like that, we have to be careful, avoid these dangers, because the influence coming from there can be negative. Our simple faithful may see nothing inappropriate in it, but I’m a little concerned about these comments, for example, about anticlericalism. If clericalism is wrong, anticlericalism is not right either. Clericalism is the hegemony of the priesthood, but anticlericalism means no priesthood, that we are all equal, and this is not correct. There is a Sacred Hierarchy within the Church, the successors of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit has given them the Order, calling them to preside over the laity. The faithful should participate, and give their opinion with enthusiasm.
It is very important to know what is happening in the Church, it is possible that many of the faithful do not know it, for example, what is happening in Germany. There are many things that the faithful should know. We must be humble, and assume each one his own responsibility. The clergy should not be authoritarian, but the laity must not be anticlerical either. We must submit to the rule that God has given us, and promote the spirit that God has given us, it is a spirit of participation, everyone should actively participate, to participate, to gather, having the apostolate as an end. In the midst of difficulties, preaching has borne fruit, and every year many people are baptized.
Today’s topic adds to what was said last time, “synodality” is very important, is the essence of the Church, no doubt, but how does it is carried on? There’s a presiding leader, and those who follow him have an organization within the group, it is not anarchism. If those whom Jesus chose to govern the Church do not rule, there will be confusion and chaos, and there shall arise to rule those who should not.
For this, we must ask God a good formation for our priests in the seminary, that priests and bishops do not seek their own interests, but seek the will of God, and so let us all walk together. Only then, we will not only continue to exist, but also, more people will walk with us, that all may know the teachings of Jesus, that all may enjoy the sacraments of the Church. So that, in the midst of a difficult world, we may march in the right direction, and walk in the way of eternal happiness.
(Selection and translation: Fr. Pablo Trollano IVE)