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“Suffocated by Meetings” Bishop Schneider on Synodality

Above: Bishop Schneider’s homily at Most Precious Blood of Jesus, ICKSP, Pittsburgh. Photo by Allison Girone

Editor’s note: a few days after the German Schismatic Way voted to cry to heaven for vengeance, I came across this passage from Bishop Schneider in his must-read text with Diane Montagna, Christus Vincit (Angelico Press, 2019). Even though these words are now four years old, they have only become more acute with each passing month of what Cardinal Pell called the Church’s “toxic nightmare.” This is reprinted here with permission from Angelico Press. 

Diane Montagna: In the spiritual classic, The Dialogue, God the Father says to St. Catherine of Siena, “Do you know daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things, the devil will not harm you and you will have beatitude in your grasp: ‘You are she who is not, and I Am He Who Is.’”

Bishop Athanasius Schneider: Exactly. Creation is ex nihilo and we are pulvis—dust and ashes — and this is our reality. We have to recognize this, while we have hope and love in the faith that we are children of God. Even though we are nothing—we are servants—by our nature, we are elevated to be the children of God, to love God, and to adore Him with reverence and with filial devotion.

This adoration does not destroy our nature, and it should not be offered in a servile manner, but with respect, love, and devotion, recognizing that “I am not God.” I am a child of God, but still a creature and I will remain a creature forever. We have a moving example of this in the Book of Revelation: the elect, the saints, the twenty-four elders who take off their crowns and cast them on the earth, prostrating themselves in the presence of the Lamb. The Lamb is Christ, and the Lamb signifies also the mystery of the Eucharist. This is already the attitude of adoration in the Heavenly Jerusalem, which will remain for all eternity: total surrender, devotion, respect, love, and adoration.

DM: And this is what we enter into during the Holy Mass, even though we don’t see it with our eyes.

AS: Exactly. Returning to our theme of the supernatural, St. Augustine and the Church condemned Pelagianism, which is a kind of naturalism. Since the time of the Apostles, the Church has always stressed the primacy of grace, of the supernatural. It must be stated: God is more important, and eternity is more important, than the creature and temporal realities, just as the soul is in itself more important than the body, for the soul is immortal. And prayer is more important than activity. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught this truth when He said to the active Martha that her contemplative sister Mary “has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42).

Secularism implies a denial of the supernatural—a denial of the possibility that God, who is supernatural, can intervene in this world and in souls through the efficacious power of the sacraments. Secularism, the philosophy of naturalism, and the entire Masonic movement’s influence on the Church has expressed itself inside the Catholic Church in the Modernist movement. Since the Second Vatican Council, the Church in her life has yielded in large measure to the influence of secularism and naturalism.

Modernism is ultimately a denial or weakening of the supernatural, as it declares that pure reason and pure history are the ultimate criteria of truth. This is essentially Hegelianism. It was Kant who, through the primacy of pure reason and the impossibility of having access to what is metaphysical and supernatural, prepared the way for the Hegelian movement. This all entered the Catholic world and rebranded itself in religious language as Modernism.

The Modernist movement, which has been present in the Church since the nineteenth century, used the Second Vatican Council as a catalyst for expansion. Thus, after the Council, the Church became immersed in a deep crisis marked by naturalism. It seems that, to a certain degree, there has been a victory of the natural over the supernatural in so many aspects of the life of the Church. However, it is only an apparent victory, since the Church cannot be overcome by the powers of Hell. But temporarily, we are witnessing an eclipse, an obfuscation of the supernatural, of the primacy of God, of eternity, of the primacy of grace, of prayer, of sacredness, and of adoration. All these signs of the supernatural have been extremely diminished in the pastoral life and liturgy of the Church in our days. On a global scale, the deepest crisis in the Church is the weakening of the supernatural. This is manifested in an inversion of order, so that nature, temporal affairs, and man gain supremacy over Christ, over the supernatural, over prayer, over grace, and so on. This is our problem. As Jesus Christ said, “Without Me, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). The whole crisis in the Church, as seen after the Council, was manifest in an incredible inflation of frenetic human activity to fill the void or the vacuum of prayer and adoration, to fill the void created through the abandonment of the supernatural.

DM: Which is a void that can never be filled . . .

BS: Exactly. Nonetheless, efforts to fill this void have been tried, for example, in continual Church meetings and gatherings at different levels and in different forms—continuous synods. This is oftentimes busy work with a very pious mask. It is a waste of money; it is a waste of time that could be used for prayer and for direct evangelization. The phenomenon of permanent meetings, assemblies and synods on various levels is a kind of parliamentarization of Church life and is therefore worldly, although masked with the impressive word “synodality.” There are episcopal meetings on the continental, regional, and national level, on the subnational level, on the diocesan level, and so on. We are suffocated with continuous meetings and every meeting has to produce papers. So, we are really submerged by the weight of papers and papers and papers. This is pure, frenetic Pelagianism. Not only is this taking money and time away from evangelization and prayer; it is also an extremely cunning method of Satan to take away the successors of the Apostles and priests from prayer and evangelization—under the pretext of a so-called “synodality.” There is only one parallel in the history of the Church to such excessive episcopal meetings, and that is the fourth century, precisely when the Arian heresy was dominant and reigning. They would gather together and hold meetings, and in those times St. Gregory of Nazianzus said: “I am resolved to avoid every meeting of bishops, for I have never seen any synod end well, nor assuage rather than aggravate disorders” (Ep. 130 ad Procopium).

DM: Nowadays St. Gregory would be called a pessimist and would probably be disciplined for his uncooperative spirit.

AS: To be honest, I am bored with episcopal meetings and synods. As much as I love my brother bishops and love to meet them, this method of continual synods and assemblies, which are often dominated by frenetic activity, are influenced by the spirit of Pelagianism and Modernism. They are often sterile and give the impression of an enormous show of clerical vanity.

DM: What would you do instead?

AS: It would be far more beneficial—personally, psychologically, pastorally, and ecclesiastically—to meet with the simple Catholic faithful. We bishops would do better to meet young people and young families with children who are thirsting for the beauty of God, the beauty of Catholic truth and life, and for the beauty of Catholic liturgy. To meet them and to pray with them and to instruct them and also to learn from them as a bishop. I also learn from them as a bishop, from their example, when I observe the faith of these beautiful Catholic young families, of exemplary Catholic youth. I have also often been edified by Catholic children. For me personally such meetings with the little ones in the Church are incomparably more fruitful and spiritually more enriching than participating in synods or in official meetings of bishops in the form in which they are held in our time.

Sometimes it seems to me that such meetings are a gathering, more or less, of bureaucrats. I will not say that every bishop in those meetings acts or thinks like a bureaucrat. However, one gets the impression that they are bureaucratic events, which do not bring a true clarification in doctrine or an improvement of Church discipline, i.e., a true progress of holiness in the life of the Church.

I am not against synods or other episcopal assemblies as such, provided they happen infrequently, are of short duration, have minimal bureaucracy and transparent and fair rules of procedure, and above all, guarantee and safeguard the integrity of doctrine and discipline in the discussion papers and in the final document. Every member of a synod or of another important episcopal assembly should be required to pronounce each time a clearly articulated oath of fidelity to the immutable doctrines of faith and morals, and to those norms of canon law and the discipline of the sacraments that originate in apostolic tradition and are thus perennially valid.

DM: Could you say more about your meetings with the Catholic faithful? What do you find?

AS: Indeed, I have had so many beautiful meetings with the simple ones in the Church. I call them “the little ones,” which does not always correspond to the physical age written in their passport. The “little ones” in the Church are those of all ages who have the pure, profound Catholic faith, who have no administrative power in the Church. These, for me, are the little ones. They can be children, young people, families, also elderly people; age is not important, but rather the spiritual characteristics.

Once I had an unforgettable experience. I was in the United States in a parish celebrating a beautiful Pontifical Mass in the traditional form. There were a lot of altar boys of all ages and after the Mass I was in my choir dress, and a little altar boy wanted to be photographed with me on his own. So the entire parish was in the hall looking at us—I in my choir dress and this little boy at my side. It was a nice picture. I think this was a holy child because he radiated so much innocence. He was, I suppose, nine years old, more or less. Everyone took photos. Then from the crowd several parishioners shouted to the boy, “You will become a bishop!” And he was so serious and said, “I want to become a saint!” This is for me a much deeper experience, with this little child, than to participate in a synod of bishops for two or three weeks, which will probably not have much of a concrete impact on the sanctification and evangelization of people and the glorification of God.

I was reflecting upon the words of the little altar boy. One could have the impression that he contrasted being a saint with being a bishop! I don’t think he really meant that, but it was funny for me, it sounded like: “I will not become a bishop, but a saint.” As if to say that becoming a bishop endangers becoming a saint or contradicts it. Sometimes, it does appear this way, especially in our days.

DM: Isn’t it ironic that one of the Second Vatican Council’s messages was the universal call to holiness—the call to every member of the Church to live out fully his baptismal vocation — and then, precisely at that time, we have experienced a profound and widespread loss of the sense of the supernatural?

AS: This is precisely the essence of Modernism, which gained considerable strength during the Council. After the Council, people with the spirit of Modernism increasingly occupied the administrative structures of the Church. Modernism is a form of naturalism, which often carries with it the elimination of the supernatural.

I gave the example of these continuous meetings. I will tell you a story. Once I participated in a meeting for the Asian bishops in Manila. They prepared a very long document, and so I said, “We have to shorten this document by half and, even then, no one will read it.” And the bishops were laughing. In my private conversations with several bishops, they acknowledged honestly that up to now they actually did not read the documents produced at these meetings, even though they received them.

I participated in several other meetings with my brother bishops and I asked several of them, once the documents were approved, “Have you read the final document?” And some of them answered me, “Sincerely, no.” One of these meetings lasted one week and produced a document, which, at least in our region, no one has read. Later we got the financial report for this meeting. The meeting cost $250,000 from church funds. Imagine! Basically, it was $250,000 thrown to the wind. Really, to the wind. We had minimal time for prayer. Is this the “Church of the poor,” which was so stressed during the Second Vatican Council and afterwards? The continuous meetings and assemblies of bishops: they are spending so much money, it’s incredible. If we would reduce drastically the frequency of these meetings, we could give millions of dollars every year to the poor around the world. To me, this is a sin that churchmen are committing today. Even setting to the side for a moment the problems with these excessive meetings, which are ultimately a manifestation of Pelagianism and undermine the supernatural—to say nothing of the problem of the almost continuous stream of doctrinally ambiguous documents they produce — I believe it is sinful to spend so much money, which we could give to the poor in our world. We have to stop this. But it seems that the frequency of synods and meetings is only going to increase under the pretext of a so-called “synodality.”

DM: Under the current pontificate, Vatican synods are now being held annually.

AS: Yes, the number of meetings is increasing. For me it is a sign: when there is a lack of faith and desire for the supernatural, a lack of love for prayer, for works of penance and direct evangelization, then the bishops and those who govern in the Holy See cast themselves into frenetic activities: synods, documents, continuous events.

DM: Didn’t this happen in religious life after the Council? Congregations that had an active apostolate but whose life was still primarily contemplative, though not cloistered, took on activism.

AS: This phenomenon has invaded and infected the entire life of the Church. I compare it to the situation you have with a bicycle when the chain falls off and you just spin in place and don’t move from the starting line. Just spinning in place, an exterior activism with a spiritual lethargy and passivity.

One of the means for coming out of this crisis, and which will heal the crisis, is to rediscover the supernatural and to give primacy to the supernatural in the life of the Church. This means giving time to prayer and Eucharistic adoration, making time for the beauty of Holy Mass and the liturgy, for the practice of corporeal penance, for the proclamation of the supernatural truth of the Last Things and the truth of the Gospel. We have to put Christ and His supernatural revelation back at the center, because this alone can heal all mankind.

Editor’s note: we commend to the reader our lay sodalities of reparation (Eucharistic and fasting) as a means to these ends.

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