Image credit: Michael Matt.
A very shrewd observer once remarked that all political power is mechanical. He meant that all political success is the result of human effort, usually strenuous effort, and not something one could count on to occur naturally, like the tides. Political power is only gained or wielded through human effort. What he did not mention is that there are other types of power: that of nature, of course, but also the power of God, which is certainly not “mechanical.” One might even say that all merely human power is really mechanical when it comes down to it.
I have been thinking about this observation a great deal over the past few weeks, as it appears that the meeting of the “Synod on Synodality” in October will be a “crisis” in the original Greek meaning of the word. The past few months and weeks have seen a flurry of activity, from the appointment of Victor Fernández as doctrinal chief in the Vatican to the rumored defenestration of Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas, and the remarkable warning issued by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, effectively saying that no Catholic must obey any Church official that authorizes the blessing of same-sex couples or women deacons.
The fallout from such an action by Pope Francis and his progressive allies, should they actually take the step of declaring the blessing of homosexual relationships or women deacons somehow part of the Catholic faith, will be catastrophic. The suffering that faithful Catholics would have to endure would be unimaginable. No one should have any illusions how damaging it would be to the Church if the Synod actually does this.
But whether it does or not, the “Synod on Synodality,” and the “progressive” Catholic project it embodies, is doomed.
This is not merely wish fulfillment on my part, nor is it an expression of hatred or ill will toward those engaged in this Synod on Synodality. It is a fact. It will fail because the organizers of this clumsy coup d’etat only understand political power, only the power of “institutions,” the machines for producing political power.
The Synod on Synodality is driven by a generational dynamic: most of its enthusiasts are Boomer (and older) activists who have largely abandoned the Catholic faith but are deeply invested in – and in some cases, even genuinely loyal to – the Catholic Church as an “institution.” These were the last generation that grew up trusting “institutions” and believing in them, but also the first generation to largely reject the Church’s faith. They still believe in the Church-as-institution because it provides funding, resources, prestige, access (i.e., provides them with the mechanics of political power) and believe it can be salvaged by altering its faith to fit the ethos of the current age.
That is why they have hijacked most of the Church’s “institutions” and are now on the cusp of bringing their plans to fruition. To their credit, they understood, as faithful Catholics did not, that the Church will always be an “institution” in this world to a degree. Faithful Catholics did not understand this, because they do not care about political power, and were busy trying to live up to the hard demands of the Gospel, while progressive activists were subverting it. These activists are neither faithful nor good at governance but very good at subverting and/or capturing institutions. They understood that to run the Church requires hard work, and cannot be outsourced to others. If you want it to teach the true faith, you will have to do the work yourself to ensure that it does, and engage in the gate-keeping necessary to ensure those who don’t believe can gain control of the Church. Such things do not happen naturally, nor can you presume on divine intervention to prevent them.
Nonetheless, the Synod is doomed because its partisans are probably the last generation to believe in “institutions” in quite this way. Virtually every other cohort after the Boomers is deeply distrustful of “institutions” of all stripes. This includes many faithful Catholics, who love the Church not because of its prestige or political clout but because of the truth it proclaims. While it is true those younger generations are far more likely to agree with the managers of the Synod about homosexuality and abortion, they see no need to remain in the Church to go on believing such things. If you think your sexual identity is the most important thing in the world, you do not need the Catholic Church to validate this identity. Only Baby-Boomer Catholics still feel the need for its approval, while rejecting its beliefs. In fact, you don’t need Jesus Christ or God to affirm your sexual identity or be “ordained.” There are many other institutions (ones much more powerful in a political sense than the Church) which will do that for you.
That younger generation of Catholics is also aware that “institutions” in their current form have become little more than machines for extracting wealth and resources from the people they purport to serve, and aggrandizing those who control them. The U.S. government seems to think its citizens are tax cattle whose primary purposes is to fund their latest war of choice. In my workplace, the academic world, part-time adjunct professors provide something like 75% or more of the faculty working in academia. They are paid far less, receive no benefits, and are easily dismissed, unlike tenured faculty. Most people go into academia full of idealism and it is this idealism that university administrators count on to provide cheap labor, so that they can give themselves large salaries, and tenured faculty can avoid the tedious business of teaching classes.
Just so, the “Synod on Synodality” is predicated upon the fact that faithful, Church-going Catholics, upon whose wealth the operation of the Church depends, and most of whom accept the Church’s teachings on disputed items like abortion, exist primarily to provide funding for activist theologians and bureaucrats who believe with all their heart that if they could only alter the Church’s fundamental beliefs, it will finally become the United Nations at Prayer they’ve always dreamed it could be.
The problem is that those young Catholics who reject the Church’s teachings on “hot-button” issues have no desire to invest years of their life in the Church in hopes of getting from it what they can easily obtain elsewhere. In other words, those younger baptized Catholics who agree with the Synod’s organizers about sex and gender are going to show their agreement by voting with their feet and leaving the Church entirely, as they have been for some time now. That is why the Synod is doomed, even if it will leave much destruction in its wake.
The Synod organizers’ aptitude for political power is inversely proportional to their blindness to the power of God. What dooms them is their inability to see how God’s power might effect a revival of the Church, despite it being under the sway of our technocratic society. They can only see the most visible aspects of history and ignore the deeper currents which will make for the Church’s renewal in a time to come. Because they cannot see how God might restore the Church’s health and integrity without conforming it to the world, they believe the only options are such conformity, or death. And they despise their “backwardist” fellow Catholics so much they would rather her children abandon her than flourish in a way they deem unacceptable.
Which is to say, they lack faith in the power of God.
Darrick Taylor earned his PhD in History from the University of Kansas. He lives in Central Florida and teaches at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, FL. He also produces a podcast, Controversies in Church History, dealing with controversial episodes in the history of the Catholic Church.