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Cardinal Joseph ZenClaire Chretien / LifeSiteNews

HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — Joseph Cardinal Zen has released a robust critique of the Synod on Synodality and its ecclesial “vision,” stating that it “offends our intelligence” to claim that there is “no agenda” behind the synod and warning it could “change everything.”

“We cannot help but be stunned, because we are told that it is still unclear what synodality is,” Zen wrote, referring to the current state of the multi-year Synod on Synodality. His comments came as part of a February 15 essay examining each stage of the synod so far, along with another condemnation of the “confusion” caused by Fiducia Supplicans.

Beginning with the preparatory document and vademecum released in 2021, the synod has so far gone through a local and national stage, before proceeding to a continental stage, and most recently the so-called universal stage which saw clerics and laity gather in Rome in October 2023. The second phase of the universal stage is to take place in Rome this October. 

Zen has published previous assessments and critiques of the synod, and his latest essay contained a similar mixture of such a tone.

Synod: Novelty and revolution with a decided ‘agenda’? 

He highlighted a point regularly made by commentators in recent years regarding the actual definition of synodality, pointing to an apparent contradiction. “They tell us that synodality is a fundamental constitutive element of the life of the Church, but at the same time they emphasize that synodality is what the Lord expects of us today,” he wrote, adding: 

Participation and communion are obviously permanent features of the Church One Holy Catholic and Apostolic. But doesn’t saying that synodality is ‘the thing the Lord is waiting for from us today’ mean that this is something new? 

Zen wrote that in Hong Kong, attempting to prevent “a contradiction” in this understanding, the diocese had entered into the first stage of the synod with a mindset that “synodality” was a word used to give “a new impetus to something that has always existed in the Church.”

The cardinal gave specific details about the Diocese of Hong Kong’s participation in the local stage of the synod, saying that study focussed “on the generic sense of ‘walking together.’” 

READ: Cardinal Zen blasts ‘confused’ Synod on Synodality, Chinese communist-linked bishops

Raising concerns about how such a phrase was to be properly interpreted in the Catholic Church, he referenced a text published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2018 called Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church.

‘This other vision… can change everything’

He warned that the Synod on Synodality’s base text did not align with the CDF’s 2018 document: “Reading the aforementioned document and the voluminous first introductory document of the Synod Secretariat, I cannot chase away the perception that we are faced with two opposing visions of ecclesiology.”

Contrasting the texts, Zen pointed to the contradictory images of an apostolic, hierarchical Church and a Church centered on “an ill-defined synodality, a ‘democracy of the baptized.’” Warning that “the baptized” might not even be practicing Catholics – as indeed the synod’s base text called for lapsed Catholics and non-Catholics to contribute – he stated that:

This other vision, if legitimized, can change everything, the doctrine of faith and the discipline of moral life.

He also argued that though some would accuse him of promoting a “conspiracy theory” – which LifeSiteNews can confirm has happened within certain quarters of the Vatican – there was a definite premeditated plan behind the synod.

They say there is no agenda, but that offends our intelligence, how can we forget that Note in Amoris laetitia after the two Synods on the family? And that deliberation on the ‘viri probati,’ even though it did not go into the Amazon Post-Synodal Exhortation?

He also pointed to the example of the heterodox German Synodal Path, alluding to similarities between the anti-Catholic developments there and the projected path of the Synod on Synodality. 

‘Listening’ to conjure up ‘compassion’ 

The 92-year-old cardinal also firmly critiqued the manner in which the Synod’s continental phases and rounds of “listening” took place. He noted how synod meetings focused – as intended – on people described as having “no voice in the Church.” Such testimonies “obviously arouse emotions, feelings of compassion,” he said, noting how they focused on “minorities with particular sexual tendencies, situations of irregular ‘marriages,’ so they are not accepted, i.e. excluded, while the Church should welcome everyone.”

READ: Cardinal Zen calls out Pope Francis for not answering dubia about ‘murder’ of Chinese Church

Zen quipped that perhaps the true intention of the synod organizers was to focus on “minorities with particular sexual tendencies,” and thus “the acronym LGBTQ entered for the first time, solemnly, in a Church document.”

While he argued that the synod organizers likely found both the two initial stages unsatisfactory, he wrote that the Instrumentum Laboris for the October 2023 meetings presented “a clear sense that the problems posed for discernment are the structures of the Church and the problems of sexual ethics.”

READ: Major Synod on Synodality document highlights need to ‘welcome’ polygamists, ‘LGBTQ+ people’

But the Hong Kong cardinal wrote that October’s meetings at the Vatican employed the same method as the previous stages, “a method that does not favor the solution of projects.”

He excoriated the much-vaulted synod method of “conversation in the spirit,” quoting a professor at Rome’s Gregorian University to reveal the technique as not applicable for the synod discussions. 

“Imposing this method on the Synod proceedings is a manipulation aiming at avoiding discussions. It is all psychology and society, no faith and no theology,” wrote Zen. 

As for the order for synod members to maintain silence about their discussions, he wrote that “the faithful were kept in the dark about a Synod that was intended to be a model of synodality.”

Lay voters at a synod

Cardinal Zen also highlighted issues with the composition of the members of October’s synod meeting at the Vatican, saying that the Pope’s personal choices for the event were “evidently for the purpose of ‘balancing the two sides,’” in light of the choices made by local bishops’ conferences.

Yet he noted “something more serious,” namely the inclusion of lay voters at the Synod, meaning it “is no longer a Synod of Bishops.”

READ: Archbishop Aguer: Feminist thinking predominates in final Synod on Synodality report

He called on the upcoming October 2024 synod meeting to be a true Synod of Bishops, reserved for bishops and excluding laity, thus avoiding “a dangerous confusion.”

Zen also called for a movement to examine the issues raised in the synod so far, so that bishops could return to the synod bringing – here the cardinal quoted Pope Francis – “the smell of their sheep.”

“Only they are able to bring to the Synod the true situation of their Church, the Pope can’t possibly have a nose for all his sheep in the world, especially if it is the periphery,” he said. In such discussions, the 2014 document Sensus fidei in the Life of the Church would be key, he added.

Fiducia Supplicans

Cardinal Zen, one of five dubia cardinals who wrote to Francis over the summer, affirmed his prior criticism of Fiducia Supplicans, saying that the text “only developed that already lengthy response” which the five cardinals had received. 

READ: Cardinal Zen on homosexual ‘unions’: Calling ‘a sin as something good’ is ‘heresy’

The dubia was publicly released on October 2, after the cardinals received an initial answer from Francis that was so “vague” that they reissued their dubia to him. Zen has suggested that the reply in question had been pre-prepared by synod organizers “to respond to the disturbers of their agenda,” an accusation he repeated now: “The author could not be the Holy Father, but had to come from the arsenal of the Synod Secretariat prepared to counter contrary opinions.”

Not only has Fiducia Supplicans caused “great confusion,” but Zen warned it “threatens a serious division never before seen in the Church.”