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Pope Francis holds his General Weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square on August 29, 2018 in Vatican City, Vatican. Giulio Origlia/Getty Images

ANALYSIS

(LifeSiteNews) – The U.S. bishops released their final report from the diocesan phase of the Synodal on Synodality – and it seems that they didn’t like what they heard from faithful Catholics in listening sessions around the country.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Monday published its “national synthesis” document to much fanfare. “This pivotal document is the culmination of 10 months of intentional listening throughout the Church in the U.S.,” wrote USCCB doctrine chief Bishop Daniel Flores. “The publication of the National Synthesis is a significant moment for the Church in the United States, responding to what our Holy Father Pope Francis has asked of us as the People of God in the world today.”

The report, written by a team that included Bishop Flores and several USSCB staffers, is “an attempt to synthesize and contextualize” the main themes of thousands of listening sessions and synodal events held across the U.S. in the past year, according to Flores. The document states that it was drawn from texts from the USCCB’s 16 administration regions that summarized synodal reports from dioceses and parishes.

But while the USCCB’s synthesis notably highlights calls for LGBT “accompaniment” and women’s ordination, it fails to note participants’ widespread – and perhaps unexpected – insistence on Catholic doctrine, including on controversial issues of life and sexuality, and their demands that bishops speak out in defense of the faith, as related in numerous regional and diocesan reports.

And though Catholics repeatedly voiced strong criticism of Pope Francis and other bishops and priests for doctrinal ambiguity or heterodoxy, the bishops’ synthesis conspicuously avoids any mention of those sentiments as well.

USCCB: The Church ‘marginalizes’ the ‘LGBTQ+ community’ and women

The USCCB document focuses heavily on synod participants’ desire for a “more welcoming Church” and “wounds” allegedly inflicted on them by Catholics and “often by the institution itself.” “The most common desire named in the synodal consultations was to be a more welcoming Church where all members of the People of God can find accompaniment on the journey,” it states.

The synthesis stresses the “still-unfolding effects of the sexual abuse crisis” and notes discontent with Pope Francis’ restrictions on the Latin Mass, among other things. “The limited access to the 1962 Missal was lamented; many felt that the differences over how to celebrate the liturgy ‘sometimes reach the level of animosity. People on each side of the issue reported feeling judged by those who differ from them,’” it says, citing a regional synthesis from the Midwest.

The document also emphasizes the apparent “wound of marginalization,” claiming that certain groups, including the “LGBTQ+ community,” are marginalized by the Catholic Church and that this mistreatment “has become a source of scandal for others, especially for some youth who perceive the Church as hypocritical and failing to act consistently with justice toward these diverse communities.”

According to the text, such marginalized people “fall into two broad groups,” the first of which includes “those marginalized who are made vulnerable by their lack of social and/ or economic power,” such as the homeless and drug addicts. “Included also in the group are women, whose voices are frequently marginalized in the decision-making processes of the Church,” it declares.

“The second group includes those who are marginalized because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the Church,” it continues, pointing to “members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church.”

“LGBTQ+” is an activist term meant to represent disordered sexual identities beyond homosexual, bisexual, and “transgender,” such as “pansexual.” The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts and all sexual relations outside of sacramental marriage are gravely sinful, that serious sin necessarily “causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom,” and that a chaste life is essential for Christian discipleship. Forgiveness of grave sin requires sincere contrition and absolution through the sacrament of Penance.

The USCCB’s synthesis highlights some participants’ “desire to accompany with authenticity LGBTQ+ persons and their families,” quoting from regional synod reports:

Many “who identify as LGBTQ+ believe they are condemned by Church teachings.” There is “an urgent need for guidance as [one parish] begged, ‘we believe we are approaching a real crisis in how to minister to the LGBTQ+ community, some of whom are members of our own families. We need help, support, and clarity.’” Often families “feel torn between remaining in the church and supporting their loved ones.”

“In order to become a more welcoming Church there is a deep need for ongoing discernment of the whole Church on how best to accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters,” the synthesis concludes, without clarifying whether this “discernment” requires faithfulness to Catholic teaching.


Indeed, the text suggests that emphasis on doctrine – God’s revealed truth – hinders appropriate “accompaniment”:

As one synodal consultation described, “People noted that the Church seems to prioritize doctrine over people, rules, and regulations over lived reality. People want the Church to be a home for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. They want the Church to meet people where they are, wherever they are, and walk with them rather than judging them; to build real relationships through care and authenticity, not superiority.”

At one point, the USSCB document even uncritically cites a call for female ordination to the priesthood, a fact not missed by dissident women’s ordination activists:

There was a desire for stronger leadership, discernment, and decision-making roles for women – both lay and religious – in their parishes and communities: “people mentioned a variety of ways in which women could exercise leadership, including preaching and ordination as deacon or priest. Ordination for women emerged not primarily as a solution to the problem of the priest shortage, but as a matter of justice.”

The USCCB’s six-man Bishops’ Synod Team notably features radical pro-LGBT Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, who joined a dissident same-sex “blessing” ceremony last year and issued a rainbow prayer card for LGBT “pride” month.

Faithful Catholics stand up for Church teaching

Unlike the bishops’ national synthesis, however, dozens of synod reports from U.S. dioceses and multiple regional reports highlighted Catholics’ vocal, even passionate, support for Catholic doctrine, including on abortion and sexuality.

The Diocese of Phoenix, for example, observed that “a majority of Catholics” involved in the synod “emphasized the importance of remaining faithful to Church teaching and doctrine.” The Diocese of Knoxville likewise reported that strong majorities of participants upheld Catholic teaching on homosexuality, marriage, abortion, and euthanasia. In the Archdiocese of Mobile, the most frequent sentiment among synod participants was not a desire for a “more welcoming church” but for “clarity in the presentation of the Church’s teaching.”

Moreover, while the USCCB’s synthesis cites a quote from the Diocese of Richmond’s synodal report about an “urgent need for guidance” on LGBT issues, the USCCB does not include the diocese’s acknowledgement that most participants did not want doctrinal change: “In some cases, participants called for doctrinal or dogmatic changes, but in most cases, participants begged for guidance regarding how to respond with love and charity within.”

And the diocese added that faithful Catholics themselves felt “increasingly marginalized” within the Church: “Furthermore, some parishes felt that the most faithful Catholics — those striving to live and express the faith in an orthodox way — were increasingly marginalized.” “They felt that undue attention is given to those who dissent from magisterial teachings,” the report continued.

In Indiana, participants raised the same concerns. “Fear of speaking out in favor of Church teaching is an acknowledged reality,” according to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’ synthesis. “Our Hispanic community specifically articulated an occasional fear that speaking out would lead to being excluded from parish community life.”

Similar issues came up in New Jersey: “Concerning speaking up in society, most participants are hesitant to discuss faith matters due to the society’s ‘cancel culture’ and the fear of being attacked or ostracized. Many blame this on ‘watered down’ teachings and mixed messages brought on by Catholic politicians who claim to be devout but support things opposed by the Church, such as abortion, without repercussions.”

Along with the Diocese of Richmond, several dioceses explicitly noted that synod participants upheld Catholic doctrine on LGBT issues. The Diocese of Superior reported that for many parishioners, “the wound spoken of in this area is a perception that the Church is watering down its teachings and bowing to cultural pressures instead of teaching and living the truth in love.”

The Diocese of La Crosse also said: “While there were calls for the Church to re-examine its teaching on LGBTQ issues, divorce and remarriage, and artificial contraception, there were also calls for the Church to have better catechesis regarding the Church’s traditional teaching on these matters and to boldly proclaim them in a world that does not accept them. There was a strong pro-life and anti-abortion consensus among syntheses.”

The USCCB national synthesis never mentioned abortion, despite widespread references about the issue in diocesan and regional reports, the historic overturn of Roe v. Wade in June, and the unprecedentedly radical abortion policies of the Biden administration.

Criticism of Pope Francis and liberal bishops ignored

Condemnation of Pope Francis and “politically correct” clerics for their ambiguous or liberal stances repeatedly emerged throughout diocesan synod sessions, though one would never know from reading the bishops’ synthesis.

Such criticism was most striking in San Diego, where the diocese’s official synod report admitted that many local Catholics had strong comments about both the Pope and Bishop Robert McElroy, whom Pope Francis recently made a cardinal:

Many participants expressed the view that Church doctrine is quite clear on debated issues, but the Church’s current leadership has intentionally obscured that teaching on LGBT issues and other topics, including abortion. These Catholics raise concerns that Pope Francis has introduced a corrosive ambiguity into the heart of Catholic moral doctrine. They are highly critical of Bishop McElroy for this same reason.

Synod participants in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee also criticized their bishop directly: “Some wished that the bishop would be more outspoken on matters of doctrine and practice, especially when it comes to politicians who openly support teachings contrary to the Church.”

The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s synod report said that traditional and conservative Catholics made up a large number of participants in West Virginia and that they too expressed deep concerns about bishops unwilling to stand up for the faith.
“Unfortunately we see signs of misguided efforts on the part of some in high positions in the Church to compromise and flirt with the depraved values of our secular world,” one participant said. “May the timeless doctrine of the Catholic Church be upheld by our bishops and pastors, and handed on by our devoted catechists to the next generation.” “Church leaders need to stop worrying about being politically correct,” said another. “Revert and stay fast to the true teaching of the Church. Stop being afraid to tell the flock what is required to be a practicing Catholic.”

The Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan, acknowledged similar calls: “It was also noted, however, that it is difficult for the average Catholic to understand and stay true to the teachings of the Church when members of the clergy seem to be proclaiming different messages regarding theological and moral issues. The lay faithful are looking to bishops and priests to preach and teach the Truth; some participants expressed a desire for bishops and priests to speak up against errors in teaching presented by their fellow clerics.”

Likewise in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend: “Attendees expressed a need for the Church to speak the truth and to be clear about Church teaching while also being open to receiving those who are struggling and suffering. … Expressed as a deep frustration by several attendees is the belief that those in leadership in our church are not teaching the ‘hard truths of our Catholic faith as much as they could, especially in defense of life.’”

The Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana also reported: “The Church is becoming worldly, allowing the culture to influence the teaching of the Church as opposed to the Church bringing conversion to the world. In our assessment, this sentiment likely reflects informal or unofficial statements made by various priests, bishops or Vatican officials rather than formal teaching of the Church as expressed in official ecclesial documents on the universal, national or diocesan levels. Furthermore, it likely reflects frustration when the clergy are silent, overly nuanced, or fail to address directly topics believed to be controversial or divisive. … Many respondents indicated great interest in hearing the truth preached by priests and deacons. … Other laity expressed concern that when priests do preach the truth, they are often disciplined by their superiors.”

The Diocese of Harrisburg related complaints about “the bad example of grievously sinful clergy, bland and uninspiring preaching, and weak enforcement of any standards in the public sphere (e.g., allowing Catholic politicians who radically oppose Church teaching to continue in Communion without direct public correction).”

Catholics in various dioceses, including the Diocese of Providence, singled out Pope Francis. According to the Providence synodal synthesis: “There is a growing concern over perceived political divisions in the Church and the need for clear teaching from the Magisterium. On numerous occasions, Pope Francis was mentioned specifically, noting that the Pontiff’s statements are often ambiguous, leaving too much room for multiple interpretations.”

The Diocese of Colorado Springs also observed: “There is a concern that Pope Francis and other pastors are ready to contradict the established teaching of the Church under the guise of a new ‘movement’ of the Holy Spirit. While development of doctrine is a regular part of the life of the Church, there are discernible troubles in contemporary theology. The ambiguity and confusion resulting from recent magisterium statements has created room for this suspicion as well as allowed certain misperceptions of the life and teaching of the Church to continue.”

The nearby Diocese of Cheyenne reported: “Some claim that Pope Francis does not strongly speak out on core Church positions and that his statements are too often filtered through media bias and sometimes biases of pastors.” One participant appeared to condemn the Pope’s choice of Luxembourgish Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich as relator general of the synod: “The Holy Father’s choice to lead the world synod, a German cardinal who with very extreme ideas and certainly not with Christ’s teachings only leads me to further question who is actually listening to the Holy Spirit.”

And New York’s regional synthesis noted: “Even though the Synod is not meant to change doctrine, some looked to Pope Francis as an agent of change in both liturgical practice and Church teaching. Depending on the view, that led to either criticism of Church leaders seen as unorthodox or criticism of Pope Francis and bishops, particularly bishops in the United States, who are not perceived as going far enough to change the Church or strong enough in upholding Church teachings and supporting pro-life issues.”

Despite some positive feelings for the Pope, frustration also cropped up in other dioceses, including the Dioceses of Salina, Saginaw, and Lansing.

The USCCB national report merely stated: “Many regional syntheses cited the perceived lack of unity among the bishops in the United States, and even of some individual bishops with the Holy Father, as a source of grave scandal,” in an apparent dig at conservative bishops.

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