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The Synod of Synodality is about the Future of the Catholic Church

The synodal process began in October 2019 and is about to start October 4 and will continue until the 29th. Much has happened in between good or bad, depending on where one stands – pro or anti-Pope Francis. It’s a classic struggle between the conservatives and liberals of the Church.

The conservatives are attacking Pope Francis for what they call “willy nilly’” encyclicals not grounded on Church doctrines. The Jesuit pope is pursuing a liberal agenda to bring back those who left the Church for its doctrinal rigidity – Protestants, Orthodox Catholics, LGBT, divorcees, and other disillusioned particularly young people.

The conservatives are those who want to bring back the Latin Mass even though many parishioners cannot understand Latin. They oppose same sex marriage and believe that being gay or lesbian is a choice. Pope Francis says, “who am I to judge?”

Pope Francis is not happy and does not hide his unhappiness with the constant criticisms from American conservative bishops who made abortion the centerpiece of the political opposition. Pope Francis is a big picture guy, and he sees that many American Catholic dioceses are losing adherents. Several big ones have filed or intend to file for Chapter 11 protection.

Archdioceses who have filed bankruptcy include San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Santa Fe (New Mexico), Portland, Milwaukee, Agana (Guam) and St. Paul-Minneapolis. Dioceses: Oakland, Albany, Camden, Buffalo, Norwich, Ogdensburg, Rochester, Rockville Centre, Davenport, Duluth, Fairbanks, Gallup, Harrisburg, Helena, San Diego, and the list goes on.

That is the future of the Catholic Church in the United States. Many of these archdioceses and dioceses cited the high cost of settling abuse claims. Some big churches like Baltimore are closing smaller churches because the older Irish American immigrants who were solid backers of the church are dying and young Catholics are not too keen on giving big donations to the church.

Pope Benedict knew the trend and warned the faithful in the United States to brace for smaller congregations, but he was a doctrinal pope whom conservatives adore. He gave a platform for these recalcitrant bishops to pursue their own political agenda. Bishops of big jurisdictions could only watch in envy while bishops from smaller dioceses are getting the promotions they’ve loathed – that of wearing a red hat of a cardinal.

The pope sees North America in decline, but he is not giving up. He has instituted reforms, asked forgiveness for past sins of the Church, and made strategic decisions regarding the future of these churches. So, he is wading into divisive social issues such as gay marriage to bring them bag. His battle cry at the World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal was, “Todos, todos, todos!”

Pope Francis said that everyone is welcome. “You, you, you, all of us, me, we were called by our names,” he told an audience of half a million young people whom he sees as the future of the church. “He called you by your name, not your social media handle,” he quipped, alluding to young people’s allusion to the virtual world. Yes, many young men are even falling for virtual relationships powered by Artificial Intelligence. Virtual world “attracts us and promises happiness” but later would present as “vain, superfluous things, substitutes that leaves us empty inside,” he continued.

Clearly, the pope sees social media posing the greatest challenge to young people practicing the faith. He invites everyone to come back because in the church, Pope Francis said, “there is space for everyone, and when there isn’t, let’s work so that there is – also for who makes mistakes, for who falls, for who it is difficult.” This is the essence of synodality.

In the Philippines where 80+% of Filipinos are Catholics (and coincidentally, the same percentage representing the poor), are not being served well by their bishops. The Council of Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) is at the crosshairs of the Vatican. Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle fired a broadside last month when he spoke to a group of Filipino bishops in Tagaytay City.

The topic was on “The Call for Fraternal Cooperation and Synodality” when he spoke at the Caritas Philippines Academy in the city. “The ‘culture of superiority’ among people, and even within the church, is one of the hindrances to synodality,” said the cardinal. Tagle reiterated that the church needs to overcome that mentality to effectively promote synodality and fraternal cooperation.

The fact that Tagle picked the occasion to needle the Filipino bishops reflects Vatican’s irritation with the CBCP leadership who did not do much in the past two years to truly support the pope’s call for synodality. Tagle was reemphasizing what he said back in 2012 during the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican. For “the church to be a place where people meet God,” it needs to learn three things from the example of Jesus: humility, respect for others, and silence.”

Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, said at the same forum when he made an equally strong plea for humility. “Evangelization has been hurt and continues to be impeded by the arrogance of its messengers,” Villegas said. “The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry… and that the Gospel cannot thrive in pride,” Villegas said. “When pride seeps into the heart of the church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed.”

After the stinging rebuke at the 2022 presidential election in the Philippines, amid Pope Francis’ call for synodality, the newly designated cardinal, Jose Advincula, Archbishop of Manila admitted, “Our local Church is far from being with the Church of the poor that we aspire to be. The Church does not know the poor and the poor do not know the Church.”

The CBCP president, Bishop Virgilio David, said during a speech delivered at the Manila Cathedral on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), “Many priests and lay leaders have tended to be more welcoming toward the wealthy and the influential.” Touché! 

“We have tended to limit the church involvement of the laity to serving the Church rather than serving society as members of a servant Church,” he continued. Regarding inter-religious ecumenism, he blames the fact that the Philippines is predominantly Catholic, “[It] is precisely the reason why we have the tendency to be less concerned about (dialogue) with other religions.”

Such attitude and arrogance are reflected well in how the leadership views their role in achieving synodality. Being predominantly Catholic, is a disincentive to do better, to be more Catholic, if you will, because regardless of their efforts, the percentage of Catholics in the country will remain static and that I believe, is the benchmark being used.  Consequently, the situation on the ground remains static too when it comes to enriching the faith.

The poor are not only poor materially, but also spiritually. Week-in, week-out, they will fill the pews, albeit in overflowing fashion, climb images during processions, and hope for deliverance that the church can’t deliver.


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