Do Synod Doubters Really Trust the Holy Spirit?

History has demonstrated that the Holy Spirit has a way of confounding conventional expectations.

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I have been struggling, as I am sure many of my fellow Crisis readers have been, between loyalty to the See of Peter and the seemingly woke direction of the current papacy which has convoked the Synod on Synodality. It is not that the pope has directly contradicted longtime magisterial teachings, although there are voices of faithful Catholics who argue he has. However, what seem to be ambiguities in some statements, his inconsistent treatment of troublesome clerics depending on whether they are from what is considered the right or the left of the Church, his appointments and close confidants, and his seeming dismissiveness toward Catholics who try to live in accordance with Church teachings create an atmosphere of distrust and anxiety about what will be the conclusions of the Synod on Synodality regarding long-standing Catholic teachings. Indeed, the very idea of a “Synodal” Church raises some concerns.

As I was recently reminded: personnel is policy. The relator general of the synod, Cardinal Hollerich, had previously called for a reevaluation of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, although he has more recently seemed to back off from that statement. The synod spokesman, Fr. Ruffini, has stated that consideration should be given to the “reinstatement” of the female diaconate, despite the fact that the International Theological Commission, in 2002, had already stated that those who were referenced as deaconesses in Church history did not have liturgical functions and Pope Francis’ first commission was inconclusive on the subject. Cardinal McElroy has made a similar statement in favor of a female diaconate. 

The pope or Archbishop Paglia have appointed two persons who favor the availability of abortion (at least in the first 18 weeks of pregnancy) to the Pontifical Academy of Life, which was founded by St. John Paul II and the eminent geneticist Jerome Lejeune. Lejeune had discovered the extra gene which causes Down Syndrome and was appalled that his discovery was then used to search and destroy preborn children who possess that gene. 

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The new head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Fernandez, has suggested that St. John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, a key document of this great saint’s pontificate, has stunted the advent of theologians on the level of Ratzinger, Congar, and von Balthasar. Yet he has the temerity to suggest that St. John Paul’s encyclical needs to be reworked:

Today perhaps a text will be needed that, collecting everything valuable from Veritatis Splendor, has another style, another tone, which at the same time allows for encouraging the growth of Catholic theology, as Pope Francis asks of me. 

Adding to the suspicions are the pope’s own statements in response to recent dubia which suggest that divorced and remarried Catholics without benefit of an annulment can receive Communion and that each bishop can set the guiding criteria of accompaniment of such persons while, at the same time, depriving bishops from determining when, where, and how often the Tridentine Mass can be said in their dioceses.

It seems that the ideological progeny of the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II,” which was clearly rejected by both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict (who, unlike this progeny, significantly impacted the work of Vatican II), have again reared their heads.  It seems that the ideological progeny of the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II,” which was clearly rejected by both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict, have again reared their heads. Tweet This

These doubts, personnel, and the fact that there is even permitted discussion on settled doctrinal matters have fed the understandable fear by some that the synod is being manipulated, with a pre-determined outcome, to change doctrine on marriage and Holy Orders, and on the very hierarchical nature of the Church. 

However, there is hope that these feared conclusions will not be realized. It has been reported by The Pillar that, in a surprising intervention, Cardinal Parolin “made a ‘strong and clear’ intervention during the synod meeting…urging that participants emphasize fidelity to divine revelation, as interpreted by the Church’s magisterium, in the course of their conversations.” 

Also, a female theologian, Renée Köhler-Ryan, reportedly stated: “As a woman, I’m not focused at all on the fact that I’m not a priest.” She further explained: “I think that there’s too much emphasis placed on this question…[a]nd what happens when we put too much emphasis on this question is that we forget about what women, for the most part, throughout the world, need.”

It is salutary to remember the events surrounding Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, reaffirming the Church’s teaching on the illicitness of artificial birth control. The pope had convened a consultative commission which was to advise how the new birth control pill functioned to inhibit pregnancy in light of the Church’s perennial teaching on birth control and to advance the best arguments in favor of permitting its use for his consideration. Its findings were to be privately conveyed to the Holy Father. 

During the pendency of the commission, there were advocates on both sides. Even some European bishops advised that since there was, as of yet, no definitive decision, Catholics could use the pill. However, it was leaked that a majority of the commission thought that the use of the pill should be accepted by the Church. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit prevailed, with Pope Paul VI courageously issuing his decision. The disclosure of the commission’s findings did undermine the effectiveness of the pope’s declaration.

History has demonstrated that the Holy Spirit has a way of confounding conventional expectations. Those of us who fear the worst about this synod should show more trust and confidence in the Holy Spirit—that, if we are right about what the Church has and should continue to teach, He will vindicate those views, in whole or in part, between now and the conclusion of next year’s last synod session. 

In the meantime, until the Church speaks authoritatively, prominent cardinals, bishops, theologians, and faithful Catholics, should continue to respectfully explain why the Church cannot change the contested doctrines. Of course, we should pray without ceasing that the synod participants and summary writers will truly listen to the Holy Spirit.


  • Richard P. Maggi

    Richard P. Maggi, Esq., has been a litigation attorney for the past 40 years. He is also a commentator on religion and politics, having been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, First Things (web edition), Crisis Magazine, the Washington Examiner, Human Life Review, and Notre Dame Magazine.

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