The Time of Magical Thinking

Last year's Synod on Synodality was a moment of Magical Thinking, bearing no resemblance to historic Christianity.

Joan Didion’s 2005 bestseller, The Year of Magical Thinking, left her readers a bit shaken. The rending account of her husband’s death was cast in a demimonde of disturbing shadows. For quite a time it tossed her into a twilight existence of strange disconnections and fantasy expectations. Hence her tantalizing title. Her mourning bore no resemblance to reality, only a loose pastiche of semi-mad concoctions.

Didion’s book came immediately to mind when reviewing the results of last October’s Synod on Synodality. It was a moment of Magical Thinking, bearing no resemblance to historic Christianity. Even critiques became challenging, like trying to nail down snowflakes. But such has been the project of Modernism for well over a century.  Its lodestar is a carefully crafted ambiguity expressed in an argot both bewildering and malleable.

Read carefully this excerpt from their document “Synodal Church in Mission”:

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily

Email subscribe inline (#4)

Synodality can be understood as the walk of Christians with Christ and toward the Kingdom, together with all humanity mission-oriented, it involves coming together in assembly at the different ecclesial levels of life, listening to one another, dialogue, communal discernment, consensus building as an expression of Christ’s making himself present alive in the Spirit and decision-making in differentiated co-responsibility.

Any educated individual would find this hallucinatory. Normal human beings do not speak in this kind of disconnected cant.  This is a kind of degraded speech that would make Orwell blush. It is a language trapped in a specialized gnostic world foreign to normal men. Attempting to parse is vain, for it enjoys no correspondence to a reality familiar to most rational men.

Any Catholic would be hard put to find any likeness to the mandate of Christ: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).  

Where is there the thundering certitudes of the Creed? Where is the summons to heroic sanctity? Where is mention of saints who alone change the world and perfect the Church? Where is the desire to inflame the world with love of Christ? Where is the command to embrace the Cross and die to self? These are the badges of authentic Catholic identity.

No Roman gathering in two thousand years has reveled in the vacuous jargon on display at Synod 2023.  No Roman gathering in two thousand years has reveled in the vacuous jargon on display at Synod 2023. Tweet This

But this was carefully diagnosed by Pope St. Pius X in his tour de force 1907 encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis. In an encyclical of encyclopedic range, he exposed every facet of the Modernist heresy. In one part, he famously names Modernism the “synthesis of all heresies.” In the beginning of the encyclical, he explains his reason for that damning epithet:

(their) danger is present almost in the very veins and heart of the church, whose injury is the most certain, the more intimate is their knowledge of her. Moreover, they lay the axe not to the branches and shoots, but to the very root, that is to the faith in its deepest fires. And having struck at this root of immortality, they proceed to disseminate poison to the whole tree, so that there is no part of Catholic truth from which they hold their hand, none that they do not strive to corrupt.

Because Pascendi identified the disease of Modernism with such penetration and surgical accuracy, the document has been reviled as a fossil. Its mere mention serves for purposes of derision, if remembered at all.  

The Modernist basks in the shadows of indeterminacy. This better serves their purposes of plying their designs. They lobby for a reimagined Church existing only to mimic the antinomies of Secularism. They covet the political, while making the supernatural seem eccentric. Ask your parish priest to comment on Pascendi and prepare for a condescending smirk, or, more likely, a blank stare of ignorance.

All that is definite, defined, and certain is held in suspicion by the invitees of the Synod. More to their taste were Magical Thinking inanities such as:

  • In this time of profound encounter and dialogue we offer the invitation to journey together, creating spaces for everyone so that we may live unity in diversity.
  • Catholics must experience the Synod, must do Synod; Conversation in the spirit is a new way of being church, so enlarge the space of your tent.
  • The Synod mothers ask for a kenotic de-centralizing since listening and dialogue inspire decision-making processes in an authentically synodal manner.
  • The lived experience that has been shared through a listening church respects the protagonism of the spirit in God’s surprises.

To convict this as an assault upon the Gospel would be confusing, due its gaseous construal. Studied ambiguity does not deal in the language that ordinary men utilize. It occupies a wholly different world than ordinary men. To mention adherence to dogma or the moral law would raise eyebrows. This is far worse than heresy, for heresy deals with the denial of truth.  

The Synodal Way considers truth an intrusion.  

These Synodal trailblazers have successfully erected a new Tower of Babel. Their breezy debasement of language, and the words which are its glue, is ultimately a defiant mockery of the Word.

Herein lies the deepest problem. If truth is discarded, there is nothing about which to argue. Aristotle declares in his Metaphysics that attempting to speak to a man who has taken leave of the laws of right reason is akin to speaking to a vegetable. There is no receptivity on the part of the listener because he has abandoned the signature mark of man—rationality. 

So it is that the Church since the Council of Trent has insisted that its candidates for the priesthood spend as much time in studying philosophy as theology. For any lapse in thinking correctly guarantees howling errors in believing correctly.

This is proven by Cardinal Hollerich, the relator-general of the Synod. The cardinal explained that the Synod is “the experience of the journeying together of the people of God…to bring the synodal church into sharper focus as a comprehensive vision.” 

Is this the “comprehensive vision” that allowed the same Cardinal Hollerich to state in an interview, “the teaching of the Catholic Church must change in regard to homosexual acts, keeping it more in line with the findings of contemporary science”? One suspects that the “synodal comprehensive vision” has not much room for Christ’s eternal teachings on the nature of man and his acts. The “comprehensive vision” must mean having better ideas than God.

Of course, we are already seeing the results of the Synod’s Magical Thinking. The recent document of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, Fiducia Supplicans, in the typical patois of Synodality (saying nothing, so anything can be said) declares blessings can be given for sin (excuse the graphic language).  After ploughing through the Synodal Newspeak, that is exactly what a blessing for those in irregular unions means. Despite the dancing and handstands attempted by many bishops, priests, and even laity to put a best face forward, the blessing is for sin. It’s impossible to square a circle.

Catholics of stout mind and soul will welcome the 2023 Synod with appropriate response—laughter. But those kinds of sensible Catholics are miniscule in number. The vast amount of the faithful will fall to the siren song of the Synodal Way. Why not? It is no-fault Catholicism. 

Only recently, a Catholic contender for the presidency declared that he has changed his views on same-sex marriage because of the Vatican’s sea change on the issue. Incidents like this will proliferate, portending a fallout that will be catastrophic.

Henry VIII’s Oath of Supremacy is child’s play compared to what Synod 2023 has rolled out. 

Ah, for the good old days of the Church behind the Iron Curtain. Those heroic Catholics enjoyed the luxury of suffering a clear enemy outside the thick walls of Mother Church. We do not.

Woe to the Shepherds who treat this Synodality and its fruits with a genteel and calculated silence. 

Will they ever have their John Fisher moment? 

If not, aren’t they afraid of millstones?


  • Fr. John A. Perricone

    Fr. John A. Perricone, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Iona University in New Rochelle, New York. His articles have appeared in St. John’s Law Review, The Latin Mass, New Oxford Review and The Journal of Catholic Legal Studies. He can be reached at

Join the Conversation

in our Telegram Chat

Or find us on

Editor's picks

Item added to cart.
0 items - $0.00

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

Signup to receive new Crisis articles daily

Email subscribe stack
Share to...