The Church in a State of Permanent Synod (2)

December 01, 2022

On October 16, 2022, at the end of the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis announced that the 16th Assembly of the Synod of Bishops would be held at the Vatican in two sessions, one year apart: the first will take place from October 4 to 29, 2023, and the second is scheduled for October 2024. 

In Res novæ on October 1, Fr. Claude Barthe shows that this ambiguity is caused by the radical equivocality of the reform desired by Vatican II. He observes an effect that is obvious today: “When the Church saw the dawn of the twenty-first century, we were able to measure the fundamental failure of Vatican II in terms of its primary goal, the Mission.”

“Not only did she no longer see many conversions, also the number of faithful, men and women religious, and priests was shrinking so much that it seemed as if she was disappearing, at least in the West. The message of Vatican II was to adapt to the sensibility of men of our time and to look attractive to them as a rejuvenated, transformed, and modernized Church. But this did not get them a bit interested.”

The reason for this disaster, according to Fr. Barthe: “retrospectively, time made evident the rift, we could even say a latent schism, that happened after Vatican II, dividing the Church between two groups, both composite but well identified. The first one wanted to reconsider the Council or at least get it contained, where as the other considered the Council as only a start.”

“The project to re-establish unity around this Council which did not give itself the seal of infallibility, in other words which was not a principle of faith per se, has been the cross of post-Vatican II popes, and they have failed.”

For the French priest, we must return to a real reform of the Church, inspired by traditional principles, as was the case for the Gregorian reform. And he set this reform in opposition to that which was introduced by Vatican II: the Gregorian reform had as its germ “religious life, especially as found in Cluny monasticism.”

“It is in the order of things, the goal of evangelical perfection found in religious life is the model for the necessary renovations of the Church. They are accompanied and stimulated by the reforms of the religious orders (among many others, the one of the Carmel, in the 16th century), with a return to the challenging ideal of the Beatitudes, a spiritual and disciplinary renovation, a withdrawal from the corruption of the sinning world for oneself to convert and to bring the world to convert (Jn. 17:16-18).”

“But from the Christianity of the Enlightenment, in Germany, France, Italy, the term reform started to be used to describe an other reality, the adaptation of ecclesiastical institutions to the surrounding world that started to get away from Christianity.”

And he explains what to him constitutes a latent schism: “Two types of reform, from now on, often find themselves on opposite sides, one traditional, of a reform of revitalization of the identity of the Church, and one of a reform of the Church adjusting to the new society.”

“It is essentially the traditional idea of reform which was found in movements such as the revival of religious orders, notably Benedictine, in the 19th century after the revolutionary upheaval, the restoration of Thomism since Leo XIII, the liturgical and disciplinary reform of St. Pius X at the beginning of the 20th century, and the doctrinal and liturgical tentatives to contain the excitement of the 1950s under Pius XII.”

“On the contrary, the new idea of reform, with its own program found in, True and False Reform in the Church, by Yves Congar (Cerf, 1950), can be read in the ‘new theology’ of the postwar era, in the ecumenical movement and, for some of it, in the Liturgical Movement, and it triumphed at Vatican II.”

This analysis coincides with that offered by Cardinal Robert Sarah in his latest work For Eternity (Fayard, 2021). The Guinean prelate writes there about the Gregorian reform: “This was aimed at freeing the Church from the grip of the secular authorities.”

“By interfering in ecclesiastical governance and appointments, political power had ended up producing a real decadence of the clergy. There had been a proliferation of cases of concubinary priests engaged in commercial activity or political business.”

“The Gregorian reform was characterized by the resolve to rediscover the Church of the era of the Acts of the Apostles. The principles of this movement were not based in the first place on institutional reforms, but on the renewal of the holiness of priests. Is there not the need today for a reform such as that?”

“In fact, secular power has regained a foothold in the Church. This time it is a matter not of political power, but cultural. There reappears a new struggle between priesthood and empire. But the empire is now the relativist, hedonistic, and consumerist culture that has infiltrated everywhere. It is time to reject this, because it is irreconcilable with the Gospel.”