What Not to Expect from Synods

June 29, 2014 | 4 comments

I was in England for a couple of weeks in June (a working trip, not a vacation) and lodged in modest circumstances at the base of a hill. Halfway up the hill was a convent recently occupied by sisters from the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. These are nuns who formerly were Anglicans.

Call it seredipity or Providence, but I discovered that the Ordinariate nuns were having a visitor for a few days--none other than my dear friend Rosalind Moss, who now is a Benedictine sister with the religious name of Mother Miriam.

What a delight to meet up with her! It had been far too long since we had seen one another, and over two days we spent several hours together, catching up. I won't share information about her here, except to say I don't know when I've seen her more radiant and more at ease in the faith.

On the second day we got together we were joined by an acquaintance of mine, a Canadian laywoman who was lodging where I was. Talk got around to people she and I had known--in particular, to two British scholars who have been considered among the top experts in catechesis and evangelization.

A few years ago, during the reign of Benedict XVI, these scholars, a man and a woman, were appointed by the Vatican to high posts connected with a then-current synod of bishops. Working closely with the bishops both before and after they came to  Rome and with the Roman authorities who arranged for the synod, the pair discovered something surprising: most bishops who come to synods are unprepared to teach anyone much of anything.

You, like me, probably think the role of a synod is for bishops to think deep thoughts and to conclude their gathering with published findings and marching orders that go out to the world's many dioceses. That may have been what Rome had expected when synods began to come into regular use some years ago, but realities "on the ground" have upended those expectations, according to the two scholars.

What the Vatican discovered is that the world's bishops--not all of them, but most of them--simply haven't done their homework. At this previous synod, it turned out that most of the bishops showed no knowledge of the writings of Benedict XVI or of his predecessor, John Paul II. Many of them hadn't even read the documents of Vatican II! (This was more true for bishops from Third World countries, but it applied to bishops in Europe and North America too.)

How could such unprepared men expect to know the depth of what Benedict and John Paul had been teaching if they never read those popes' encyclicals and their other writings? How could these bishops maneuver well in the modern world if they hadn't even become familiar with what was promulgated at Vatican II?

It proved to be an awkward realization for Rome. The men who were expected to go out and spread the word didn't even know what the word was. And so the synods quietly have become something else. Instead of being sessions at which learned bishops issue teachings for the masses, they now are sessions at which the bishops themselves are taught the teachings.

There are multiple implications here. One is that we shouldn't expect a "new direction" from the bishops' synod that will occur later this year--not if many of the bishops aren't even up to date on the current direction as adumbrated by John Paul and Benedict. That is, there's no reason to worry that the synod will result is some novel teaching, no matter what pundits predict.


Karl Keating is founder and president of Catholic Answers, the country’s largest apologetics and evangelization organization. He is the author of five books, including Catholicism and Fundamentalism and What Catholics Really Believe.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Reuben Herrle - Oxford, Ohio

Well that's disappointing

June 30, 2014 at 3:32 am PST
#2  obayi ifeanyi - Enugu, Enugu

Dear Mr keating,
I would like to use this medium to thank you for your book "Catholicism vs fundamentalism" it's a wonderful book that i enjoy reading over and over again.(I bought copies for relations who also find it very interesting)I pray that our lord will reward you abundantly for your efforts in bringing people to the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic church which he(our Lord +Jesus)founded.
I believe that one of the most fundamental reason you founded CatholicAnswers is to help catholics learn and defend thier faith hence catholics worldwide would naturaly turn to catholic.com if they want a quick online response to questions about our devine faith.However it is disturbing to allow (knowningly or unknowningly)some of our seperated brethens to use this blog to spread lies and hate comments that attack our faith.Take for example this link http://www.catholic.com/blog/devin-rose/why-catholicism-is-preferable-to-protestantism?page=1
a particular commentator (Ed.O) has been spreading lies and hate comments in pretext of debating catholics.I appreciate that catholics and non catholics should from time to time engage in healthy and productive debate/dialogues.But common sense dictates that such debates should be respectful,truthful and devoid of hateful/disrepectful remarks.People should be barred from posting comments once they fail to adhere to this simple rule.I wish to remind you of what you mentioned in your book which i totaly agree with and that is that it takes several pages of informed response to refute one line of false attack from fundamentalist against the Catholic church(I am not quoting you verbatim due to lack time to find your book and link up)Although,wonderful people like ChristopherTravis,Eric McCabe and co. have done a nice job refuting some of his lies.The best thing should be to warn such poeple not to use spiteful language and block them outrightly if they continue to do so.
Harmless as it may seem to ignore such comments,some are intended to plant seed of doubt in the minds of some cradle catholics.Remember this is a world wide web.
I hope you can find time to read the comments in the link i posted,you will see the point i am making.
Thanks and God bless.

July 6, 2014 at 3:33 pm PST
#3  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

I couldn't agree more with Obayi, he loves our Catholic faith as much as me. I think what needs to be considered here is what is really taking place. I am past fired up, and I'll be darn if anyone will dare get away with attacking the Body of Christ, nor will they insult the beautiful Bride of Christ that I love so much! There are two people on here that have no respect for Catholics and obviously have a serious grudge against the Catholic Church, that would be Ed, and Dick Martin on the "born again" thread. It is not a theology that they are attacking...it is just as St. Paul once did...they are taking shots at Christ when they take shots at His Church! I do not see the Church as just some buildings or a group of like minded people, IT IS CHRIST IN ALL HIS GLORY UPON THE CROSS! I do not let people disrespect my family, so how much more will I stand up for Christ???? Christ isn't just some figure we read about in Scripture, Christ is here and now and He is present in everyone of our Churches, Christ is our Church! These two clowns are disrespecting the Body of Christ! As long as the sun comes up for me and as long as these two Catholic haters are on here I will be here defending my Lord and Savior until my very last breath.

Obayi, my brother, thank you so much for your courage to say what needed to be said! God bless you so much!!!

July 11, 2014 at 8:05 pm PST
#4  obayi ifeanyi - Enugu, Enugu

Christopher,
Thanks for your kind words.If anyone deserve commendation for the defence of our catholic faith in this blog that person is you.
Yes,while non catholics should freely comment,debate and generally perticipate here,proffessional anti catholics like Ed. and Dick should be barred if they refuse to act in a christian and civilised manner here.It is an act of cowardice to hide behind the anonymous curtain of the internet to ruthlessly attack other people's Faith with lies and hate remarks.People who behave as such should not be ignored.I pray Mr.Keating reads these post and take action.
Obayi

July 18, 2014 at 10:55 pm PST

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