A Three-Year Synod – Who Benefits?

The Open Tabernacle

April 13, 2024

By Betty Clermont

Pope Francis initiated a “Synod on Synodality” in October 2021 “to enhance the communion, participation, and mission of the Church,” as reported by the Catholic News Agency. “It culminates in two more global assemblies at the Vatican. The first concluded on Oct. 28, 2023, with the finalization of a 42-page synthesis report. The October 2024 session is expected to produce a final report which will be presented to Pope Francis for his consideration in issuing any related teaching,” the Catholic News Agency further explained in an article dated Dec. 12, 2023.

In addition, 300 priests selected by their bishops will attend a meeting at the Vatican from April 28 to May 2, 2024, as part of the ongoing Synod on Synodality. “After parish priests were excluded from the first session of the Synod last October, they all highlighted the importance that they have a voice in the process, as well as the value of spending time with priests from around the world.” cruxnow.com reported.

A Benefit to the Institution but No Protection for Our Children from Sexual Predators

Pope Francis said the first reason to initiate his Synod was “to enhance communion” within his Church. Priests invited to the Vatican meeting noted “the value of spending time with priests from around the world.” “Being in Rome allowed me to see firsthand how the Church learns to become one,” noted a Synod attendee in a Commonwealth article. 

Ordained priests already study and work together. There is even a soccer team, the “Vatican City national football team,” for priests and seminarians living in Rome. They live without wives and children who might afford them a more expansive worldview. It is difficult to underestimate the amount of loyalty this engenders among the ordained or fealty to the institution. Tragically, it often inculcates both misogyny and unconcern for the sexual torture of children as exemplified by Pope Francis.

“Any short list of classic Pope Francis remarks about abortion [even to save the life of the mother] would have to include the 2018 speech in which he asked, using a Mafia image: ‘Is it just to resort to a contract killer to solve a problem?’ reported getreligion.org. On Nov. 26, 2020, he repeated equating all abortions, even to save the life of the mother, as “hiring a hitman to resolve a problem.”

There is a “structural conflict of interest built into the system” as regards the sexual torture of children, wrote veteran Vatican reporter, Nicole Winfield, in an Associated Press article published Feb. 20, 2024. “According to Church procedures, a bishop or religious superior investigates an allegation that one of his priests raped a child and then renders judgment. And yet the bishop or superior has a vested interest, since the priest is considered to be a spiritual son in whom the bishop has invested time, money and love,” she noted.

“Anne Barrett Doyle, a co-founder of BishopAccountability, which tracks clergy sexual abuse cases, cited 10 cases since 2019 that show the Pope Francis favored accused bishops and clerics over their victims” she told reporters on Feb. 13, 2024. “I believe he is opposed to reform – his measures have been designed to produce little impact,” she said as quoted by The Guardian.

Since many priests are eventually held accountable in both civil and ecclesial proceedings, it is Pope Francis’ protection of men with the rank of bishop or higher that is more responsible for the suffering and deaths of our children.

“Roger Vangheluwe, the 87-year-old bishop of Bruges, Belgium, has been dismissed from the clerical state [laicized] after being found guilty of abuse of a minor. Pope Francis approved the sentence following a re-examination of the case in light of ‘serious new elements’ that were brought to his attention,” as reported by the Vatican News on March 21, 2024.

Vangheluwe had been allowed to resign in April 2010 “even though he had admitted to having abused one of his nephews. The crimes of which he was accused, however, were barred under the [civil] statute of limitations.” The former bishop “asked to be allowed to reside in a place of retreat,” the Vatican article stated.

Most readers are familiar with the “defrocking” of the American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Pope Francis took this action the week before his highly publicized Vatican “summit” on child sex abuse that made headlines in February 2019, a meeting which effectively changed noting.

The 88-year-old – and long-retired – McCarrick was dismissed from the clerical state because the Vatican had found him guilty of “committing sins and abuse of power with minors and adults.” At the time of his “punishment,” McCarrick had already acquired “a private income from savings and monthly annuities” according to the Catholic News Agency. McCarrick “lives in an assisted living facility,” nbcboston.com reported in August 2023.

The disturbing similarities between the two prelates are that both were allowed to resign even though Vangheluwe had admitted to sexually abusing his nephew and McCarrick even though the Review Board of the Archdiocese of New York had already determined that the allegation of sexual abuse of a teenager was substantiated, in both cases years before they were ever “punished” by Pope Francis.  Also, both prelates were protected from secular accountability because of criminal statutes of limitations. 

“As of March 2024, BishopAccountability.org has identified 103 Catholic bishops worldwide accused publicly of sexual crimes against children.” Before Vangheluwe and McCarrick, Pope Francis had laicized only four and the rest were allowed to resign. This meant the prelate retained his prestigious title as well as financial support from the Church.

“A sexually abusive bishop or superior is exceptionally dangerous. His management of priests is skewed toward protecting his secret, beginning with the character of the men he accepts to the seminary and the quality of their formation.  When one of his priests is accused of sexual abuse, a bishop who is an offender himself is unlikely to administer punishment or contact law enforcement.  He is, inevitably, an enabler of other sexual criminals. His scope of harm can be vast, including not only his own victims, but those who are raped or assaulted by the abusive clerics to whom he gives safe harbor,” according to the BishopAccountability.org website.

Regardless of Pope Francis’ widely reported lip service of concern for the victims (so many have committed suicide) and survivors of sexual torture, by his actions and omissions, he has sometimes even abetted the rape and sexual torture of children around the world as documented in my blog, “Enabled by the Media, Pope Francis Fails to Protect Our Children from Pedophiles

The Synod is of No Benefit to the Laity

“Disappointment, dismay, and disillusionment were in the air following the release of the synthesis report of the Synod’s October 2023 session. Many had high hopes for what the gathering might produce. Yet many came away with expectations unmet,” a pro-Francis magazine, Commonweal, noted in a March 15, 2024, article. “Those who want the Synod to enact sweeping reforms will be disappointed,” stated another pro-Francis publication, the National Catholic Reporter, in a March 18, 2024 article.

Indeed, moat Catholics have been waiting for reform since July 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical banning birth control.

Pope Francis strongly opposed the distribution of contraceptives as part of the humanitarian work by the Knights of Malta in a confidential letter dated Dec. 1, 2016. His letter directed U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, his appointed patron of the Knights, to have it stopped.

The laity have also waited in vain for other meaningful reform by Pope Francis. This pontiff has held synods on the topics of the family (2014 and 2015), on youth (2018), and on the Church in the Pan-Amazon region (2019).  In each case, he decided the outcome.

Some expected change on the pope’s position on homosexuality as discussed by the attendees of both Synods of the Family, and never happened.

Another item discussed during the two Synods was whether divorced Catholics who remarry without first obtaining a Church annulment should be allowed to receive communion. This affects only those who ignored the Church’s ban against remarrying yet still were obedient to the Church’s prohibition on communion, a “distinct minority” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said. “Most of them would say I don’t care, I don’t go [to Mass], and if I wanted to [take communion], I would, because I don’t need the Church to tell me what to do!”

Pope Francis released his summary document on the Synods, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) on April 8, 2016. The document is more than 60,000 words.  Jesus spoke 2026 words in Gospels and the four Gospels combined are  64,766 words.  

 “There was only an ambiguous footnote that did not explicitly mention Holy Communion. Local bishops were invited to provide guidelines, which they did in a contradictory manner, so that what was holy in one place was a grave sin in another,” explained Fr. Raymond J. de Souza.

Similarly, on Dec. 19, 2023, Pope Francis approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples in “some cases” and with many conditions such as the blessings cannot use set rituals or be conferred at the same time as a civil union ceremony. Yet many bishops around the world forbade their priests from giving such blessings. And, like the attitude of divorced and remarried Catholics to receiving communion, one wonders how many same-sex couples even care.

The Synod on Youth met from Oct. 3 to 27, 2018. The final document of the assembly said young Catholics are “co-responsible in the mission to bring the Gospel to emerging generations,” as reported by The Tablet in an article dated Oct. 27, 2018. The document also “reaffirmed…the anthropological importance of the difference and reciprocity between man and woman and it is held to be reductive to define a person’s identity only by their ‘sexual orientation,’” The Tablet stated. The Synod attendees therefore had supported Pope Francis’ positions against same-sex marriage and his contempt for trans-gender persons.

Pope Francis has called same-sex marriage “a total rejection of God’s law” and an “anthropological regression.” He said that transgender persons constitute the very “annihilation of man as image of God.” He compared transgender persons to “nuclear arms;” both are “a sin against God the Creator.

The Synod on Youth “gathered in the wake of the abuse crisis…In his speech to the bishop attendees at the end of the synod, Pope Francis said the Church was subject to ‘continuous accusations’ which he said are a ‘form of persecution.’ He said: ‘The Church must be defended from the Great Accuser,’” as quoted by The Tablet.

The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region met in Rome from Oct. 6 to 27, 2019. “All 120 paragraphs of the Amazon Synod’s final document were approved with the necessary two-thirds majority vote, including proposals related to married priests and women deacons,” reported America magazine on Nov. 11, 2019.

The Synod’s final document “noted that many Amazonian communities go for a year or more without the Eucharist and other sacraments because of a serious shortage of priests; that celibacy is a ‘gift from God’ but also ‘not required by the very nature of the priesthood’; and that criteria should be established’” for the priestly ordination of permanent deacons, most of whom are married, the America article stated.

On the subject of women deacons, “the Synod acknowledged that in ‘a large number’ of the consultations carried out in the Amazon, ‘the permanent diaconate for women was requested,’ adding that the theme was important during the Synod,” America reported.

“In his remarks at the synod’s closing session, Pope Francis said ‘I take up the challenge’ for the synod ‘to be heard’ on this topic,” as quoted by America.

Pope Francis has already made his position on women deacons clear. “Two international commissions were created by the pontiff in 2016 and in 2020 with the specific mission to study the question of women deacons,” but he ignored their recommendations the National Catholic Register noted in an article dated Oct. 4, 2023. “The pope himself…has repeatedly expressed his opposition to any form of ordained ministry for them,” the National Catholic Register reported.

As reported by the Vatican News on March 14, 2024, Pope Francis had sent a letter to Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Vatican office for the Synod of Bishops. “I direct that Study Groups address the topics listed below” before the final session of the Synod on Synodality he wrote. The pope listed ten subjects – none included the matters of women deacons or married priests. “The pope said the Study Groups will offer an initial report of their activities at the October 2024 session and conclude their studies and present their results to him by June 2025.”

“The final report will be presented to Pope Francis for his consideration in issuing any related teaching,” the Catholic News Agency reported on Dec. 12, 2023.

So it would seem that the only beneficiaries of the Synod on Synodality will be the institution by sustaining the cohesion and loyalty of the ordained and Pope Francis who will receive the favorable PR he has become accustomed to from the American Catholic and secular press.

Betty Clermont is author of The Neo-Catholics: Implementing Christian Nationalism in America.