First public barrage against the Synod. An “international congress” is organized in Rome on October 3, on the eve of the opening of the assembly convened by the Pope to reflect on the future of the Church, on an evocative theme: “The Synodal Babel” . Among the speakers is the American Cardinal Raymond Burke. He has distinguished himself in recent years by his open opposition to Francis. Whether through his “dubia” (doubts) questioning the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia in 2016, after the Synod on the family, or his virulent criticism, in 2019, of the working document of the Synod on the Amazon , which he accused of containing “errors” and “heresies”.
More recently, Cardinal Burke signed the preface to an essay with the very explicit title, The Synodal Process. A Pandora’s Box, written in the form of questions and answers by two conservative activists, the Chilean José Antonio Ureta and the Peruvian Julio Loredo de Izcue.
“Synodality and its adjective, synodal, have become slogans behind which a revolution is at work to radically change the understanding that the Church has of itself, in accordance with a contemporary ideology which denies a large part of what the Church has always taught and practiced”, thus condemns the American cardinal, who sees the German synodal path as a scarecrow. The work, widely distributed, is part of a lobbying operation to discredit the Synod launched by the Pope.
“The book explains that the synodal process is in the process of demolishing Mother Church,” summarizes Blandine Chelini-Pont, professor of contemporary history at the University of Aix-Marseille, specialist in the American Catholic Church. According to the authors, neomodernists and leftist forces are triumphant in the current Church, accused of being under the thumb of liberation theologians. »
A speech with Cold War overtones, faithful to the origins of the organization which self-published the work, the powerful “Tradition, Family and Property” lobby, already accused of sectarian abuses. “This network was founded in Brazil in the early 1960s, as a shield against the supposed influences of communism on the Church. At the beginning, he opposed the Second Vatican Council, and today he is mobilizing against the Synod,” notes the researcher.
This book is not the only blow against the Synod on synodality. As the first session approaches, the most critical voices are being heard. In January, the Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia (United States), Mgr Charles Chaput, described in the press the synodal process as “reckless” and “prone to manipulation”.
“The Synod will raise questions which, according to these bishops, have already been definitively resolved by John Paul II or Benedict XVI: the role of women in the Church, marriage, sexuality…”, underlines Massimo Faggioli, historian of religions. and professor of theology at Villanova University near Philadelphia.
The pastoral letter sent in August by the bishop of Tyler, Texas, to his faithful is a perfect example. “Those who propose to change what cannot be changed seek to requisition the Church of Christ, and they are the true schismatics,” wrote Mgr Joseph Strickland bluntly, referring in particular to the question of the ordination of women priests. The vehemence of the text was surprising, especially since the bishop had just received an apostolic visit from the Vatican for suspicions of financial mismanagement and governance problems.
All these radical criticisms targeting the Synod come mainly from across the Atlantic. Massimo Faggioli is not surprised. “It’s a different context from that of Europe,” underlines the theologian. In the United States, Protestantism has been dominant for centuries, and the Catholic Church is young. Any attempt to change Catholicism therefore appears suspicious, even as heresy or a turn towards Protestantism. » Cardinal Burke, Mgr Chaput, Mgr Strickland… All these anti-Synod voices and very critical of Francis, although very active, remain marginal, even on the American continent.
However, can their speeches disqualify the synodal process in the eyes of the faithful or observers, or even influence the votes of the participants? They can also find an echo among Catholics critical of the Pope in Europe and particularly in France, even though this Synod, and what it should come out of, provokes a certain skepticism which goes beyond the most conservative ranks.
The Tradition, family, property network has significant resources and a well-established strategy. In 2022, its American branch alone declared more than 17.7 million euros in revenue, according to the National Catholic Reporter. These funds made it possible to translate The Synodal Process. A Pandora’s box in eight languages, and to send it massively to seminarians, priests, and bishops.
Enough to influence the faithful, observers and commentators of the Synod. “We live in the post-truth era, where we believe what we want to believe. Catholics are not immune to this, and reading the work could prepare them not to give credence to what happens during the Synod,” worries Massimo Faggioli. “It is not easy to counter the ideas of conspiracy against the Church or heretical plot contained therein. »
Especially since these critical speeches, tinged with conspiracy, are most visible on social networks. Although at the head of the small diocese of Tyler, Bishop Strickland is followed by more than 145,000 people on X (formerly Twitter). “The synodal approach seems as old as the Church, and the pope is not making a revolution that will destroy it. But on the Web, religion is more radical than it is mainstream. Internet users are more likely to come across blogs re-explaining what the Catholic tradition is, and whose authors affirm that they are the ones who respect it,” describes Blandine Chelini-Pont. These anti-Synod speeches should not have any real impact on the votes of the 364 members of the Synodal Assembly, to which is added the Pope. The researcher at Aix-Marseille University underlines that, “although they probably all received the book, they were chosen based on their own commitment to these issues”.