I have not offered much thought or commentary on the 2015 Synod thus far; my reasons are fairly the same as those offered by Ryan Grant in his recent article "Why no synod coverage?" (Athanasius Contra Mundum, Oct. 7, 2015); at any rate, by now there is ample evidence to prove that Synod 2014 was rigged, and nobody should be surprised that the 2015 Synod will be pushed towards a predetermined outcome as well. Rorate just had an excellent piece suggesting that the Synod is turning into Vatican III. Radicals will always hijack these sorts of deliberatory bodies, taking advantage of procedure to relentlessly drive their progressive agenda.
Is anyone really surprised by this? Anyone who has been paying attention should not be. What is surprising is not that the liberals are trying to turn this into Vatican III, but that the conservatives are making the same fundamental errors they made at Vatican II.
Say what you want about the liberals, but they know how to set an agenda and ram it through. They position themselves to get the right press at the right time. They appeal to the emotions. If they want something done, they get their people in the right places, dominate committee discussions, relentlessly use the parliamentary processes to drive their agenda, and shut down opposition. They find pretexts to eject orthodox candidates from seminary. They orchestrate the firing of faithful Catholic journalists. In short, they fight.
I have been in government before, and I tell you, those who win are not necessarily those who have the best or "right" ideas, but those who know how to use the existing authority structure to facilitate the implementation of their ideas. They fight and they use the system and its structures to fight for them.
Conservatives do not fight, at least not in this manner. Sure, they think they do; we talk about fighting the good fight and all that, but by and large conservatives do not try to drive their agenda.
Conservatives tend to take the misguided position that merely speaking the truth is sufficient. That, in the face of the liberal onslaught, it is enough to calmly reaffirm the Church's constant teaching, perhaps in the naive confidence that the truth will always win out in the free marketplace of ideas. Are the liberals ramming through a heterodox praxis? Publish an article on the Church's real teaching. Are they dominating the procedures of a meeting to get their people on the right committees and drive their agenda? Give a talk. Just speak the truth. Hand out copies of a book.
The liberals recognize that the Synod - or, in another historical context, the Second Vatican Council - presents an opportunity to get something done. They understand it as an event, a moment in history at which a turn can be taken. By and large the conservatives didn't (and don't) take this approach. They viewed it more reductively in terms of the language used in some documents - as if the momentous importance of an Ecumenical Council or this horrid Synod could be reduced to some vocabulary!
This was the approach the conservatives took at Vatican II. God bless them for what they did do, but as Dr. Mattei has pointed out in his excellent book The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, the conservatives fundamentally failed to understand what was happening at Vatican II (see here for our review of Dr. Mattei's book). By a narrow focus on what sorts of wording was creeping into the documents, the conservative fathers failed to understand that the Council was being used as an event from which to institute massive change in the Church in a manner that went far beyond the problems of the documents. Neo-Catholic apologists continue to make this error to this day whenever they choose to narrowly focus on the documents of Vatican II, as if the import of the Council was exhausted by the documents.
The same mistake is being made again with the Synod, although this time the conservatives are in a much weaker position. Why? Precisely because they have continued to make the same error for fifty years, a consequence of which is that liberalism has made such astonishing gains since Vatican II that a conservative reaction has much more against it than it did in the 1960's.
How could conservatives have conceivably "fought back" more than they did? It is interesting to read Pope St. Pius X's Pascendi with this in mind. Pascendi, of course, was the famous encyclical which exposed and condemned Modernism. But Pius X was not content to simply speak the truth; he put his convictions into practice by taking positive action against Modernism. Pascendi decrees that Modernists be deposed from teaching positions. If they are clerics, their bishops are to place them in the most obscure of offices where they can cause little trouble. Their books are to be censured. The Oath Against Modernism is instituted. Anti-Modernists are promoted while it is made known that no Modernist has any future possibility of promotion (if only that had remained true!). SO vigorous was his assault that the Modernists and progressives complained about his heavy hand.
In short, Pius X never thought merely stating the truth was sufficient; he needed to use the power at his disposal to see it pushed through.
What could conservative bishops do, or have done, that they have not?
- Vigorously punish heresy in their own dioceses. Keep strict watch on the activities of certain priests and suspend, dismiss or defrock those who clearly dissent from Church teaching.
- Preach the truth boldly, including explicit condemnations of particular groups or ideologies, even condemning heterodox teachers or priests by name when necessary. Go beyond the typical non-offensive, wishy-washy bishop-speak.
- Use the resources of a diocese to publish actual informative and instructional materials, not the sort of nonsense most dioceses put out.
- Actually issue liturgical directives to promote tradition. The contemporary Church documents offer considerable leeway in how liturgy can be done; the upside of this is that the bishop is given the final call on all of these options. A bishop could easily say, "No guitars and drums at any diocesan Mass", or mandate sacred chant, or compel every parish to offer at least a monthly Traditional Latin Mass. Novus Ordo Masses must at least incorporate Latin and be said ad orientem.
- Dismiss lay persons or members of subversive religious orders from their diocesan committees.
- Actually use the tool of excommunication against dissident theologians and dissenting Catholic politicians.
- Use resources of the diocese for meaningful ( I stress meaningful) social activism. Example: One priest told me there used to be a scummy motel near his parish that was frequented by prostitutes. He raised some money, bought the motel, and had it torn down. What if the millions raised by our diocesan appeals were used for such uses?
- Organize at the regional level and use their weight to push through appointments within the USCCB or elsewhere that were favorable to them while simultaneously using their influence to keep out liberal appointments.
- Host guest-speakers friendly to tradition and forbid those who are not.
- Forbid Catholic schools and hospitals from engaging in activities harmful to the Catholic faith and actually back up these directives with the appropriate force.
- Fire all Catholic school teachers who are in immoral relationships.
- Actually celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and require all seminarians to know it and be comfortable with Latin.
- Publicly censure books and films hostile or dangerous to the Catholic faith.
- Mandate traditional arrangements in the architecture of sanctuaries and churches; stipulate that no parish has the right to undertake any renovations unless personally approved by him.
- Promote priests who cooperate with this agenda and punish those who don't.
- In short, never, never miss an opportunity to promote tradition and actively punish and repress liberalism. Speak the truth boldly but also use the weight of the office to silence, retard, dismiss or dispirit the liberal opposition.
The thing is, though, because of fifty years of not doing these sorts of things, there is much fewer truly conservative bishops than there were in 1963 - and the likelihood that any one of them will take up such an aggressive program of orthodoxy. And, if they did, there is a good chance they might not find themselves in their See for very long.
But this position of weakness only comes from being weak for too long. The point is that speaking the truth alone is not enough. One must have an agenda and one must drive it relentlessly. That is what the liberals have done successfully for over 200 years. It's what faithful Catholics used to do. Perhaps the modern Church lost the stomach for that sort of thing when John XXIII advocated using the "medicine of mercy" instead of the Church's traditional arsenal of weapons. Who knows. But the fact is, episcopal defenders of tradition had better be prepared to not only speak the truth but to use the powers of their apostolic office to actually enforce it.
Otherwise, they (and we) will be like a man on a sinking ship, sitting calmly on a deck chair proclaiming that the ship is sinking while doing little else to stop it. Certainly, as the ship disappears beneath the icy, black waters, we may have the consolation of saying, "See, I was right! I told you the ship was sinking"; but then again, if the ship goes under and the passengers all die, this consolation is quite empty indeed.