A New Church’s Birth Certificate?

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A New Church’s Birth Certificate?
A New Church’s Birth Certificate?

The Synod of Synodality’s first session closed in Rome on October 28 with the release of its “Synthesis Report.” Those who expected an incendiary document were dismayed by its failure to address thorny progressive claims such as women’s priesthood, same-sex “marriage,” LGBT rights and so on.

The concluding document titled “A Synodal Church in Mission” concludes nothing but leaves everything unresolved, leading some to downplay its significance. Some conservative commentators even sang victory, figuring that a revolution in the Church was averted. The Germans were particularly frustrated to see that their infamous Synodaler Weg had not counted for much in the document.

Indeed, there seemed to be considerable pushback within the Synodal Assembly, primarily from representatives of Central and Eastern Europe, Australia, and the Third World. This resistance dramatically cooled the ardor of the progressive factions on the most burning issues, especially in the moral field. In this sense, the final report may represent a half-victory.

However, let us also make a different (and concerned) reading because the synthesis report deals with the essence of the synodal process: reform the Church to establish a new “Synodal Church.” The report can be considered a kind of birth certificate of this new-born Church. Thus, the event does have historical significance.

Women’s priesthood, homosexual “marriage” and similar issues were secondary points in the face of the great synodal project—changing the very structure of the Church’s three fundamental axes: its hierarchical constitution, its teaching, and its praxis. That is to say, the Synod targeted the Church’s munus regendi, docendi and sanctificandi (Christ’s threefold mediatorial offices of governing, teaching and sanctifying). In this sense, the synthesis report is profoundly revolutionary.

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The document’s revolutionary character is evident from what it states and insinuates. The report does not present conclusions but raises questions; it proposes goals, paves the way toward them, and pushes the debate in that direction: “The Assembly is not an isolated event, but an integral part and a necessary step in the synodal process.”1 Thus, the authors speak of a “synodal dynamic,” an unfolding process. However, carefully reading the report shows a profound logic that unites and gives meaning to all its proposals. It is none other than to build the “pneumatic,” “charismatic,” or “prophetic” Church dreamed of by the most active currents of progressivism.

In this sense, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s 1969 analysis of the “New Church” proposed by so-called prophetic currents is helpful. Its parallels with the current synodal process are striking.2 We can also detect striking similarities with the “pneumatic Church” model proposed by liberation theology’s most up-to-date currents.3

A New Way of “Being Church.”

The Synodal revolution begins with the way the Assembly develops. Marshall McLuhan said that “the medium is the message.” We can say the Synodal Process is the revolution. In other words, the very manner in which the Assembly took place reveals the new ecclesiology.

The Synod on Synodality inaugurated a new way of “being Church.” “The experience…we have had in this first session [of the Synod was that] we have been able to live these days together with one heart and spirit…The multiplicity of interventions and the plurality of positions voiced in the Assembly revealed a Church that is learning to embrace a synodal style and is seeking the most suitable ways to make this happen.”

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The Synod hall’s arrangement was designed to convey this new circular and no longer pyramidal ecclesiology: “The manner in which the Assembly proceeded in the Paul VI Hall, including the seating of people in small groups at round tables…was understood as emblematic of a synodal way of being Church.”

In its introduction, the synthesis report explains that Baptism makes us “one” since we all live by the same life of the Holy Spirit. The report suggests—without stating it but implying it repeatedly—that this common life establishes substantial equality in the “Holy People of God.” The differences in the Church are characterized by different “ministries” without a genuine “hierarchy.” In this context, the Pope becomes almost a reference point: “Our meeting took place in Rome, gathered around the successor of Peter.

A new “Synodal Church.”

“Synodality” is repeated no less than 192 times (!) in the document. It becomes the key to reinterpreting the entire Church. In other words, the whole Church must be rethought out in a “synodal” manner: “The terms “synodal” and “synodality” speak of a mode of being Church that integrates communion, mission, and participation,” that is, everything. Hence, there is a “synodal way” of leading the Church, a “synodal way” of presenting its doctrine, a “synodal way” of performing its rituals, a “synodal way” of praying, and so on.

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Synodality is the way the faithful relate to one another. It thus becomes the very foundation of the Church to the detriment of any other structure: This process has renewed our experience of and desire for the Church as God’s home and family, a Church that is closer to the lives of Her people, less bureaucratic and more relational. The terms “synodal” and “synodality” have been associated with this experience and desire.” The synodal process’ task is to outline “the face of the synodal Church, presenting the practice and understanding of synodality and its theological underpinning…Here it is presented first and foremost as a spiritual experience.”4

The “Experience”

The report employs the word “experience” 53 times, making it a common thread. Everything originates, develops, and ends in the “experience” or “lived experience” of the faithful.” The Synod’s General Assembly did not intend to define any doctrine but to have an “experience of synodality,” “a shared experience,” a “human experience,” an “experience of encounter” and so on.

The continued appeal to “experience” at the expense of theological, or at least rational, research is reminiscent of the Modernist heresy of the early twentieth century. The Modernists denied that man could come to the knowledge of God (agnosticism) and founded the faith on “religious feeling,” the experience of the divine action in the soul. The Modernists’ Program states: “Religious knowledge is the actual experience of the divine operating in us and the whole.5 Thus, they nip in the bud any possibility of an objective truth. The Church is seen as a product of a collective experience, an association of individual consciences that pool their religious experiences. In short, the Church would be a vital emanation of the collectivity of the faithful and not a supernatural society directly founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Charismatic Church

According to the synthesis report, we should concretely experience the breath of the Holy Spirit, which is the soul of the Synod and the Church. Let the faithful beware, however. That experience is not about studying the theology of the Holy Spirit but feeling his immanent action. Thus, in the small circle groupings (the round tables), participants would stop now and then to gather in prayer and listen to the Spirit’s voice in the depths of their souls: Conversation in the Spirit is a tool that, even with its limitations, enables authentic listening in order to discern what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

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The Holy Spirit’s action is a consequence of the Baptism that all the faithful receive. It makes everyone in the Church equal, effectively zeroing out any hierarchy. The breath of the Spirit is the same in the Pope as in the laity: “We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1Cor. 12:13). Therefore, among all the baptized, there is a genuine equality of dignity and a common responsibility for mission.” The existence of different “vocations” among the People of God does not invalidate this fundamental equality because they simply constitute “charismatic signs.”

Since the Spirit is one, this action in souls should lead to a consensus among the faithful. This consensus becomes the criterion for truth and Church praxis: By the anointing of the Spirit, who ‘teaches all things’ (1Jn 2:27), all believers possess an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, the sensus fidei. This consists in a certain connaturality with divine realities and the aptitude to grasp what conforms to the truth of faith intuitively. Synodal processes enhance this gift, allowing the existence of that consensus of the faithful (consensus fidelium) to be confirmed. This process provides a sure criterion for determining whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the Apostolic faith.

Thus, the report obscures the structural aspects while emphasizing “the Church’s charismatic dimension.” It states, The Holy People of God recognize in these charisms the providential help with which God sustains, directs and illuminates His mission.

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As predicted by “prophetic” currents since the sixties, the Church is no longer founded on the triple munus of the hierarchy but on the charisms of the Spirit, who blows where it wills.

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In this light, the sacraments take on a “communal” or “synodal” character. For example, the Holy Mass would no longer be a renewal of the sacrifice of Calvary but a gathering of the People of God: The celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sunday, is the first and fundamental form by which the Holy People of God gather and meet. When this is not possible, the community, although desiring the Eucharist, gathers to celebrate a Liturgy of the Word.

The Church, a “Communion of Churches”

The entire Church structure also changes according to the logic of a “charismatic Church.” While rejecting “clericalism,” the synthesis report reviews and reinterprets every sector of the Church in this new light.

For example, without denying that a bishop is a successor of the Apostles, the final document reinterprets his role: The bishop has an indispensable role in vivifying and animating the synodal process in the local ChurchHe has, in particular, the task of discerning and coordinating the different charisms and ministries sent forth by the Spirit to proclaim the Gospel and the common good of the community. This ministry is realized in a synodal manner when governance is accompanied by co-responsibility.

In other words, the bishop loses the power to govern, teach and sanctify his diocese and becomes a mere “facilitator” of the charisms that blow through his flock. The bishop, the report says, has an indispensable role in vivifying and animating the synodal process in the local Church, promoting the mutuality between ‘all, some and one.’”

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The “charismatic Church” logic also affects the role of the Pope: The synodal dynamic also sheds new light on the ministry of the Bishop of Rome. Indeed, synodality articulates symphonically the communal (“all”), collegial (“some”) and personal (“one”) dimensions of the Church at the local, regional and universal levels. In such a vision, the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome is intrinsic to the synodal dynamic, as are the communal aspect that includes the whole People of God and the collegial dimension of the exercise of Episcopal ministry.

Thus, the model of a new Church looms large. Since the entire “Holy People of God” is animated by the Holy Spirit, every circumstance in which the faithful meet constitutes a “Church”: the family, the parish, the diocese, the nation, the continent, and so on up to the universal Church. Which makes the Church appear as a “Communion of Churches.” Thus, regardless of what is still practiced or said elsewhere, the Church envisioned by the synthesis report will abandon its hierarchical structure and take on the features of a network of communities no longer united by the same authority and Magisterium but freely animated by the breath of the Spirit.

Photo Credit:  © Photocreo Bednarek – stock.adobe.com


  1. All quotes are taken from the official text published by the Vatican: https://www.synod.va/content/dam/synod/assembly/synthesis/english/2023.10.28-ENG-Synthesis-Report.pdf.
  2. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “Toward a New Church,” Tradition Family Property, October 2017. https://www.atfp.it/rivista-tfp/2017/254-ottobre-2017/1357-verso-una-chiesa-nuova
  3. Cf. Julio Loredo, Liberation Theology: How Marxism Infiltrated the Catholic Church, American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property—TFP, 2022.
  4. Translator’s Note: The official English text differs from the official Italian, which reads: “Here the style of synodality appears as a way of acting and operating in faith.”
  5. Ernesto Buonaiuti, The Modernists’ Program, s/s, 1907, p. 96.

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