Maike Hickson

Maike Hickson

Dr. John Haas, who holds the Cardinal Krol Chair of Moral Theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, presented on August 29 a strong critique on the Instrumentum laboris of the upcoming October 4 to 29 Synod of Bishops on Synodality in Rome, saying that this document is “tendentious, tedious, repetitious, and painfully vague.” He was not sure what synodality really means. Dr. Haas also strongly criticized this Vatican working document for the synod for containing the acronym “LGBTQ+.”

Haas’s talk was given at the 2023 Cardinal’s Forum of the Seminary (view the video here), which also included the Reverend Thomas Dailey, OSFS, who holds the Cardinal Foley Chair of Homiletics & Social Communications, as well as Dr. Nathan Knutson, the holder of the Louise Francesco Chair in Sacred Music. The event was entitled “SYNODALITY… a style, a mentality, a spirituality, a pastoral model,” and was aimed at making the Vatican document fruitful for the reform of the curriculum of this institution that is forming young men for the priesthood.

Dr. Haas kindly gave LifeSiteNews permission to print here the full text of his statement.

In his eyes, the entire Vatican document lacks a fundamental orientation as to where the work of the upcoming synod is to lead. After insisting that “there needs to be some lodestone, some north star that can provide a measure of orientation to so many reflections,” Dr. Haas concluded in his August 29 speech that “there seems to be none.”

Of course, the “north star” should be the Revealed Word of God. But, as Dr. Haas expounded in his talk, it was missing in the Vatican document. He said:

In reading the Instrumentum I noticed the repetition of certain terms. Experience is mentioned 82 times, process 89 times, journey 31 times, and listening 43 times. However, there is not one single reference to Revelation which, frankly, must be the loadstone, the north star, for all this listening and journeying. Otherwise, those in the synodal church will sink into a morass of subjectivism.

In accordance with this lack of a north star, it seemed regrettable to Dr. Haas that any Vatican document would use the “LGBTQ+” language. “What is disturbing is that the Instrumentum makes a most unfortunate and illicit shift that departs from an understanding of embracing those in need, such as refugees, calling on us to embrace all those who may feel excluded, including those who by their own actions have excluded themselves,” the theologian and father of nine children explained in his talk.

He quoted from the Instrumentum laboris a controversial passage that reads: “What concrete steps are needed to welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality (for example, remarried divorcees, people in polygamous marriages, LGBTQ+ people?)”

Commented the theologian: “First of all, let me say that, in my opinion, no Church document ought to make use of the acronym LGBTQ+, which of course stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and whatever other sexual aberration individuals might engage in. This acronym refers to individuals who have identified themselves on the basis of the immoral sexual acts in which they have chosen to engage. By using it, the authors of the Instrumentum grant to these individuals a moral status based on immoral conduct.”

Not only does the Church here appear to approve this kind of sexual conduct, it even seems to advance its agenda. States Dr. Haas: “Also, to use the acronym advances in some way the agenda of those included in it.”

“I was frankly dismayed to see this term used in a document issued by the Holy See,” Haas stated.

He continued: “Even more dismayed was I when I read a year ago that the Relator General of the Synod, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said that the Church’s doctrine on homosexual relations was ‘false’ and therefore has to be changed because ‘the sociological-scientific foundation of such teaching is no longer correct.’”

Furthermore, the document’s concept of a “listening Church” also found Dr. Haas’ criticism. He expounded: “Another distinguishing mark of a synodal church is the fact that ‘A synodal Church is a listening Church’ (22). This distinguishing mark I found to be most frustrating.” Here, the theologian wondered, “to whom is the Church listening and toward what end? And what is being said?”

Dr. Haas asked: “Are the members of the Church listening to those who are urging them to stand steadfast in the received Tradition, such as a Bishop Strickland or a Cardinal Burke?”

Or, on the contrary, he wondered, is the Church listening “to those who insist its teaching on contraception must be changed? Is the Church listening to those with same sex attraction who are members of Courage, who are committed to living chastely, or to those who are members of Dignity who urge the Church to accept homosexual acts as morally licit?”

Herewith, Dr. Haas challenged the vague and abstract language used by the Instrumentum laboris. He also asked: “And who in the Church is doing the listening and what are they doing with what they have heard and learned?”

It is refreshing to see more voices coming out more forcefully now in light of the upcoming Synod on Synodality, voices that try to stem against the spirit of novelty and change.

Please see here the full text of Dr. John Haas’s August 29 speech:

The Instrumentum Laboris issued by the Holy See to guide the process toward the Synod on Synodality in October directs itself in part to seminary formation. “Candidates for ordained Ministry must be trained in a synodal style and mentality. The promotion of a culture of synodality implies the renewal of the current seminary curriculum and the formation of teachers and professors of theology . . .” Of course, if we are going achieve that, we must know what a synodal mentality or spirituality is.

It is with some trepidation that I give this presentation, since I am employed by St. Charles as a Professor of theology and yet I must admit that I have struggled tremendously over the years to understand the concept of synodality which we are discussing this evening. In a way, I was dismayed but also pleased by the assignment given us by Father Dailey since I thought working through the Instrumentum Laboris, laboriously, I would finally gain a clear understanding of the concept. Unfortunately, I did not succeed. I am truly hopeful that our conversation this evening will help me gain a clear understanding of it.

I’m afraid to say that I found the Instrumentum Laboris itself to be tendentious, tedious, repetitious, and painfully vague. In trying to understand what the word synodality actually meant, I found that, repeatedly, the same word, synodality or synodal, was used to define synodality. The use of the term was circular, indeed tautological. From the very beginning the Instrumentum speaks of the synodal church as though it were a clear settled concept. Yet despite the years of preparation for the synod, synodality has been understood differently in different parts of the Church, not least by the Germans who have gone their own way with their Synodal Path, much to the dismay of the Holy Father himself.

I was actually somewhat heartened when I read in the Introduction to the Instrumentum : “Section A . . . outlines a series of fundamental characteristics . . . of a synodal Church.” I had the hope that the delineation of these fundamental characteristics would help me understand the concept. However, when I read through Section A, I did not find it particularly helpful. I read: “This is what emerges with great force from all the continents: an awareness that a synodal Church is founded on the recognition of a common dignity deriving from Baptism, which makes all who receive it sons and daughters of God, members of the family of God, and therefore brothers and sisters in Christ, inhabited by the one Spirit and sent to fulfil[l] a common mission.” But by this definition, how is the synodal church identified as anything different from the Church as we have always understood it?

I read further: “A synodal Church is called to practice the culture of encounter and dialogue with the believers of other religions . . .” (25) Well, has the Church not been involved in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue for decades now? How does the so-called synodal church differ from what the Church has already been doing for so many years?

Another distinguishing mark is the fact that “A synodal Church is a listening Church” (22). This distinguishing mark I found to be most frustrating. I cannot not help but wonder to whom is the Church listening and toward what end? And what is being said? Are the members of the Church listening to those who are urging them to remain steadfast in the received Tradition, such as a Bishop Strickland or a Cardinal Burke? Or is “the Church” listening to those who insist its teaching on contraception must be changed? Is the Church listening to those with same sex attraction who are members of Courage, who are committed to living chastely, or to those who are members of Dignity who urge the Church to accept homosexual acts as morally licit? And who in the Church is doing the listening and what are they doing with what they have heard and learned.

Another common theme is that a synodal church is inclusive. “How can we be more open and welcoming towards migrants and refugees . . .?”

From the perspective of moral theology, we see that justice and love make heavy demands on us to assist such people in any way we can, not just by helping them experience love and acceptance through a smile and a friendly embrace but also by meeting their material needs even if that is at some cost to ourselves. Seminarians should be actively involved in corporal acts of mercy during their formation. But have not Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International been doing this for decades before the concept of a synodal church was introduced? But what is disturbing to me is that the Instrumentum then makes a most unfortunate and illicit shift that departs from a call to embrace those in need, such as refugees, to a call to embrace even those who may have excluded themselves by their own actions.

The Instrumentum asks: “What concrete steps are needed to welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality (for example, remarried divorcees, people in polygamous marriages, LGBTQ+ people)?”

First of all, let me say clearly, that we must abhor and reject any abuse of individuals based on their sexual attractions or even their activity. However, let me also say that, in my opinion, no Church document ought ever to make use of the acronym LGBTQ+, which of course stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and whatever other sexual aberration individuals might engage in. This acronym refers to individuals who have identified themselves on the basis of the immoral sexual acts in which they have chosen to engage. By using it, the authors of the Instrumentum grant to these individuals a moral status based on immoral conduct. The individuals encompassed by the acronym cannot be compared to those who have been driven from their homes by poverty or violence. Also, to use the acronym in some way advances the agenda of those included in it by adopting their language. I was frankly dismayed to see this term used in a Church document. Even more dismayed was I when I read a year ago that the Relator General of the Synod, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said that the church’s doctrine on homosexual relations was “false” and therefore had to be changed because “the sociological-scientific foundation of such teaching is no longer correct.”

I understand full well that the Instrumentum is not a doctrinal or even pastoral statement. It is essentially a workbook to assist various groupings of Catholics throughout the world to reflect on their own experiences of the Church and what they individually think the Church should do in order to be faithful. The assembled thoughts coming out of the Synod will be given to the Holy Father for his discernment as to what to do with these countless reflections from so many national, cultural, linguistic, regional, and ecclesiological groups. But it seems to me that there needs to be some lodestone, some north star that can provide a measure of orientation to so many reflections. But none is mentioned.

In reading the Instrumentum I noticed the repetition of certain terms which definitely gave it a particular tone. Experience is mentioned 82 times, process 89 times, journey 31 times, and listening 43 times. However, there is not one single reference to revelation which, frankly, must be the loadstone, the north star, for all this listening and journeying. Otherwise, those in the synodal church will sink into a morass of subjectivism.

On the first day of my fundamental moral theology class, I will write on the board the words “Telos” and “Teleology.” Telos of course refers to end or goal and teleology is the study of ends. We can identify what a given action is if we see it in terms of the end toward which it is ordered. The end makes sense of any act; indeed, the end makes any act possible. As T. S. Eliot said, the “end is where we begin” or as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Every agent acts for an end.” The synodal church is journeying, we are told. But where? What is the end or goal of the listening and the journeying? One cannot simply say that it is the journey that is important and not the destination. There are many benefits to be derived from the journey, for sure. But there would be no journey at all were it not for the goal. The Germans have their Synodaler Weg or synodal path, but a path has to lead somewhere.

In conclusion allow me to try to distill as best I can what I think some characteristics of a synodal mentality are and, therefore, what ought to be nurtured among seminarians. One attitude which is condemned in the Instrumentum and the Continental Assemblies and repeatedly by Pope Francis himself is “clericalism.” God willing, all the seminarians here will one day be clerics. But clericalism is understood as the priest lording it over the people of God by virtue of the position he holds, as though it were a personal privilege.

A synodal mentality also involves true, attentive listening to our brothers and sisters. This would mean the seminarian has to be open and attentive to those who struggle with some of the difficult moral teachings of the Church without ever being judgmental. He must truly listen to those dealing with temptation and sin and patiently bring them to the point where they see the way to happiness and human fulfillment is by living the teachings of the Church. Openness, sensitivity, and understanding rooted in truth must be nurtured in the seminarians during their formation here at St. Charles.

I truly look forward to gaining a better understanding of, and appreciation of, synodality through our conversation this evening.

This article was originally published by LifeSiteNews: https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/moral-theologian-criticizes-major-synod-on-synodality-document-for-using-lgbtq-acronym/