The Vatican Thing

PODCAST: Understanding the U.S. Bishops’ Recent Meeting (with Francis X. Maier)

Monday, November 20, 2023

The American bishops were in Baltimore last week for their annual Fall meeting amidst controversies over synodality, relations with Rome, and much more. Francis X. Maier and Robert Royal discuss some of the major issues and what they’re likely to mean for the Church in America in the coming year.

PODCAST: Strickland Out, Trans Baptism In? (with Fr. Gerald Murray)

Monday, November 13, 2023

Fr. Gerald Murray and Robert Royal discuss some of the latest developments in Rome on “trans” people and baptism, Bishop Strickland’s removal, the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore this week, and related subjects.

PODCAST: Are Big Changes Coming in Theology and How Popes are Elected? (with Fr. Gerald Murray)

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Fr. Gerald Murray and Robert Royal discuss two issues that surfaced in Rome last week. First, Pope Francis published an Apostolic Letter calling for a “paradigm shift” in theology, meaning that Christian thought will largely take its cues from “context” rather than “abstract ideas.” Second, rumors are circulating that the Vatican is considering changes in how popes are elected, perhaps even including non-Cardinals and lay people.

PODCAST: A first look at the Synod’s final report (with Fr. Gerald Murray)

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Fr. Gerald Murray and Robert Royal discuss the synodal document approved on Saturday in Rome, particularly the significance of the surprising removal of the term LGBT from the final version and the relatively strong opposition to suggestions of further study on women deaconesses.

Symptoms of the Synod 2023 IV – 30 October 2023

Monday, October 30, 2023

Part I of the planetary phase of the synod on synodality for synodal Church has now concluded, with a welcome whimper following a combustible bang. Planetary phase Part II now rises on the horizon for October 2024. The excitement in Rome, as weary delegates fled the Vatican for their flights home, was less than palpable. The final synthesis document, available at the moment only in Italian, was a significant step back from the official working document on issues of greatest media interest. Liberal publications eager for a change in Church teaching on homosexuality were disappointed that the word itself was… Read more

Symptoms of the Synod 2023 III – 25 October 2023

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Symptoms of the Synod has been searching for the signification of synodality. What does it mean? It apparently means everything, as it includes a child’s bedtime prayers and the establishment of a new archdiocese. At what point does it, embracing everything, lose all meaning? The synod may have reached that point this week. In the search for the meaning of synodality, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, offered his take at the synod Mass on Monday. “Our synodal journey is about healing and reconciling our world in justice and peace,” Cardinal Bo preached. He described synodality as “a long march… Read more

PODCAST: Jimmy Lai: Catholic Hero and Confessor (with Fr. Robert Sirico)

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Father Robert Sirico and Robert Royal discuss “The Hong Konger,” a documentary film about Jimmy Lai, an imprisoned Catholic business man and media giant who has stood up to the encroachments of the Communist Chinese regime. No senior figure in the Vatican has said a word about his case.

PODCAST: As the Synod Begins to Conclude (with Fr. Gerald Murray)

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Fr. Gerald Murray joins Robert Royal in today’s podcast to discuss some of the radical claims synod participants have recently made, their questioning even of the apostolic tradition, and what authority the novel form of synod now underway has – or does not have.

There’s Got to Be a Better Way

Monday, October 23, 2023

So. We’ve been told that the Synod on Synodality is not about theology. Or doctrine. Not about “the media’s” favorite issues: LGBT, women’s ordination, married priests. Nor is it intended to subvert or replace the hierarchical nature of the Church or to democratize the decision-making process. The Synod on Synodality is – at least this year – about discerning“what synodality is.” Meanwhile, in recent days, a theologian invited to speak to the whole Synod announced that, “When we reach the consensus that the Church is constitutively synodal, we will have to rethink the whole Church, all the institutions, the whole… Read more

Ratzinger, Vatican II, and the Idea of Synodality

Saturday, October 21, 2023

In a 1975 essay on the reception of Vatican II, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger commented on the meaning and limits of councils. His main point is that councils are sometimes a necessity. But he adds, “they always point to an extraordinary situation in the Church and are not to be regarded as a model for her life in general or even as the ideal content of her existence.” Ratzinger concludes: In plain language: the council is an organ of consultation and decision. As such, it is not an end in itself but an instrument in the service of the life… Read more

PODCAST: The Synod Lumbers towards a Conclusion (with Fr. Raymond de Souza)

Friday, October 20, 2023

Fr. Raymond de Souza and Robert Royal discuss how the Synod on Synodality is going to operate during its upcoming, final week — in terms of many unresolved questions and the hot-button issues that seem to be moving quietly along outside of public scrutiny.

Symptoms of the Synod 2023 II – 19 October 2023

Friday, October 20, 2023

The premise of our “Symptoms of the Synod” chronicle is that no one knows what “synodality” means, so the best approach is to simply observe the symptoms of the synodal process on synodality for a synodal Church. Only then can an attempt be made to diagnose what the underlying phenomenon really is. Even Pravda Doesn’t Know the Truth Decades ago,  in the pre-digital age, L’Osservatore Romano, was often called “Pravda” by wags in Rome. The Russian word for “truth” had a certain ecclesial resonance, but it was the Cold War context that gave the significance. Pravda was the official organ… Read more

PODCAST: Questions about Catholic Women (with Diane Montagna)

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Diane Montagna discusses the public presentation of a woman religious in the Synod hall, which made a nonsensical claim about women’s liturgies in the early Church; and a statement by over 2200 Catholic women reaffirming the Church’s teaching about female roles, as well as the true dignity of women in Catholicism.

PODCAST: Vatican Info, Then and Now (with Joan Lewis)

Monday, October 16, 2023

Veteran Vaticanista Joan Lewis provides some historical context about how the Holy See has historically managed news and information at events like the current Synod, and how things are very different this time.

Homophobia & Homo Sapiens

Monday, October 16, 2023

Despite all the talk about the Holy Spirit at the Synod on Synodality, an objective observer would have to say that the tongues of fire that produced John’s Gospel, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and Revelations seem to be at a loss for words as the event grinds on. The great Irish poet W.B. Yeats, though not a Catholic, observed a century ago: “The Holy Spirit is an intellectual fountain,” and did the Bishops believe, that Holy Spirit would show itself in decoration and architecture, in daily manners and written style. What devout man can read the Pastorals of our… Read more

Same-Sex Blessings as Superstitions

Sunday, October 15, 2023

This summer, my husband and I had the great pleasure of witnessing two of our three sons marry.  As I scrambled to help my oldest son gather his sacramental documentation – not an easy feat for a kid who was baptized in California, made his First Communion in Azerbaijan, and was confirmed in Belgium – I realized the walk to the marital altar is the result of a lifelong catechesis of word and deed. Nothing less should be expected of an institution meant to be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence in our human lives. Scripture reminds us that marriage… Read more

Untangling Some Crucial Questions

Saturday, October 14, 2023

As all the world now knows, Cardinal Raymond Burke and four fellow cardinals (Brandmüller, Sarah, Sandoval, and Zen) sent five dubia (questions) to Pope Francis this past July. He responded almost immediately, leading several old Vatican hands to believe that the dubia had been anticipated. The dubia and the pope’s responses were not made public, however, until October 2nd, right before the opening of the current Synod on Synodality.  The responses include some very troubling assertions, especially about the blessing of same-sex unions. Pope Francis has, regrettably, authorized bishops and priests – after some undefined process of “discernment” – to… Read more

PODCAST: Cardinal Pell—The Synodal Dream as Toxic Nightmare (with Fr. Robert Sirico)

Friday, October 13, 2023

Fr. Robert Sirico and Robert Royal discuss a new book of essays by and about the late great Australian Cardinal Pell Contra Mundum, and his view of the synodal process as a “toxic nightmare” from which the Church must awake.

Symptoms of the Synod 2023: No. 1: What Is Synodality? Pay Attention to the Symptoms

Friday, October 13, 2023

The pace of news out of Rome is punishing – it is impossible to keep up with all the stories. Just in the first week of the Synod on Synodality for a synodal Church, there was a consistory of Cardinals, a preached retreat to the Synod members, the opening Synodal Mass, a papal policy document on climate change, and combustible responses to not one, but two, sets of Cardinalatial dubia. How to keep up? Many writers have opted for the diary style, shorter entries covering several topics. In the English media, First Things has “Letters from the Synod,” Crux has “Synod Files,” America magazine has “Synod… Read more

PODCAST: Past Failures and Future Tasks for the Church (with Larry Chapp)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Theologian and director of a Catholic Worker farm Larry Chapp speaks with Robert Royal in Rome about how philosophers and theologians did not respond adequately to challenges before and after the Second Vatican Council — and how as a result, Catholic thinkers must now step up, in both theory and, especially, practice.

PODCAST: Synodal Manipulations, Ordinary and Extraordinary (with Edward Pentin)

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin joins Robert Royal to discuss how synods have changed since the beginning of the current pontificate, and how what is currently being said about the synod differs from what is being done.

PODCAST: Fear and Loathing in a Synod (with Francis X. Maier)

Monday, October 9, 2023

Francis X. Maier joins Robert Royal to discuss his October 5 Wall Street Journal article “Fear and Loathing in a Synod,” on the pope, the synod, and the unusual tensions that seem to exist between America and the Vatican.

PODCAST: Is the Holy Spirit the “protagonist” at the Synod? (with Diane Montagna and Fr. Gerald E. Murray)

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Diane Montagna, Fr. Gerald E. Murray, and Robert Royal discuss the claims being made by synod officials about the role of the Holy Spirit in their discussions, and the ways in which information about the synod is being managed or limited in comparison with other Vatican events.

The Door Stop

Friday, October 6, 2023

Has the pope opened the door for same-sex blessings? He can’t, for to do so wouldn’t be Catholic. The same comment could be made for any number of issues, that might or might not be discussed, at the “Synod on Synodality” that is now upon us. For the Catholic Catechism has been clear, and was made clear again in the language of Trent, and in that of only a generation ago. Even to discuss such matters as open questions is to carry us into uncharted territory, i.e. territory discreetly avoided in the past. The Church is not a debating society.… Read more

PODCAST: The Synod Begins (with Fr. Gerald E. Murray)

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Live from Rome, Robert Royal and Fr. Gerald E. Murray discuss the opening of the Synod on Synodality and several controversies that have already risen even apart from that event.

A Synod of Shattered Expectations

Thursday, October 5, 2023

The long-anticipated Synod on Synodality is upon us. After years of preparation and planning, after tireless efforts to build enthusiasm and encourage participation, the Vatican is trying to temper expectations. A few days ago, the new prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith tried to downplay expectations for this October’s meeting. Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández insisted, “People who are afraid of strange or misplaced doctrinal advances, and people who, on the other hand, expect great changes, are going to be really disappointed.” In yesterday’s homily at the opening Mass for the Synod on Synodality, Pope Francis called… Read more

Confusion Worse Confounded

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

If you wanted two words to describe the Synod on Synodality, the event that begins today in Rome, it would have to be deep confusion. Unless you wanted to add a third, deliberate. Because it’s been clear from a series of concrete measures that what’s been said is not what’s going to happen. And what’s going to happen has not been said. Yet there’s a method, of a sort, to this madness. To begin with, the very format of this Synod is already a kind of deliberate confusion – and for a reason. On the one hand, we have been… Read more

Pope Francis and Schism Re-Visited

Monday, October 2, 2023

Much has happened since I first published my original article, “Pope Francis and Schism,” in The Catholic Thing on October 8, 2019. What has taken place in the intervening years has confirmed many of the points I made then.   Here, at Robert Royal’s request, I would like to revisit and expand upon several of them. First, Pope Francis’ dislike for and criticisms of the Catholic Church in the United States have intensified.  As I noted in the earlier column, the American Catholic Church is the foremost critic of Francis’ often theologically ambiguous statements.  Over the past four years, as… Read more

PODCAST: Preserving the future of the Church

Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Catholic Church has always been evolving – through the Apostolic tradition – to bring the message of Jesus Christ to a changing world. The great question faced by attendees at the Synod on Synodality is this: Will Catholicism remain faithful to the deposit of the Faith – to the Catechism and the Magisterium? That’s the challenge we’ll chronicle here at ‘The Vatican Thing.’

Download the new The Catholic Thing App (Apple / Android) for free to get Robert Royal’s regular reports from Rome.

‘Outing’ the Liberal Catholic Project

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Archbishop of Berlin, Heiner Koch, recently authorized priests in his archdiocese to confer ceremonial blessings upon homosexual couples. Strangely, he also announced that he himself would not impart such blessings until he receives explicit permission from Pope Francis. He seems to be confident that such permission will someday be given, yet he’s certainly not unaware that Pope Francis personally approved in 2021 the publication of a teaching document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forbidding such blessings. That document states: it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express… Read more

Something’s Wrong in Rome

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

In the past week or so, the pope has: praised “that great imperial Russia” for its noble culture and humanity (a remark later admitted to be “badly phrased”); lauded Genghis Khan’s blood-soaked empire for its religious tolerance and “pax mongolica” (40 million killed, give or take); encouraged Chinese Christians to be good citizens of a nation whose “culture” he greatly admires and whose government is, he says, “very respectful” towards the Church (other views abound); shied away from saying anything more about Nicaragua where the Ortegas are basically outlawing Catholicism and a bishop has been sentenced to 26 years in… Read more

On the Matter of Synods

Thursday, July 27, 2023

From October 1971 through October 1987 seven assemblies of the Synod of Bishops were held, six “ordinary” assemblies and one “extraordinary,” that reviewed the implementation of the Second Vatican Council 20 years after its close. I was press secretary to the U.S. bishops’ delegations at all seven assemblies and also did a bit of writing for the synod itself. In later years, I covered several synod assemblies as a journalist. Although none of this makes me an expert on synods, it does give me a certain perspective, grounded in experience, from which to point to problems that threaten to make… Read more

Is Catholicism ‘Inadequate’?

Monday, July 24, 2023

There’s an old philosophical distinction about conditions that are necessary, but not sufficient to make something true. You might assert, for example, that the Church is a “field hospital,” and therefore it’s necessary for Her to have the intention of caring for the wounded and dying. But without necessary medical knowledge as well – and in this scenario full and accurate understanding of what the battle is all about, and how and why casualties are occurring – you won’t have an adequate course of treatment. This distinction came to mind reading a recent interview with Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal… Read more

The Synod, Just Once More, for Now

Monday, July 10, 2023

As we’ve seen in previous synods, they can be subtly, and not so subtly, rigged. Our American bishops nominated moderates as delegates: Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Broglio, Bishops Barron, Rhoades, and Flores. This week, Pope Francis chose Cardinals Cupich, McElroy, Gregory, and O’Malley (Tobin participates as one of the synod organizers), and Fr. James Martin, S.J. And Victor Manuel Fernández, ghostwriter of Amoris Laetitia, whom he also named to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – a confusing but reliable Argentinian gatekeeper. Some people have begun arguing that this is all a quarrel among self-important pezzi grossi, activists,… Read more

Whose Synod, Which Synodality?

Sunday, July 2, 2023

In his book, Whose Justice, Which Rationality? philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argues that competing theories of justice cannot be properly understood, let alone evaluated, except from within some tradition of rational inquiry. If one fails to consider the tradition from which one engages important questions about justice – or worse still, if one imagines himself entirely free from such a tradition – one is likely to himself, misunderstand and mislead others, and invite further confusion, relativism, and conflict. Now, the Church is not merely a school of philosophical or theological thought. Nor is her identity exhausted by her intellectual tradition, magnificent… Read more

A New “Synodal Church” Undermines the Catholic Church

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Many questions have arisen about the current “synodal process,” and therefore in order to be of service to Christ’s flock, I would like to address some important points of the Instrumentum Laboris for the October 2023 Session of the Synod on Synodality. This Working Document or Instrumentum appears to undermine the Divine constitution and the Apostolic character of the life and mission of the Catholic Church, substituting for them an invented “synodal church,” inspired predominantly by Protestant, social and anthropocentric categories. Below are several principal areas of concern. The Divine constitution of the Church is undermined. Episcopal authority is undermined… Read more

A Synod of No Surprises

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Passing through the D.C. Metro recently, I noticed a (muted) Pride-Month poster – rainbow strips peeping between black bands – and a caption that read something like, “The Metro Authority believes that transportation is for everyone.” Washington PR consultants doubtless did very well out of this ad campaign – as “consultants” of all kinds tend to do in our society – speaking out bravely against a view (Public transportation for white Christian nationalists only?) held by absolutely no one. But unlike the Instrumentum Laboris (IL), the Vatican’s recently issued Working Document of the Synod on Synodality, at least the D.C.… Read more

The Synodal Church of “Me, Myself, and I”

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Instrumentum Laboris [IL] (Working Document) for the October Synod on Synodality, released June 20, embodies the now familiar pattern seen in the various stages of the synodal process. Certain questions are asked, others are ignored, predictable answers are given, and expectations are raised that a new Church, the Holy Spirit-inspired Synodal Church, will emerge in which everyone will feel seen, recognized, welcomed, accepted, accompanied, cared for, listened to, valued, not judged, and so on. “[A] synodal Church is open, welcoming and embraces all. . .[t]he radical call is, therefore, to build together, synodally, an attractive and concrete Church: an… Read more

Synodality without Spirit

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

I was asked recently to read the North American “Final Document” for the “Synod on Synodality” and offer my opinion. I am the kind of theological nerd who loves papal encyclicals, but it was pure misery slogging through the “Final Document.” It’s not something written to inspire the hearts and minds of the faithful, but a bureaucratic product about “process.” To say the document was “empty” would be an insult to emptiness.  You open a box, find it empty, and that’s that. You haven’t wasted much time. With this document, you keep wondering, “When is it going to say something?” … Read more

Synodality: A Social Contract for the Church?

Friday, May 26, 2023

When the General Secretariat for the Synod announced that laypeople will have full voting rights at this October’s assembly, it self-consciously added that this does not reduce synodality to representative government. In January, Cardinals Grech and Hollerich felt compelled to reassure the bishops that synodality does not replace episcopal authority with popular sovereignty. Their insistence itself raises serious doubts. We might suspect, as Hamlet’s mother shrewdly noted, that something lies behind this protesting too much. The General Secretariat contends that including lay voters is not a shift towards democracy because elections will not take place. The pope will choose these… Read more

The Synod of Bishops: RIP

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Synod of Bishops, as Pope Francis remarked in his 2014 Letter to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, was established by Pope St. Paul VI to meet “the need to strengthen by closer bonds the union of the Bishop of Rome with the Bishops whom the Holy Spirit had constituted to govern the Church of God.” He added that “it is necessary more than ever to further revitalize the close relationship between all the Pastors of the Church. . .there is no doubt that the Bishop of Rome is in need of the presence of his Brother Bishops, of their guidance and of… Read more

Getting Serious about the Synod

Monday, April 17, 2023

In the heyday of Liberation Theology, the movement’s theorists often argued that it wasn’t enough for the Church to care for those wounded by political and economic injustice – roughly what Pope Francis has called a “field hospital.” Liberation demanded inquiries into why bodies are floating downstream and forays upstream to find, and deal with, causes. Liberation Theologians weren’t very good at this. (Most Church figures aren’t, because their training is not in political philosophy, economics, or security matters.) They often applied what were already clearly simplistic, discredited Marxist categories to situations in Latin America, and elsewhere in the developing… Read more

Another ‘Revolution’ in the Church

Monday, March 27, 2023

Pope Francis recently spoke about the Synod on Synodality with Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué of La Nacion. He talked specifically about his 2018 Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio [EC], which established new canonical norms for the Synod of Bishops: Ten years ago a serious reflection was undertaken, and a document was written, I signed it, with theologians with me, it was a community thing. This marked out a stage: “we have arrived so far, now something more is missing.” And we did not explicate what was missing, but little by little it became evident, and it was to explain synodality. For… Read more

The Ruinous Rhetoric of ‘Synodal Interpretation’

Monday, March 6, 2023

Long, long ago, on a planet far, far away, I organized a conference on religion and the public square in a city on the Potomac that I increasingly find hard to recognize. There were sessions on Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism. During the last, a rabbi who was also a lawyer working at the White House was challenged by a trio of Jewish feminists. The exchange was civil enough (almost unbelievably so by current standards). But my Jewish friend deftly handled the usual questions about gays, abortion, and women’s roles; “Show me where it’s in the [Jewish] Law and we can… Read more

Dead Men Do Tell Tales

Monday, January 16, 2023

Midway through the first volume (2019) of his Prison Journal, Australian Cardinal George Pell records that: “Every type of Catholic should realise that there is an exclusion zone around the Eucharist, where adults without faith and without basic good practice should not enter. Years ago, a prominent criminal who was in jail was known to be Catholic. ‘Does he come to the jail Masses?’ the chaplain was asked. ‘Yes’ was the reply. ‘Does he receive Communion?’ The chaplain explained, ‘No, he doesn’t because he has faith.’” Pell had much more to say about the Mass and Holy Eucharist in other… Read more

Synodality? How about Better Preaching

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The whole business of the “synod on synodality” is above my head.  So I’m not sure how a synod on synodality, which one would have thought was about creating synods, ended up dominated by questions about women’s ordination, gay marriage, and clericalism. When you’re organizing a planning session to create structures to deal with various problems, you don’t start by trying to resolve all those problems.  If the representatives at the U.S. Constitutional Convention had spent all their time discussing the problems of the country rather than setting up a sensible system to deal with them, not only would they… Read more

A Self-Destructive Synod

Monday, October 31, 2022

The General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops issued the Working Document (WD) for the Continental Stage of the Synod for a Synodal Church last week. It unapologetically calls into question various Catholic doctrines under the guise of listening to the Holy Spirit who, remarkably, is somehow speaking through the complaints and criticisms of those who reject what the Church teaches and has always taught. Contributions from around the world that contradict Catholic doctrine are cited or summarized with approval because “they express in a particularly powerful, beautiful or precise way sentiments expressed more generally in many reports.” (¶6) Those… Read more

A Piecemeal Vatican III?

Monday, October 17, 2022

Our reading today is from the Book of Benedict XVI (A Life: Volume Two), in which he recounts to biographer Peter Seewald what often happened, even during the great decades of  St. John Paul II’s papacy: “Whenever I went to Germany in the 1980s or 1990s. . .I always knew the questions in advance. They were about the ordination of women, contraception, abortion and similar problems, which kept coming back.” Some things never change. The German synod alone is testimony to that, but the phenomenon now extends far beyond Germany. Benedict’s own greatness shows in his refusal to just accept… Read more

The “National Synthesis” on the Synod

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

I was traveling on September 19, and was delayed in reading the National Synthesis prepared by U.S. bishops in advance of Rome’s 2023 Synod on Synodality. That didn’t stop my email from filling up with comments throughout the day.  Among them:  “The conference is living in a fantasy,” the report’s “sycophancy is scandalous,” the text is “beyond ridiculous,” “everyone associated with it should be embarrassed,” and “I recognize almost nothing of my experience of the Church in it.”  A friend described it as “a compilation of shallow complaints.  There’s no experience in the text of the mystery of God’s grace… Read more

No Bark, No Bite

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Sherlock Holmes’ “dog that did not bark” is something of an overused cliché in public matters. But there are times when the absence of something that ought to be there – and loud – is the strongest evidence of what has really been going on. Witness the extraordinary consistory, which ended yesterday evening with a Mass celebrated by the pope in St. Peter’s for the Cardinals, who spent the past two days in private discussing the present and future of the Church. It usually takes some indirect sources to sort out Vatican events like this, and people who follow them… Read more