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Facts and great personages in world history occur, as it were, twice . . . the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” The Synod on Synodality seems destined to confirm Marx’s words (themselves a revision of Hegel). The tragedy arises from the deep theological and philosophical division that has plagued Catholic Christianity throughout the modern era, ever since God disappeared from the horizon and the Church became split between recalcitrant traditionalism and modernist historicism. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Maurice Blondel described the result in words perhaps even better suited to our own time: “With every day that passes, the conflict between tendencies which set Catholic against Catholic in every order—social, political, philosophical—is revealed as sharper and more general. One could almost say that there are now two quite incompatible ‘Catholic mentalities’ . . . And that is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.”

More than a century later, this dark observation is strangely comforting. It is a reminder that we do not live in Year Zero of Catholicism, that our present divisions have a long history, and that much of what we are now undergoing was anticipated, diagnosed, and criticized decades ago. Questions of philosophical and theological importance remain with us—questions of truth—that are older and more permanent than the current pontificate and deeper than the superficialities of the synodal ­process and the social media age. Understanding these questions is necessary if we are to comprehend our current travails. This understanding would be a hard-won achievement in the thoughtlessness of the present moment—which is where the farce begins.

In Blondel’s day, a self-appointed group of censors, the Sodalitium Pianum, waged a clandestine and thought-crushing campaign against those they regarded as the modernist enemies of the pope, often employing authoritarian tactics to intimidate and silence them. In the past decade, a self-appointed Sodalitium Franciscanum, the ideological inverse of its early twentieth-century predecessor, has conducted a similar campaign. It reduces all philosophical and theological questions to political questions, transposing “true” and “false” into “friend” and “enemy,” with the truth of every idea measured by whether it “supports” Pope Francis and his “dream” for the Church, which is equated, full stop, with the meaning of the Second Vatican Council.

The website Where Peter Is, for example, exists principally to publicize an enemies list, with its owner drawing on his immense erudition to denounce “schismatics,” including some bishops and cardinals of the Church, from his living room in suburban Maryland. Massimo Faggioli, a Villanova Church historian and arguably the hardest-­working man on Twitter, rises before dawn to tweet dispatches from the front in an endless crusade to portray American Catholics as deranged Trumpists and traditionalists, enemies of the pope and outliers to “global Catholicism”—tellingly a sociological rather than a theological category. And then there is the endless propaganda, polemic, and pamphleteering of papal biographer Austen Ivereigh, who co-authored the first global synod document. The press corps, following this script, helps to create an echo chamber that evokes Hannah Arendt’s description of life under the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century.

The fact that the most perfect education in Marxism and Leninism was no guide whatsoever for political behavior—that, on the contrary, one could follow the party line only if one repeated each morning what Stalin had announced the night before—naturally resulted in the same state of mind, the same concentrated obedience, undivided by any attempt to understand what one was doing, that Himmler’s ingenious watchword for his SS-men expressed: “My honor is my loyalty.”

It is not that Catholic progressives are Stalinists and Nazis or that the pope is a dictator, but rather that there is something inherently absurd about the reduction of Catholicism to politics, especially in the age of social media. It may be that whoever owns the past controls the future, and whoever owns the internet owns the past, but this effort of “narrative control” requires a certain unseeing and forgetting that cannot withstand serious thought. Indeed, the remarkable thing about the “Faggioli project” of narrative control, aimed at advancing the progressive interpretation of Vatican II, is how devoid it is of serious thought. One could scour the tweets, books, journal articles, and columns of this self-described theologian, who seems genuinely not to know the difference between theology and the sociology of religion, and never encounter a properly theological or philosophical idea or even a question of truth in more than a functional or factual sense. Faggioli frequently portrays opposition to Francis as opposition to Vatican II, never pausing to consider the converse: that opposition to Vatican II may be rooted in opposition to the current pope or to the endless machinations of those Faggioli calls “Pope Francis Catholics.” Yet traditionalism has flourished in the past decade as never before, suggesting, ironically, that no one has done less for an authentic reception of the Council, or more for the pope’s traditionalist enemies, than the pope’s self-appointed friends. If Faggioli and Ivereigh ­really were the authentic face of the Council, who would not have to reject it?

More serious than the intimidation of enemies is the fact that the Sodalitium Franciscanum’s relentless focus on the pope makes it hard for Catholics to think about anything else. As a result, we struggle to place the Council and the Synod on Synodality in their historical and intellectual context. We cannot see what is fundamentally at issue in Blondel’s “conflicting tendencies,” or why “the Church in the modern world” is such a vexed question in the first place. The absolutization of politics is a principal symptom of the crisis of Catholicism in modernity, for the translation of the theological into the political is one of the marks of the modern age. Accordingly, one of the animating concerns of the Council was the triumph of a scientific and technological order—and thus of power—over the transcendence of God and the givenness of human nature.

The primacy of the political has never been an error exclusive to the Catholic left. In early twentieth-century France, to take one obvious example, it was a feature of the right. More recently in the United States, this primacy took the form of an attempt to fuse conservative Catholicism and neoliberalism, an effort presently being falsified by the secular fulfillment of liberal premises in their technocratic and totalitarian antitheses, which have revealed neoliberalism’s anti-­Christian face. A “political Catholicism” persists in integralism and in the traditionalist nostalgia for the pre-conciliar status quo, but this is a virtual politics for a virtual world, with no real future in the Church or in a secular world premised on its suppression. The momentum is now with what ­Augusto Del Noce called the “neo-modernism” of progressive Catholicism, which is much better attuned to the political realities of the age, and whose animating presuppositions are perfectly reflected in figures such as Faggioli and Ivereigh.

The modernism of Blondel’s day responded to nineteenth-century philosophies of history and the presumed ascendancy of a “religion of humanity.” The modernists insisted that in the wake of Kant and Hegel we lived in a new era and that the truths of the faith must answer to the philosophical challenges posed by modernity, with its prohibition of transcendence and its discovery of the “laws of history.” These philosophical tendencies would culminate, ironically, in the supplanting of philosophy by politics altogether, as Marx, Dewey, and the American pragmatists overthrew the “philosophy of comprehension” in favor of scientific and political action, Darwinian evolution discredited “essentialist” philosophies of human nature, and the transformation of the world replaced the understanding of the world as the goal and measure of thought. “Is it true?” gave way to “What is its effect?” or “Whose interest does it promote?”

Though “neo-modernism” runs along the same metaphysical grooves as its predecessor, its origins and essence are different. It is not a philosophical but a political phenomenon. It originated in the Catholic opposition to fascism, the attempt by Jacques Maritain and others to reconcile Catholicism and modern humanism in a non-reactionary Thomism compatible with modern democracy. This ambition would catalyze numerous later attempts to synthesize Catholicism with the “positive” and “moral” elements of Marxist thought, apparently with little concern that Marx’s peculiar kind of atheism might be invisibly taken into Christianity. Anti-fascism remains neo-modernism’s essence and raison d’être. Faggioli unwittingly revealed this fact in his recent paean to “the ­coalition between Catholics, Socialist-­Communists, and secular liberals that contributed to the liberation of Italy and governed for the half-century after 1945,” which had seemed to give “the country an immutable moral and political DNA.” Elsewhere in the same piece, when he laments the disappearance of “Pope Francis Catholics”—the descendants of “those who made Italy a republic founded on anti-­Fascist ­values”—he seems to identify the essence of “Pope Francis Catholicism” not with any theological content, but with “anti-Fascist values.” The clear implication is that to be anything other than a “Pope Francis Catholic” in this sense is, well . . .

Historically speaking, ­neo-modernism develops in the triumph of politics over philosophy and theology and simply takes the negation of transcendence for granted. It therefore fulfills and perfects the metaphysics of the earlier modernism precisely because it is unphilosophical, because in it, to borrow Del Noce’s words, “philosophy surpasses itself into politics and finds there its verification.”

Unlike the earlier modernism, neo-modernism offers no speculative or theoretical justification for itself, beyond the occasional appeal to the authority of science or the historically conditioned nature of truth, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit, now weaponized to make dissent blasphemous. This is one reason, no doubt, for the total lack of philosophical self-awareness in figures such as Faggioli—and indeed for the sheer absence of thought in neo-modernist tracts compared to the work of earlier figures, such as Loisy and Tyrrell. Neo-modernism is given over almost wholly to history, sociology, and other functionalist forms of reason. It concedes the authority of the empirical sciences and assumes the primacy of history as a progressively unfolding field of immanent power relations. “Sociologism,” for Del Noce the defining figure of Catholic progressivism, is the wholesale subordination of philosophy and theology to these forms of thought and their ontological presuppositions, which reduce claims of truth to their historical, political, and economic conditions and thus to expressions of ideology. Faggioli’s Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning, to take one example from an entire genre, is thoroughly governed by this approach, subordinating the meaning of Vatican II and its theology to the judgment of progressive historians who regard the Council as a still unfolding “event.” But nowhere is this approach more evident—or more useful, given that the book was published during the pontificate of Benedict XVI—than in its reduction of “doctrine” to “doctrinal policy”: from a truth claim about the nature of things, which is scarcely imaginable within this framework, to an expression of the will to power in the long game of ecclesiastical politics.

Here, Blondel’s critique of historicism in History and Dogma remains instructive. History and sociology are not self-sufficient: The “science” of history, Blondel says, “remains dependent upon ulterior problems, upon sciences superior to it, which it can neither supplant nor replace except by a usurpation and by falsely proclaiming itself a sort of total metaphysics, a universal vision, a Weltanschauung.” History can usurp metaphysics, that is, only by itself becoming a “total metaphysics,” by negating the transcendent reality of being, nature, and even God and regarding the “laws of history”—now so taken for granted that they need no justification—as supreme. Yet there is nothing in this anonymous atheism to prevent the Holy Spirit’s being piously called down to baptize a godless apprehension of the world. Indeed, this kind of ersatz theologizing is pervasive—and pervasively wielded—in the contemporary Church.

As Del Noce recognized, the triumph of sociology, history, and other functionalist forms of reason manifests in thought the disappearance of God from the modern horizon—“the real problem at this moment of our history,” according to ­Benedict XVI. “And with the dimming of the light which comes from God,” he wrote in 2009, “humanity is losing its bearings, with increasingly evident destructive effects.” As we have already begun to see, these destructive effects fall particularly hard on the ­category of truth itself. In Principles of Catholic­ ­Theology (1982), Joseph Ratzinger wrote that, as a result of the triumph of history over being, “The notion of truth . . . gives place to the notion of progress: the ‘true’ is whatever serves progress, that is, whatever serves the logic of history.” The conflation of truth and progress is the essence of ­politicization.

In Gaudium et Spes, the Second Vatican Council addressed what it called a “new stage of history,” a time characterized by precisely these historical sensibilities. These sensibilities were not dismissed. On the contrary, the Council acknowledged “the intelligence and creative energies of man,” which have left humankind “stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and its power” and called into question our place in the universe. The Christological, anthropological, and missionary focus of Vatican II, so central to the teaching of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, aimed to reconcile man’s historical existence with his transcendent nature—to affirm both the Church’s dynamic, “progressive” historical mission and, in Ratzinger’s words, “the oneness of truth in the multiplicity of its historical manifestations.” The One who enters history and addresses the human being at this moment in time, revealing man to himself and making his supreme calling clear, remains the eternal Logos of the Father. Half a century of often bitterly contested interpretations of the Council—half a century, indeed, of failure even to form a consensus as to the Council’s central subject matter—shows that this framework, despite its theological soundness, has not succeeded in resolving the conflict between the “progressive” mission and the “oneness of truth.” That is the tragedy of modern Catholicism.

The unfolding of the Synodal Process, meanwhile, represents the farce—which is not to say that it is a ­trivial event. With the unfolding of the synodal process, the conflict between the “two Catholicisms” is coming to a head, albeit in an ­intellectually degraded form. This is especially true now that the Synod on Synodality has revealed itself as the Synod on LGBTQ affirmation and inclusion, with the general relator invoking history and science to undermine the “sociological-scientific foundation” of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, a teaching he explicitly rejects. The Vatican’s own synod office has published on social media a celebratory cartoon of a woman priest on the steps of a church, clasping hands with an activist wearing a rainbow “Pride” T-shirt and proclaiming, “We are the young people.” None of this should surprise anyone who read on or between the lines of the working documents for the 2014–15 Synod on the Family, though it is still shocking—or should be—to see an office of the Church in Rome publishing the online equivalent of a gay pride poster.

Plainly, the progressives tasked with administering the synodal proceedings view the Synod as an opportunity finally to attain the Holy Grail of overthrowing the body of teaching on sex, gender, and human nature that has grown up around Humanae Vitae. These teachings must be relegated to the sphere of “sexual morality,” severed from their theological, ontological, and anthropological foundations and artificially separated from the Church’s celebrated social magisterium and its concern for life in a society dominated by economics and technology. Or at the very least, it will mean solemnizing the “pastoral” workarounds that are already the de facto norm in many places.

The inevitable focus on the Church’s sexual teachings, important as they are, easily seduces us into a narrow debate about particular proposals. The fundamental conflict between these warring tendencies, as Ratzinger pointed out, occurs not at the level of individual doctrines, but “in the realm of their philosophical presuppositions.” The depth of this disagreement is easily concealed, perhaps even from the disputants, by the sharing of certain terms, which, however, are employed in radically divergent ways. Only if the disagreement is dealt with at the philosophical level will there be hope for a real resolution. “Is there, in the course of historical time, a recognizable identity of man with himself?” Ratzinger asks. “Is there a human ‘nature’? Is there a truth that remains true in every historical time because it is true?” The very nature of God and structure of reality hang on these questions.

The question whether anything is true in more than a conditional or functional sense—whether we still subscribe to an ontological conception of truth—underlies the many questions raised by the synodal process. What does the Church intend by adopting the nomenclature of the LGTBQ movement? How can the Church adopt this language without acquiescing in that movement’s replacement of ontology by identity? How can it affirm this notion of identity without tacitly supporting the biomedical regime of assisted reproductive technologies and commercial surrogacy, and the massive science experiment of puberty-blocking hormones and sex-reassignment surgery—to say nothing of the profound transformations in law, language, family, and political structure—­necessary to make it normative? Progressives such as James Martin, S.J., try vainly to bracket such questions from the question of LGBTQ inclusion, but they form a seamless garment. How can this nomenclature be squared with the hylomorphic conception of human nature taught by the Council, or with the doctrine of creation as it has always been understood? Presumably the Church still believes that men and women are real. Or is the idea of immutable human nature fascist?

The questions raised by the synodal process concern not only human nature but the nature of the Church. What is the Church in the imagination of the synodal masterminds? Is it fundamentally an ontological and sacramental reality, or a sociological and political one? Is the communio of the Trinity the ontological basis of the Church’s identity as the “People of God,” as the order of Lumen Gentium suggests? Or is the “ecclesiology of the People of God” the “context” for communio, which is “made real” through the style, structures, and events of the synodal way—which is to say, through a political process? (This is what the International Theological Commission implies in its study on synodality.) Is “the Church as a whole, in her essential mystery . . . a reality that ontologically and temporally preceded the individual particular Churches,” as John Paul II’s Communionis Notio teaches? If so, then the Church has a theological and sacramental nature that transcends its location in space and time, and the “People of God” therefore includes the whole communion of saints, and the sensus fidelium finds its fullest expression in the Vincentian Canon: what is believed everywhere, always, and by all.

If, by contrast, the sensus fidelium is the religious equivalent of public opinion and can be discerned by a shoddy, unscientific imitation of the polling and data collection procedures of the social ­sciences, then the Church is reduced to a mere sociological and political reality, a Church of pure administration, if not of cynical manipulation. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, this is exactly how it appears in Faggioli’s ­many tracts on synodality, as when he says that the term “Synodal Church” simply “means ecclesial processes that are less centered on the clergy and more open to the leadership role of the laity, especially ­women.” This characterization may make synodality seem like a bureaucratic undertaking, he acknowledges. But don’t worry—he assures us that “synodality is about sacramentality and the Church as a sacrament,” and that “synods and councils have always had a liturgical core.”

All these questions—and there are many others—are finally questions about the true nature of things, indeed about whether the very notion of “true nature” is to be regarded as an anachronism in a world dominated by the natural and social ­sciences, where “nature” is whatever is observed and therefore each observed thing is as “natural” as any other. Yet this is precisely the sort of question that seems to be systematically precluded by the synod’s methodology of “radical inclusion,” as if the foundations of the “listening Church” could be built only atop the ruins of the “thinking Church.”

These questions can be postponed by the time-honored method of separating pastoral and doctrinal concerns. But it is obvious that this distinction is not sustainable, since every pastoral action must take place within a horizon of meaning and with reference to some conception of what is true. The distinguishing of the pastoral from the doctrinal invites the sort of dishonesty that one finds in James Martin’s variation on this tactic. The rhetorical move is simple: Insist that you have never denied Church doctrine, while writing, speaking, and acting as if it were false, and you can effect a de facto transformation of the Church’s understanding of itself, or of God, or of human nature, without ever raising the question of truth at all. Succeed on a large enough scale—flood the internet with enough half-baked columns, or tweet early enough that your comrades in Rome can enjoy your sallies with their morning coffee—and voilà, you have a paradigm shift, or at least the illusion of one. The tactic may well succeed in bringing about structural change in the Church, but it will fool no one who is not desperate to be fooled.

It strains credulity to believe that this project can be spiritually serious, as its protagonists ­piously insist, and so intellectually unserious at the same time. The entire tradition of the discernment of the spirits, spanning the Institutes of John ­Cassian to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, sought above all to disentangle the voice of God from the spirit of the age—the world, the flesh, and the devil, in the older terminology. Not only is the synodal process utterly lacking in the ancient rigor of those exercises—and this at a time when the spirit of the age is omnipresent, its voice thrum-thrum-thrumming through media that are more interior to me than I am to myself—but it positively invites their conflation. Consider just one of the questions posed to small groups and discussed for all of two minutes during the diocesan phase of the synodal process: “From your small group sharing, name one insight where you heard the voice of the Holy Spirit today?” Combine it with other questions—“How is God speaking to us through the voices that are in our midst?” “How is God speaking to us through voices we sometimes ignore, including those on the peripheries?” “What space is there to listen to the voices on the peripheries, especially cultural groups, women, the disabled, those who experience poverty, marginalization, or social exclusion?”—and the conclusion is unavoidable that the synodal process has been engineered in advance to determine “where the Spirit is leading us.”

It is neither convincing nor reassuring for ­Austen Ivereigh to insist that discernment takes place only among the bishops at the final stage of the process, as if no discernment had gone into the synod’s methodology, the formulation of its questions, or the selection of its administrative personnel. Was the synod designed at random? That might explain the farcical nature of some of its proceedings or the poor quality of its writers and administrators, but it is hardly grounds for believing that the Holy Spirit has spontaneously moved the universal Church to select the cause of LGTBQ inclusion as the most important problem facing the world and the Church. But then the point of such proclamations is not to persuade us that the results of these deliberations are true, delivered straight from the Holy Spirit to Ivereigh’s pen. As with the revelation that Ivereigh himself was one of the authors of the first global synod document, and its ridiculous exhortation to approach its pages as “on holy ground,” the point is political. We’re reminded who is in charge, and we are instructed that criticism of the Sodalitium Franciscanum is ­really criticism of the pope himself, and so is tantamount to a rejection of Vatican II.

The many questions provoked by the unfolding of the synodal process and the political and sociological lexicon of its lay champions boil down to the question of the relationship between auctoritas and potestas, which finally turns on the question of truth. Once historicism and sociologism have annihilated the transcendent basis of truth, reducing “truth” to the sum of antecedent conditions and “what we have the power to effect,” authority becomes just another expression of the will to power. One cannot throw every truth up for grabs—“male and female he created them,” for example—while holding onto the truth of papal primacy from Pastor Aeternus, without treating the pope as a Hobbesian sovereign and basing his authority on his power rather than the reverse. Authority without truth is finally not authority at all.

Historians will almost certainly look back on this period and conclude that neither the legacy of Pope Francis nor the authority of future popes was well served by ­Francis’s friends, whatever the near-term success of the synodal process in transforming Faggioli’s beloved “systems of ecclesial governance” or, more to the point, in shoring up progressive control over them. Doctrine reduced to doctrinal policy is as fragile as any other policy, dependent on the will of the administration in power. Progressives understand this—one reason, no doubt, that they are always so anxious to see policy realized in their control over personnel and procedures. Mere “doctrinal policy” can effect changes in structure; it can even compel obedience, to the cheers of the Sodalitium Franciscanum; but it cannot bring one to believe as true what one knows to be false. Power can compel, but it cannot oblige. It cannot elicit the assent of faith, or that consent—con-sentire, a “thinking with”—that is at once a showing forth of truth and one’s own act in yielding to it. This power belongs exclusively to the authority of truth, which, as Dignitatis Humanae says, “cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.” The point is not the democratic one that consent confers authority, as James Martin seems to hold, but rather the ontological one that true authority—the authority of truth—elicits consent.

It is by the criterion of truth that the results of the Synod, and its adequacy as an interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, will ultimately be judged. “The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council,” in the words of John XXIII, was “that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously,” a doctrine, he added, that “embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul.” The Conciliar Church still believed in this traditional conception of human nature. It is difficult to see how a conclusion that contradicts or obscures this doctrine, especially as it pertains to “the whole of man,” could claim either to represent the spirit of the Council or to be a coherent interpretation of the “signs of the times,” signs that are more foreboding today than they were in the 1960s. No one imagines that the 2020s are the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. That is one farce we seem to have been spared.

Unfortunately, the synodal process seems blind to the meaning of our historical moment. Del Noce used to speak with frustration of the sort of Catholic who sought to assimilate to the faith the “partial truth” of Marxism: “The demonstration that atheism is essential to Marxism leaves him utterly indifferent.” Similarly, because neo-­modernism is an essentially political phenomenon, no amount of evidence seems able to convince its proponents that our world is not essentially the world of 1968 . . . or of 1933. The Catholic neo-modernist is a historicist, but not a good one. He is always arriving on the scene of history half a century too late, intent on “engaging” a world that no longer exists—unable to see the world as it is now, where the forces of a new totalitarianism, more total if less outwardly violent than the old, march under a rainbow flag rather than a swastika. Meanwhile, the very world the neo-modernist praises as “egalitarian” and “democratic” rebels against Being itself, perfecting the technological means to bring about its revolution and subjecting an entire generation to a vast and unaccountable science project.

This is hardly a novel observation, or even a Christian one. Writing in 1958, with the atrocities of “progressive” science still fresh in her memory, Hannah Arendt observed, “The future man, whom the scientists tell us they will produce in no more than a hundred years, seems to be possessed by a rebellion against human existence as it has been given, a free gift from nowhere (secularly speaking), which he wishes to exchange, as it were, for something he has made himself.” Lewis, Huxley, Hans Jonas, Del Noce, and Ratzinger are among the many to have made similar observations and prophecies over the past century. Arendt’s future is our present. Powerful forces within the Church would have the Church accompany the world as it barrels toward a post-political and post-human future. This neo-modernism only vindicates ­Ratzinger’s concern for the “destructive effects” that follow upon the eclipse of God and truth, confirming Arendt’s conviction that totalitarianism and thoughtlessness march together. At some point, in the face of so many warnings and so much evidence, so many atrocities and so much time, one has to ask whether this thoughtlessness is deliberate.

Though Pope Francis launched the synodal process, he has not yet passed judgment on it. I would not wish to predict that judgment. Processes by their very nature tend to elude the control of those who initiate them, unleashing forces that cannot easily be recalled. Events in Germany raise the possibility of a discrepancy between the unfolding of the synodal process and the pope’s intention in launching it. We should not assume a consonance of the synodal process with the will of the pope, any more than we should assume an identity between the pope’s vision and the radical agenda being advanced under cover of his name. Faggioli himself has written that “the 82-year-old pope’s conception of ecclesial synodality no doubt has its limits and ambivalences.” Even at this late hour, we may yet discover what those limits and ambivalences are. There remains the possibility that the pope might imitate Paul VI, who enraged the spirit of the age by rejecting the recommendations of his own Pontifical Commission on Birth Control. This pope could still make clear that the spirit of the age speaking through synodal questionnaires, focus groups, and functionaries is not the Spirit of Truth.

It is wisdom as old as Plato’s Republic and as tragic as Lear’s Cordelia: A ruler’s true friends are not his flatterers, but those who speak the truth, even at risk to themselves. What is true of kings is even more true of popes, whose authority is derived from the very Truth their office was instituted to serve. Were the pope to put down the revolution being advanced in his name—were he even to disappoint the expectations of the highly curated “People of God”—he might yet discover who his friends really are and who his true friends always were. Nevertheless, in the face of the bleak choice confronting Pope Francis, it seems inevitable that the farcical conduct of the synodal process will end in tragedy: that the synodal way, far from being our “walking together,” will almost certainly accelerate our pulling apart. Blondel was right: “This is manifestly abnormal, since there cannot be two Catholicisms.”

Michael Hanby is associate professor of religion and philosophy of science at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Catholic University of America.

Image by PxHere licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped. 

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