Did the pope really say that the Church had ceased to exist?

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By Phil Lawler ( bio – articles – email ) | August 04, 2022

This is, I believe, the ultimate expression of “the hermeneutics of rupture”. In his July 29 conversation with the Jesuits in Canada, Pope Francis appears to have said that the Roman Catholic Church ceased to exist!

Read his words and check my logic. The pope said that “either the Church is synodal or it is not the Church”. Then a few moments later: “Of course, we can say that the Western Church has lost its synodal tradition. It therefore follows that “the Church in the West” was not the Church.

The pope concedes that synodality – thus, the Church, according to his definition – continued. “The Church of the East has preserved it. But this startling statement by this amazing Pontiff seems to dismiss the authenticity of “the Church in the West” – that is, the Roman Catholic Church, which he now leads. And notice that he doesn’t make this statement as an assumption; he begins the crucial sentence with the word “Certainly”.

The Pope’s statement does not specify at what historical moment the Western Church lost its synodal character. But it does indicate when it was recovered: after Vatican II:

Paul VI created the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops because he intended to move forward on this issue. Synod after synod moved forward, timidly, improving, understanding better, maturing.

In his famous 2005 address to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict denounced “the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture”, which alleged “a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church”. But nowhere has this “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” taken such a radical form as this: the suggestion that the Church had ceased to be the Church before the Council.

In his remarks to the Jesuit community in Quebec, the pope does not clearly explain what “synodalism” means, other than a statement that it is a movement of the Holy Spirit. The synod is not a parliament, he says. It’s not about debating and voting; “nor is it a dialectical confrontation between a majority and a minority.” But then what exactly is this crucial element, without which the Church cannot exist?

“If you want to read the best theology book on the synod,” the Pope says, “then read the Acts of the Apostles again.” This is another very interesting remark. Because in Acts, the most visible exercise of synodality comes at the Council of Jerusalem, where the assembled bishops rejected the position held by Saint Peter. If the next plenary meeting of the Synod of Bishops produces the same result – a correction from the successor of Saint Peter – we can count on great success.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for over 30 years. He edited several Catholic magazines and wrote eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is news director and senior analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full biography.

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