Over the past few months I’ve turned my regular column space over to young adults on a number of occasions. They’ve used this space to offer their views on the 2018 synod of bishops focusing on youth. That synod begins this week in Rome, on Wednesday, October 3. Below is a letter I received on September 30 from India. The text is used with the author’s permission; the name is withheld at his request.
I am a young adult Syro-Malabar Catholic living in India. I would like to express my thoughts on the upcoming synod.
I have read the recent article, The Synod on Youth: An Exchange (First Things web, 9.28) between another American Churchman and yourself, regarding problems in the synod’s instrumentum laboris [working document]. He writes: “The interest in listening [to the experiences and desires of young people] is precisely so that the teaching may be effectively received (see discussion in 53).”
But no. 53 of the instrumentum does not actually state that the interest in listening is so that the teaching may be effectively received. The paragraph certainly does point toward that direction and comes close to saying it, but does not actually say it. Those who trust in the good intentions of the Synod Fathers would not see this as a problem, but that is precisely the issue at hand.
Unfortunate as it may be, the hierarchy simply does not have the trust of a significant portion of the laity. This trust must be regained, and it certainly won’t be regained by speaking as though they have something to hide. People are already familiar with this type of evasive language with built-in loopholes, having heard it from con men in the form of politicians and businessmen.
George Orwell’s points in his incisive essay Politics and the English Language are pertinent:
“… words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying.
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”
If the Church wants young people to listen to her, she should first convince us that she has a message, that she is qualified to preach it, and that she does so with conviction and compassion.
The society I live in probably has higher regard for traditional values than mainstream American society, and hence the state of the Church is different in the two places. In my life, there have been two things in priests that have made me angry. One is excessive rigidity and bitterness. I am not at all saying that professing the faith is wrong; instead, I am referring to priests who have a very short temper and use curse words or similarly insulting language. The second problem is that priests are at times unavailable for Confession. Several times, I have gone to my parish and found that I couldn’t confess my sins then.
I would also like to bring to your notice that the Church in India is reeling from the pain of scandal. A nun accused a bishop of abuse. A group of nuns made a public demonstration of protest asking for the bishop to be arrested. The bishop was then arrested by the police. The case is ongoing, he hasn’t been convicted yet, and he denies any wrongdoing. The media are filled with news about this story, and this has become a topic of conversation in many households. Unfortunately, many misconceptions about the Church and the hierarchy are also spread along with facts and opinions in these conversations.
In First Things (First Things web, 9.21), you recently said: Over the past several months, I’ve received scores of emails and letters from laypeople, clergy, theologians, and other scholars, young and old, with their thoughts regarding the October synod of bishops in Rome focused on young people. Nearly all note the importance of the subject matter. Nearly all praise the synod’s intent. And nearly all raise concerns of one sort or another about the synod’s timing and possible content.
I, too, note the importance of the subject matter, praise the synod’s intent, but have concerns about the synod’s timing and possible content.
I can attest that Pope Emeritus Benedict’s writings and speeches have touched me because of their incisiveness and profundity. Though I still don’t know the full depth of the Catholic faith, I know at least that there is such a depth. The theologian’s critique that you offered in First Things does a good job in assessing the content of the instrumentum laboris, but it neglects the document’s tone of language. At least in some places, the instrumentum contains trite, bland, superficial “fluff” rather than substantial content. But Christ never spoke this fluff. St Paul never spoke this fluff.
Again: If the Church wants young people to listen to her, she should first convince us that she has a message, that she is qualified to preach it, and that she does so with conviction and compassion.
Thank you for considering these thoughts.
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