This two-day, invitation-only meeting did not seem to fit the description of synodality. Rather, as Massa himself said, it was about “how we can move the American church away from these culture wars divided between conservatives and liberals…to a united position where it is possible to be on a range of positions and always be seen as a good Catholic and not be insulted by people who disagree with you.
Critics in the conservative Catholic press interpreted that statement to mean how the 70 prelates present — with the help of progressives within the American Church in the form of scholars, journalists and theologians — could support the program of this pope. Those of the Catholic left National Catholic Journalist presented it as a way for bishops “to better support the agenda of Pope Francis.”
I reported at the end of 2021 that this year would be “the year in which the battle between this pontiff and the doctrinal traditionalists intensifies even further”. The culture war that dominates our politics right now has spilled over into our religious institutions and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
These meetings are another example of an escalating struggle between progressives and traditionalists in the church. Progressives are calling for “reform” in, for example, how the church deals with LGBTQ issues and breaking away from the more traditionalist bloc of cardinals by signaling an opening of the door for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive the communion. On the other hand, traditional Catholics, those who want to defend the teachings of the Church, see this movement and this pontiff as a threat to centuries of Church teaching.
What makes the gathering even more sinister for traditionalists is that conversations were conducted under the ‘Chatham House rule’ – meaning speakers, panelists and attendees agreed they could not speak that post to media content discussions to help foster an openness. environment. As a result, recordings of the keynote speeches and panel discussions have not been posted online.
Like any series of meetings not open to the public, what it all meant played out on social media and in the Catholic press across the doctrinal spectrum.
LifeSiteNews, a conservative Catholic news site, reached out to the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Archdiocese of Boston, and the Hank Center at Loyola University of Chicago, “for more information about the conference, as well as the reason for general avoidance of the media. No response has been received at the time of publication.
The panels, according to those present, included the impact of wealthy conservative influence on Catholicism and media companies, polarization among American bishops and the atmosphere of education in American seminaries.
Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, one of the attendees, said afterwards that part of the purpose of the event was to “understand the spirit of what they call ‘the opposition’”.
“We have what they call ‘opposition’ to the pope,” Rodriguez, who is also the coordinator of the Pope’s Advisory Council of Cardinals, told NCR. “It’s about trying to build walls, to go back – turning to the old liturgy or maybe to things before Vatican II.
“Vatican II is unknown to many younger generations,” he added. “So you have to come back and see that all of Pope Francis’ reforms are rooted in Vatican II.”
Some Catholics, seeing Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago in attendance, saw the meeting as a chance for progressives to gain control of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As of 2019, the USCCB has been led by Jose Gomez, the Archbishop of Los Angeles and a traditionalist whom Pope Francis did not give a red hat to despite being overseen by such a big city.