To put it as simply as possible,
(This post is an expansion of my substack post from earlier today.)
The idea of Vatican III was once the exclusive property of liberal Catholics: a hopeful dreamscape where a progressive new Church will be sung into being, and all the wishes of those who thought the Second Vatican Council didn’t go far enough will finally come true.
Today, however, the idea of Vatican III is more often invoked by fearful conservatives and traditionalists as a nightmarish hellscape where a progressive new Church will be sung into being, and all the wishes of those who thought the Second Vatican Council didn’t go far enough will finally come true.
Something seems to be in the air. Rachel Amiri recently covered the conversation between Raymond Arroyo and Cardinal Gerhard Muller about how the global Synod was some kind of “play for Vatican III,” and threatened to lead to “the destruction of the Church.” But the unemployed cardinal and the Fox News pundit were not alone in their speculation.
Journalist Andrea Gagliarducci mused in his blog post this morning that “At the beginning of the pontificate, there was much fear that Pope Francis might have convened a Vatican Council III. This permanent Synod appears to be a council in disguise.”
Many other reactionary Catholics are piling on with similar speculation. Taylor Marshall’s October 17 YouTube podcast episode was entitled “Did Pope Francis just call for Vatican 3? Dr. Taylor Marshall examines Synodal Process” (watch at your own risk — I sure didn’t). In a recent Church Militant special report with the headline “Vatican III?” correspondant Hunter Bradford asked, “They surely will be listening to a spirit, but will it be the Holy Spirit?”
Last week, papal posse member Robert Royal asked, in a slightly more cautious way, whether the global Synod was “A Piecemeal Vatican III?” He offered some advice, apparently not noticing the irony that his Thursday night gig is being a part of the papal posse: “If we’re really serious about the synodal process, we should already be making sure that this not be the synod of the media, but the synod of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church.”
I could go on, but I won’t.
For some sane analysis of this speculation, I recommend this week’s episode of Inside the Vatican with Colleen Dulle and Gerry O’Connell. From the show notes:
On Sunday, Pope Francis announced that the Synod on Synodality will be extended. Instead of one final meeting in the Vatican in October 2023, there will now be two Vatican meetings: One in Oct. 2023 and another in Oct. 2024.
This week on “Inside the Vatican,” veteran Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell and host Colleen Dulle explain the pope’s reasoning behind this decision, and whether the extension of the synodal process makes this synod, as some have said in recent days, a type of “Vatican III.”
The hosts also discuss what message Pope Francis is sending by extending the synod: Is it a sign he does not intend to resign, an effort to ensure synodality continues with future popes, or simply a declaration that becoming a “listening church” is one of his top priorities?
I agree with Gerry that this synodal process is certainly not an ecumenical council, but rather the continuing implementation of — or even an expansion — of Vatican Council II. Which should not, in principle, strike fear into the heart of any Catholic. Nor should Catholics fear a new ecumenical council, should this or a future pope decide to convene one. The Holy Spirit gives the Church what she needs, and we should not live in fear about potential future decisions of the Church.