From Sessions to Synodality, can we please stay mad?

Something weird happened last week.

Okay, lots of weird things happened last week. If you stick with this post, you’ll find out what I think about the Pope and the Synod that went “splat.” But one weird thing that made me giggle was the spectacle of thousands of people streaming through the streets of the nation in righteous outrage to protest the unjust firing of . . . Jeff Sessions.

You remember Sessions, America’s darling, pictured here in happier times:

Tee hee, just a little joke. But you do recall that, when Trump picked Sessions for Attorney General two years ago, there was a lot of tooth gnashing, and not undeserved. The man does appear to be a bona fide nativist, if not a racist, and that’s why Trump chose him. Back in 2016, when Trump assumed he could utterly control him, Jeff Sessions was the new Jim Crow, said The Root, for instance. Nancy Pelosi, as many have pointed out, thought in 2017 that “anything less than [his] resignation or removal from office is unacceptable.”

But now 2018 is winding down and who is Jeff Sessions? Why, he’s the only thing saving us from being annexed by Russia, that’s all! La Pelosi now weighs in on the scandal of his resignation or removal from office that she demanded:

She’s right, of course. The Muller investigation is wrapping up and Trump hasn’t managed to fire his way out from under it yet, so he finally got rid of Sessions. And now everyone who very recently wanted to redecorate their condo with Jeff Sessions’ head on a pike is now weeping tears of blood because the Tyrant Trump has quashed our savior, Jeff Sessions.

Please don’t mistake me here: Everybody is terrible. Sessions is terrible, Trump is terrible, Pelosi is terrible. Russia is terrible. And one more time, for good measure: Trump. Terrible.

But also terrible is the terribly, terribly short memory of the news-consuming public. We can’t even remember what we were mad about six months ago, because right now there are different headlines in front of our faces. Different headlines, do you hear? And we forget what we’re supposed to be outraged about, and why, and who the perpetrator is.

I don’t actually care much about Jeff Sessions, but here’s something I do care about: The recent Synod, and how useless everyone knew it was . . . until the Pope quashed it.

A few weeks ago, every American lay Catholic who hasn’t been in a coma for the last five years was disgusted beyond measure with our bishops. After spending decades playing pervert valet, they finally got caught out; and they responded first with silence, and then by blaming priests and blaming the laity, and then by rolling out countless tone deaf, toothless, worse-than-useless statements and action plans.

We were pretty mad. One fellow on my Facebook wall (and I probably should have saved a screenshot for the FBI) wanted the bishops beheaded in St. Peter’s; but even those non-crazy among us wanted metaphorical heads to roll. We wanted mass resignations from the worst offenders, and we wanted true contrition, true repentance, and true reform. Remember?

And they offered us guidelines, mission statements, and ass-covering; they bought themselves pretty houses, were swatted down, and then bought themselves more pretty houses; and they gave each other awards for how much money they raised. They complained that donations were down.

Remember when Cupich said “we have a bigger agenda than to be distracted by all of this,”— “this” being the sex-abuse scandal and cover-up — and told a seminarian “I am sleeping OK”? I remember!

And so the one thing we all knew was the Synod was going to be useless. We were mad when they went ahead and whooped it up at World Youth Day, and we were violently skeptical that anything useful or self-aware could come from this group of men working together and overseeing each other.

And yet, the last few days of Catholic social media have been full of laymen outraged at the Pope for how he treated our beloved USCCB, for how he undercut, humiliated, and castrated them with his brutal, top-down swat-down. And that’s insane. I’m still mad at the bishops, and you should be, too. Nothing has changed except the narrative.

Don’t mistake me. I’m not defending the Pope’s actions or motives. The way he handled this situation was crappy. I pray for his soul and I pray that his future actions won’t cause more harm to the Church, but I don’t see a single reason to hope that he’ll suddenly become the man to dig out the institutional church’s deep, deep roots of corruption. I have given up on this pontificate. He doesn’t have some satanic plan to oversee the deliberate degradation of the Church;  he just doesn’t want to see how bad things are, he doesn’t want to know why they’re so bad, and most of all, he just plain doesn’t like it when people don’t knuckle under. Thus the stunningly bad optics of his actions, which predictably came across as “I heart child abuse.”

But for crying out loud, bad optics is all this is. Nothing more. Nothing good was spoiled here. Nothing worthwhile was quashed. No ground was lost. I say this with confidence despite not knowing the first thing about what the bishops decided in their synod, because there’s not a scrap of evidence that most of them (not all, but most) ever understood what the hell the problem even was. Unless Our Lady of Fed-Upness stopped in and smacked the synodial hors d’eouvres out of their hands and made them smarten up, I guarantee you they came out of there just as clueless and self-serving as they were when they filed in.

And so it’s bizarre and dispiriting to hear so many howls of despair over this allegedly crushing blow to synodality. Oh, no, they didn’t get to vote! Oh, no, the synod came to naught! So what? Remember who got us here. Don’t let the latest outrage sway your focus and turn the bishops into some kind of victims who are trying so hard to reform things but the mean pope won’t let them. That’s not what’s going on here.

As canonist Ed Peters said on Twitter:

While Rome has (needlessly but not illegally per Canon 455) forbidden US bishops from adopting NATIONAL standards for episcopal accountability, nothing prevents individual bishops from presenting PERSONAL provisions for same, whereupon other bishops might choose to copy them.

Let’s see some of that, your eminences. Let’s see how well you understand your flock and what they need. You wanted to be able to act, so let’s see some action. I haven’t given up on you. But I’ll need more than a “big bad pope” narrative to make me trust you.





We Are All Loyal Klansman image uploaded by Bcrowell at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain,

Photo by Simcha Fisher of painting titled “The Cardinal’s Portrait” by Toby Edward Rosenthal

Liked it? Take a second to support simchajfisher on Patreon!

13 thoughts on “From Sessions to Synodality, can we please stay mad?”

  1. Trump is not terrible.
    Trump is the most pro-life president (perhaps of all time).
    Trump is restoring security, respectability, and (dare I say) morality to these United States of America.
    Trump is a better man personally morally than perhaps more than half of our priest and who know a quarter of our Bishops, or less.
    Trump is a gift to America unborn babies and Catholics.

    1. As I type this, I know you won’t receive it…but maybe someone else reading your post might. Just pure facts: 1) You are not in a position to judge another’s morality, nor am I. But, let’s suspend that and say we can. 2) Trump has had two divorces. If you remember or know nothing else about him, doesn’t this put him a little lower on the ol’ Catholic score board than “half of our priests”?

      1. 1) Yes; I am in a position to judge the morality of another — just as any other thinking Catholic with sight is. Were we not able to judge another’s morality, how would we ever be able to say, “No” to participating in the sinful behavior of another, or correct our brother, or avoid sin ourselves?

        2) No; his divorces do not put him “a little lower” (or lower at all for that matter) than the rape of childre n or seminarians; nor a conspiracy to cover it up. That’s much much more evil.

        We are witnessing a wholesale apostasy in the church at all levels from the highest to the lowest in men, unlike Trump, who will have to answer before the Just Judge for how they used their ‘talents’ (their sacred priesthood). Many will have much to answer. And much more than Trump.

        BTW Instead of the Sacraments Doctrine Saints & Salvation, Pope Francis is supporting, and encouraging, the lawless caravan seeking to invade America as a means to pressure and harass Trump — to the endangerment of these people and the people of these USA.

        Thank God for Trump. Were it otherwise our country would have already fallen.

  2. This is very good, but on one point I think it falls into the same trap of forgetting recent events. I agree that it’s odd to suddenly see the US bishops as the Last Guardians of Children after their proven incompetence. However, we also forget that these bishops requested a Vatican investigation and Apostolic Visitation before they tried to craft this policy this week. That investigation was also squashed from above.

  3. Is there a Lady of Fed Upness novena available? I feel like with holidays coming up and my own prodigal to love, I could sure use her help.

    Sigh, in regards to the bishops. It seems like it’s long overdue to turn over some tables.

  4. “I have given up on this pontificate”–Wait. What?

    Do you even understand how pretentious that sounds? If you think that this the time and the reason for abandoning hope, than it must follow that you have given up admiration for his predecessors? Time to find Benny a new name?

    In Pope John Paul’s last years, I’m sure he began hearing more and more about abusers. Should we fault him for not pressing the panic button?

    In a hundred years, I believe we will see all of this “crisis” through a different lens. We will see it as one more chapter in the history of a Church that has always done battle with a “mystery of iniquity”.

    1. Yes, I am confused as to why JPJ II & Benedict get a pass on this issue, while Francis incurs wrath. They have all failed in this area. It hurts to know that, but Francis is just the latest in a line of men who did not do everything they could to protect our children or our church.

      1. I was just watching this “historical drama” on Netflix about how a couple of cool Swedish dudes saved the “true line of succession” of the Swedish throne. At one point the Catholic bishop, who backs the faction trying to depose the bastard child says “bring me the child’s head.”

        So I was all like, “wow, things have gotten so much better in the Church!”

        Anyhoo, (and I’m only half joking) I’ve always thought that just the confessions of my big ‘ole extended family make the gropers look like saints. Maybe I’m just damaged and it’s hard to shock me anymore. –I feel sorry for the Catholic priests that have the dirt on everyone–they’ve been taking out the garbage for 2,000 years. They *know* what’s in the dump, so me thinks that they feel blindsided. The vast, vast majority of abuse was to be found in Catholic homes headed up by Catholic Dads.

        I doubt there would be a single family tree left intact if the Catholic Church had removed ALL of the abusive fathers.

        Now THAT’S the silver lining. If you remove one category of abusers, you must intervene and remove ALL abusers. Kind of exciting, eh?

        If you go for the ultimate cleansing, and throw out Francis, and Ben, and JP, I’m afraid you have to throw the whole kit and kaboodle out, –because nothing is pure enough for your tastes.

        Just sayin

        1. If you’re addressing me, I didn’t suggest we should throw out JPJII, Benedict, or Francis. They are all human, and all flawed. I believe all of them have failed in this area. But it’s stupid to throw out the baby with the bathwater. All I am saying is that Francis is no better or worse than our last few previous popes.

  5. I agree with you on this one, Simcha. I believe the Pope was right to slap USCCB down for attempting to usurp Papal powers of investigation & punishment. BUT (and this is a big but), the Bishops are panicky over people like me who will not give a dime to USCCB projects until their house is cleaned, so made it seem like they were doing something, anything to stop monetary bleed out until the actual Papal smackdown coming in February. The Bishops did everything but name or censure those either under suspicion or responsible and, in fact, allowed one of them (Cupich- under suspicion of turning a blind eye to abuse), to speak for them! They can spare me the “poor, pitiful pearl” act until the likes of Cupich, McCarrick, Wuerl, Dolan, etc., are thoroughly investigated and, if needed, removed from, not only their offices but entirely from the realm of any influence in the Church.

    1. I haven’t for a moment forgotten that Jefferson Sessions is a racist. Also, as Trump’s foreign relations advisor during the 2016 campaign, he is involved in the Russian collusion scandal up to his eyeballs–which is why he recused himself. He didn’t want to get himself into any more trouble than he knew he was already in. Sessions will most likely be indicted before this is over.
      The outrage over the firing of Sessions has nothing to do with the man’s character nor with his deplorable policies. Session’s recusal was the only thing keeping Trump from taking control of an investigation into his own wrongdoing. The firing was an obstruction of justice, pure and simple. And Sessions himself is one of many who must be brought to justice.
      And the investigation isn’t “close to being wrapped up”. That is a narrative being advanced by the White House in order to further the lie that nothing substantial has been found. The fact is that this is a very complex investigation that would normally take ten years to complete. Mueller and his team know that time is of the essence here; they are working to wrap things up in three years, from the time the investigation was opened in June of 2016. If Mueller chooses to issue a final report it will probably arrive around June of 2019. In the meantime, expect more “speaking indictments” that lay out for the public the real nature of the relationship between Trump’s campaign and Putin, as well as the money-laundering being done over the years for Russian oligarchs and members of the Russian mafia.
      If you’re interested in learning more about the plot to steal our democracy I suggest reading Proof of Collusion, an in-depth analysis by Seth Abramson published by Simon and Shuster. It came out today and is available in print, audiobooks and on Kindle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *