Australian Youth to Synod: We Can’t Help Shape the Church Until the Church Forms Us

In a letter to the Synod, a group of young people criticize replacing the truth with policy-speak and call out senior prelates who deliberately use ambiguous language in the face of Christ’s teachings.

Opening session of the Synod on Youth, Oct. 3, 2018.
Opening session of the Synod on Youth, Oct. 3, 2018. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

Ambiguity and confusion over Catholic teaching is “neither charitable nor desired” by young people who instead want the Church to form them in the truth of Christ, a group of young Australians has told the Youth Synod. 

In an Oct. 12 letter addressed to the Synod Fathers and all the assembly's participants (see full text below), 217 Australian university students and young professionals stress that young people “do not want to shape the Church before the Church can form us,” and that they are yearning for a “reliable moral compass.” 

“The world is confused,” they write, “and in this confusion, the young have nothing to grasp. We want the Synod Fathers to remind the world that God will only deliver us when we cling to Him in love.”

Drawing on Blessed John Henry Newman’s teaching on conscience, they stress that “without the Church and everything she offers” conscience has “no substance” and that the young “need to be well-formed in the truth.” 

“We cannot shape the Church when we are not formed,” they repeat. “Formless minds will manifest a shapeless Church, constantly evading the truth.” 

Their petition comes in the face of some criticism of the Synod, especially the Instrumentum laboris (working document), which, according to a theological critique shared by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, contained five principal problems, including an “inadequate grasp of the Church's spiritual authority” and a “partial theological anthropology.” 

Other critics attending or observing the Synod have expressed concerns to the Register that the debates lack substance and depth, and have noticeably avoided crucial life issues.  

The letter’s signatories, all current or alumni members of the Australian Catholic Students Association, ask how could they even presume to shape the Church in view of their ongoing conversion and the many who have gone before, including the Church’s Saints and martyrs. 


Ambiguous ‘Policy-Speak’

They argue that they have no hope of forming the Church amid confusion over issues such as “contraception, sexuality, communion for divorcees and non-Catholics, married priests and female ordination.” Such confusion, they continue, “is borne from senior prelates purposefully employing ambiguous language when addressing such issues, even in the face of Christ’s teachings, the Church Fathers and the clear dogma of the Church.” 

“Such ambiguity is neither charitable nor desired by the youth and needs to be addressed by this Synod,” they say, adding that it is rules encouraging a personal relationship with Christ which “lead us to Christ, they always have.”  

“When the Church eschews the truth for policy-speak, young people are left with only superficial banalities to express their beliefs,” the Australian youth point out. “Deliberately unclear words are, ironically, relied on and repeated with rigidity. The Church should not discourage young people following its rules in love, nor its priests from teaching them.”

They go on to urge the Synod Fathers to also encourage pilgrimages, adoration and other devotions, and speak favorably of the Dr. Jordan Peterson phenomenon, referencing the popularity of the Canadian clinical psychologist who “doesn’t tell the young they are fine the way they are.” But they also stress that Peterson and others like him are unable to offer the “fullness of truth” because they “do not have faith.” 

“Only the Church can provide real meaning to our world,” the young signatories argue. “The Synod Fathers need to accept this mission. The young want the truth, unambiguously.” 

They also write to the Synod Fathers about the need to make the Mass “worthy of the profound claim it is making,” and argue against bringing the Eucharistic celebration “down to our level of comfort” and thereby turning it into a “weird claim which people struggle to take seriously.” 

As part of a solution, the youth propose widening use of the Divine Office to complement Eucharistic adoration, using the Psalms as a means to welcome people into church. 

They end their petition by stressing that young people won’t find heaven “wandering the wasteland around us” but through the Sacraments and being “sheltered by the Truth in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.” 

“The young do not want to look elsewhere anymore,” they write in closing. “We do not only want accompaniment in the wasteland. Synod Fathers, plant us in the mystical garden.”

Australian Youth Write Letter to the Synod Fathers