Archbishop: If a Synod Proposal is at Odds With the Gospel, ‘That’s Not of the Holy Spirit’

‘We’ve got to be careful about blaming everything — all our opinions, our interests, lobbies, and factions — putting all that on the Holy Spirit,’ Archbishop Fisher said.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney spoke to EWTN on the occasion of the Synod on Synodality.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney spoke to EWTN on the occasion of the Synod on Synodality. (photo: EWTN News)

During the Synod on Synodality, we must be careful about “blaming everything on the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney has said, noting that if a proposal is radically at odds with the Gospel then “that’s not of the Holy Spirit.”

“The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Spirit. He is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, and so he is only ever going to be saying things that are consistent with what Christ has revealed to us in the apostolic tradition,” Archbishop Fisher told CNA in an interview in Rome this week.

Much emphasis has been placed on listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit during the October assembly with synod delegates gathering for nearly daily small-group “conversations in the Spirit,” described on the synod website as “a dynamic of discernment in a synodal Church.”

The Australian Dominican explained that if some synod proposal is “radically at odds” with the Gospel and the apostolic tradition, “that’s not of the Holy Spirit because we cannot have Christ and the Holy Spirit at war with each other.”

“We’ve got to be careful about blaming everything — all our opinions, our interests, lobbies, and factions — putting all that on the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Fisher said. 

“Catholics like to think that the Holy Spirit elects the pope, the Holy Spirit chooses our bishops and priests for us, the Holy Spirit does this and that. And there’s no doubt that God’s hand, God’s providence, is there in all those important things in our lives and in the life of the Church. But we’ve also had some terrible popes in history. We’ve had some awful priests and bishops and awful things happen in people’s lives. And was the Holy Spirit absent? No, but he permitted those things to happen.”

“So let’s not pin everything on the Holy Spirit that happens at the synod or anywhere else in our lives. I think that’s actually superstitious to do that,” he added. 

The challenge of the synod is to listen and ask what God is saying to us and to the Church at this time, he explained, adding that the Church has already provided helpful “guideposts” when trying to discern the will of God.

“Christ has given us everything we need for our salvation, already revealed. We hand that on from generation to generation, the Gospel and the teachings of the Church,” he said.

“We already have a whole body of teaching, of reflection, by thousands and thousands of people down through the generations, guided by the Holy Spirit on all sorts of questions there to help us, the deposit of faith as we call it, it’s there to be mined.”

“So we’re not just left to our own devices, our own thinking — whatever the mood is in the assembly on a particular matter. We’ve actually got something solid to rely on and to test the moods and the intuitions against,” he said.

Synod Discussion of Women’s Ordination

The 62-year-old archbishop of Sydney noted that there has been “a long discussion about the ordination of women” in the synod assembly.

“I don’t think that’s revealing anything that people didn’t know already,” he added. “And there’s a lot of tension and emotion around an issue like that.” 

He said that it is hard to know what the assembly as a whole feels on this issue because people hear a report from each of the 35 tables in the hall, but “you don’t know whether that report is reporting what one person said or what all 12 people that table [said].”

“So you don’t know if that’s the enthusiasm of one or two people at each table or an enthusiasm that’s really held by nearly the whole room,” he said.

Archbishop Fisher told EWTN News he thinks the synod could be an opportunity to talk about bigger issues in the Church today, like how many young people are saying that they have no religion at all. 

“It is much more urgent, in the end, so much more serious than tinkering at the edges about whether 0.001% of women might be deaconesses or lady women deacons,” he said.

“It’s trivial compared to the huge loss of faith that we have happening particularly in whole generations at the moment.”

He added that when people lose their faith, they go elsewhere to look for meaning, and “people go to a lot of very destructive places searching for meaning and hope and happiness.”

“For their sake, we’ve got to be much more active in evangelizing our culture and especially our young adults,” he added.

“What I’d love to come out of the synod would be an enthusiasm for bringing the faith back to people that should have it and for whatever reason are disconnected,” he said.

‘This Synod is an Experiment’

Archbishop Fisher, who has served as the archbishop of Sydney for nearly a decade, noted that the Synod on Synodality is “quite different” from the previous Synod of Bishops that he attended.

He described the entire process as “an experiment,” adding: “It raises all sorts of quite serious theological questions.”

The Synod of Bishops set up by Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council was “intended to be an expression of episcopal collegiality of the college of bishops together,” he explained, “like the group of the apostles together … and in particular their magisterium, their teaching together."

Whereas the Synod on Synodality is more like “a hybrid” of the Synod of Bishops and other types of Church gatherings and meetings with bishops, priests, religious sisters, and laypeople. 

“It’s both being a Synod of Bishops and being an ecclesial gathering all in one. And there are questions that it raises. So what is its ecclesial nature? What is its authority? … Is it trying to be the bishops like the gathering of the apostles? Or is it trying to be the gathering of all the baptized?”

“I think we need to do probably a lot more thinking about, well, what does all that mean ecclesiologically, canonically, practically?”

Archbishop Fisher said that there is also discussion about the proportion of laypeople, particularly women, in the Synod on Synodality.

“There’s more women than there’s ever been before and yet [the synod] is still copping a lot of criticism that it still doesn’t have enough women,” he noted.

The Australian archbishop added that one of the upsides of the Synod on Synodality has been the wide range of Catholics from across the globe gathered together at the Vatican this month.

“I’ve met a bigger range of bishops in the last two weeks than probably in my previous 20 years. And that has to be a positive,” he said.