The Francis era in Roman Catholicism is a good example of how the abnormal and even extraordinary can come to feel, with enough repetition, old hat and status quo. The wildness of the last decade is undeniable: the first papal resignation in centuries, the elevation of a new pope who began casting about for the means to alter Catholic teaching, the attempted rebellions by that pope’s own cardinals, the growing threats of schism from both the traditional and progressive wings of the church.
For a long time there was grab-you-by-the-lapels urgency to writing about all this. Wherever the reader stood, Catholic or non-Catholic, it was important to convey the sheer drama enveloping the world’s largest religious institution.
Yet as the latest act unfolds in Rome, with the gathering of bishops and laypeople called the Synod on Synodality, the feeling now is more one of repetition and familiarity.
Once again, as he did with previous synods, Pope Francis has convened a discussion that is supposedly open-ended, dialogic, the Holy Spirit blowing where it wills — but in practice seems intended to provide cover for the pope himself, the only real decider, to bring the church more into alignment with the culture of the post-sexual-revolution West.