The “Experience” of Modernism

The Instrumentum Laboris (IL), or working document, of the recently concluded synod on youth states quite starkly that “personal experiences cannot be placed in question” (IL 55).1 This statement seems intended as a glowing ratification and endorsement of the approach that youth purportedly take to life. The IL claims that young people experience truth by just jumping in and doing, rather than by “theoretical analysis” (IL 26). In other words, the document effectively discourages youth from thinking first, with reference to objective standards of morality, about what they ought or ought not to do in any given situation, and then acting accordingly. In these and other ways, the IL suggests that direct, personal experience is indisputably true. This disregards wholly the fact that what is “true” from the subject’s perspective might be objectively false or gravely immoral in reality, to the detriment of both that person and others.

Despite the unqualified and problematic nature of the IL’s declarations, the authors of the final report on youth expect us to read the latter together with the former, so that the IL will inform how the final report is ultimately interpreted.2 It seems, therefore, that these authors, and those of like mind, are determined to advance “officially” a distorted understanding of human experience, which bespeaks a flawed anthropology. Should Pope Francis approve the final report on youth without first correcting this and its other substantial problems, it will only lead to the propagation of more grave errors. Despite the immense harm and confusion that this would cause, however, errors — even if “officially” promulgated — are in no way binding on conscience. Indeed, one is morally bound to reject everything opposed to the truth.

The skewed understanding of experience just described, though hardly new, has been gaining ground in the Church lately. To cite another recent example, U.S. Cardinal Kevin Farrell repeated, back in July, a claim he had made on other occasions, namely, that priests “have no credibility” in preparing couples for marriage because they lack the personal experience of married life.3 Personal experience, it seems, is the only means of attaining a true knowledge of reality. In consequence, Farrell — who is prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastory for Laity, Family, and Life — maintains that married lay people are better suited to the task of marriage prep. It might be that he thinks this task could also be entrusted to divorced and “remarried” Catholics, since he favors including them “in all the ministries of the church” (italics added).4 Be that as it may, several authors have incisively refuted his unsubstantiated and unsustainable claim.5

Nevertheless, we might well see Farrell’s claim factor into the looming Church debate about whether married men (and women?) ought to be admitted to the priesthood. We already have a hint along those lines in Amoris Laetitia (AL), which Farrell champions with blind enthusiasm. In part, the document states that “ordained ministers often lack the training needed to deal with the complex problems currently facing families. The experience of the broad oriental tradition of a married clergy could [along with more adequate pastoral formation] also be drawn upon” (AL 202; italics added).

While Pope Francis states that trained lay leaders, with the help of competent professionals, can assist in ministering to families and engaged couples, he also observes that this does not diminish, but rather complements, “the fundamental value of spiritual direction, the rich spiritual treasures of the Church, and sacramental Reconciliation” (AL 204). Farrell, on the other hand, seems to discount such spiritual gifts entirely, choosing instead to belittle the indispensable role of faithful, celibate priests in shepherding engaged couples — and, by extension, families (among others) — by means of them. In his view, priests have only book knowledge of such matters, not life knowledge, or practical experience. Again, this presumes that the truth and goodness of an action or a way of life are revealed only in the lived experience of it. But that “revelation” goes only as far as the actor himself, whose subjective take on what he does or how he lives in no way validates the experience as actually true and good.

“Experience” in Modernism

Let us focus herein on the tired yet pernicious argument from “experience” that some in the Church are employing as a means of insinuating and justifying the need for radical changes in Church teaching and practice. The argument flows from Modernistic presuppositions, which are enjoying a vigorous resurgence under the present pontificate. Modernism exalts personal experience — religious experience, in particular — to such a degree that each individual’s inner religious sense, or “faith” (the coming-to-consciousness of natural, subconscious religious impulses), becomes the locus and the final arbiter of religious truth. It becomes the “revelation” about who God is and how He wants us to live.

Accordingly, the IL on youth states that “human beings discover truth once they experience it from God, the only one who is truly reliable and trustworthy” (IL 55). It follows that God does not really speak to us objectively through Scripture, Tradition, and official Church teaching on faith and morals, because “there legitimately coexist different ways of interpreting many aspects of doctrine and Christian life” (IL 3; see also AL 3). Rather, Church “dogmas,” in the Modernist view, are merely symbolic formulas reflecting the effort of the Christian mind to clarify the meaning of the inner religious experiences common to all people, but which different religions express variously. As such, they are invariably provisional. Church teaching is useful only insofar as it speaks to, or revives, our own religious experience, which serves, in turn, as its interpreter and judge.

To put it another way, both Christians and non-Christians discover, or “discern” in conscience, what God has to say to them through their own, ever-changing, personal experiences — that is, through “their feelings and wishes, elicited by life events and related to ideas, images, and projects” (IL 112). More simply, “God” will always tell us exactly what we want to hear at any given moment, for each of us is ultimately the author of his own truth. As far as the Modernist is concerned, the “voice of God” always coincides with his personal feelings about what he is doing — feelings that arise from, and that he expresses according to, the way he conceives, imagines, and conducts his own life. And he is never wrong about these experiences: they are his indisputable “truth.”

In the Modernist view, the Christian source of inspiration for Christianity’s fundamentally common mode of religious expression is the way that Jesus of Nazareth — an extraordinary man, but hardly divine — expressed the consciousness He had of His own, uniquely profound experience of God. While the Church’s Magisterium eventually sanctions certain modes of religious expression by declaring them dogmas, these, like man himself, are historically conditioned, hence mutable. They must therefore “evolve” over time to express the “truth” of religious experience as it presents itself to man’s consciousness in his contemporary situation. Clearly, then, there can be no such thing as eternal truth.

We must keep this in mind when we find ourselves puzzled and appalled these days by various hierarchical (to say nothing of lay) efforts to introduce novelty and moral perversity into traditional Church teaching and practice, under the pretext that the Holy Spirit is doing something “new” within our rapidly changing historical, cultural, and social situation (hence, our need to read “the signs of the times”). Were that so, there would have been no point in God’s intervening in Israel’s history, and then entering that history personally in Jesus Christ, so as to reveal to the world — in a supernatural, public, definitive, and infallible way — unchanging theological and moral truths, for the sake of human salvation. In the end, Modernism renders Judeo-Christianity superfluous — indeed, irrelevant — by denying its objective reality and abiding authority as divine revelation.

Since Modernism denies reason’s ability to ascend beyond one’s own experience (or “concrete situation,” as AL likes to put it), it is impossible for the Modernist to affirm seriously the existence of objective, eternally valid theological truths, or of moral truths that are absolutely binding on everyone, in every time, place, and circumstance. Modernists can therefore never get beyond the question, “Who am I to judge?” (judge though they do), for Modernism reduces everything that someone believes or does to a personal experience that everyone else must regard as equally valid to his own. There is no room for argument here, for no one has direct access to the inner experience of another.

Accordingly, we should not be surprised to read, in AL, statements such as the following: “Everyone has something to contribute, because they have their life experiences. . . . We ought to be able to acknowledge the other person’s truth” (AL 138; italics added). “Since adolescents usually have issues with authority and rules, it is best to encourage their own experience of faith” (AL 288; italics added). Unqualified, subjectivistic statements like these, while perhaps well-meaning in their context, are nevertheless telling, and hardly benign. They are consistent with AL’s reduction of rational and revealed moral truth to a mere “ideal,” from whose realization God, as you or I happen to experience (or “discern”) Him in conscience, might dispense us (e.g., AL 303).

The relativizing of moral truth entails, necessarily, an “evolving,” Modernistic understanding of revealed, theological truth. For, to relativize God’s absolute moral law, I must reduce God Himself to what I conceive, want, need, and correspondingly experience Him to be. Conveniently enough, this allows me to perceive inwardly that He permits exceptions, at least in my case, to the exceptionless moral laws that He has established in accordance with the exigencies of human nature, and that He has revealed to us objectively, in human history, as indispensable for our temporal and eternal good. It follows that these laws were never really exceptionless, nor objectively revealed, nor indispensable in the first place. Rather, one is left with an accommodating, tolerant, and self-contradictory “god” that tells me to do one thing, and my neighbor to do the exact opposite, in the identical moral situation. This “god” is nothing other than a reflection of one’s own hubristic ego. Ironically, such self-deification is merely a form of atheism.

“Experience” in Liberation Theology

Given the abiding sympathy of Pope Francis and some of his bishops for “liberation theology,” it is worth noting that various theologies of liberation likewise reduce truth to an experience: truth is that which reveals itself to me in my violent, revolutionary opposition to my “oppressors.” Exactly what is the truth that I perceive through my revolutionary praxis — that is, through my practical experience of violently overthrowing my oppressors? It is the Marxist “truth” that class struggle is the law of history, including the Church’s history. Any other “truth” proposed, particularly by the “oppressors,” must be regarded with suspicion and rejected, as it reflects only their class interests.

This outlook might well have a basis in real injustices, though sometimes the injustice, or the theory that interprets it, is largely imaginary or contrived. In either case, certain people distort or fabricate the truth by interpreting a situation subjectivistically, in such a way as to manipulate the psychology and the emotion of others, so as to exploit or create a situation of conflict. In that way, they stir up prideful resentment and a violent disposition in “the oppressed.” By thus sowing discord and dividing people, the instigators seek, not to correct injustices as they promise, but to change the balance of power in their own favor. They maneuver to take advantage of the chaos arising from the violent revolution that they have incited by pitting poor against rich, worker against employer, race against race, female against male, laity against clergy, and so on, in order to dominate, in various ways, both the masses they have manipulated to help them ascend to power, and the “oppressors” they hope thus to overthrow. In the final analysis, then, theologies of liberation — subscribing, as they do, to this warped ideology — rule out real dialogue, conciliatory initiatives, and objective truth, thereby precluding true peace, justice, trust, freedom, and virtue.

Like Modernism, liberationist ideologies deny the existence of any truth that transcends the historically situated subject. Truth is, rather, a reality immanent in the human experience of class struggle. Even one’s understanding of Christ Himself, and of the Kingdom He proclaimed, is said to arise out of that experience. Unlike Modernism, however, which refrains from acknowledging its absolute principle that there are no absolutes, theologies of liberation affirm that there is, indeed, an absolute law: the immoral absolute of violent class struggle, unrestrained by any ethical principles.

In the view of many people in Western society and in the Church today, ethical principles as such are the biggest source of oppression. They are a yoke that someone else, even God Himself, has “imposed” on them from without, and that they are eager to cast off. In consequence, the “oppressed classes” feel justified in acting unethically, even violently, to overthrow — to “liberate” themselves from, and to assert their “rights” against — the persons (including God), the institutions, the attitudes, and the symbols that proclaim, promote, represent, or exemplify moral decency; that issue moral imperatives; or that allegedly place any limitation on their personal “freedom.” While some of these antagonists act consciously, albeit under other pretexts, to suppress morality, it is also true that some of them act more viscerally. But it seems that none of them have fully clarified for themselves that the underlying reason for their lawless, subversive behavior is the moral conflict raging within them.

Discovering the Truth in Experience through Intellectual Judgment

The reader will perhaps have detected some grains of truth, however twisted, in the Modernist and liberationist understandings of truth and experience. In particular, it is true that we do learn from experience. Indeed, we know from experience that experience — our consciousness, through the body, of ourselves and the world, and of our relations with each other and the world — can teach us something.

On the one hand, there is no such thing as raw, human experience. The mere awareness that I am experiencing something would not teach me anything. It would just be something that happens to me, something that I undergo or endure passively and react to reflexively. This would reduce me to pure animality.

On the other hand, intense feelings might accompany my experience and give rise to strong convictions about the “truth” of what I’m experiencing. What has happened here, though, is that I have allowed the feelings produced by my lower faculties to subdue or override the operation of the higher — my intellect and will. But that kind of an experience leaves me stuck at the sensual or the psychoemotive level — the merely reactive level. I could therefore be easily deceived about the meaning and purpose of what’s happening to me or in me.

If experience is going to teach me anything, therefore, I have to interpret it properly. And that is a work of the intellect. An intellectual moment will always coincide with my consciousness of the experience itself. That moment, inherent in my every experience, will in turn lead me to reflect on my experience more explicitly. Experience, then, contains a surplus of meaning that I must extract intellectually. That meaning has an objective content that relates me to a truth — and, indeed, to the Truth — beyond me, even as it also pertains to me. I must then will to think and act in a way corresponding to what I know to be objectively true and good.

To take a mundane example, let’s say that I accidentally left some hard-boiled eggs out of the fridge overnight. The following day, I judge that they’re edible, so I eat a couple. Several hours later, I’m suddenly seized by abdominal pain, accompanied by severe nausea. Spontaneously, I wonder, “Hey, what’s wrong? Why is this happening to me?” An involuntary emotional reaction occurs simultaneously: “I’m too young to die!”

Given my present state of discomfort and perplexity, my fearful reaction is understandable, though hardly proportionate to reality. Feelings and emotions are wholly subjective, transitory, and irrational. They are therefore unreliable and unequipped for getting at the real truth of the matter. Unreflective in themselves, they have caused me to overreact involuntarily. It would be a serious mistake for me to accede to that reaction consciously and voluntarily, and thereby to descend into a useless, paralyzing panic.

At the same time, my initial response contains also an immediate, intellectual moment: I know that something is wrong with my physical state, and that there must be some reasonable explanation why. I don’t know what the cause of the problem is yet, but I do understand, without having to reflect, that a definite cause and effect relation is at work.

In order to determine the precise cause of the effect, a more reflective intellectual effort is necessary. So I begin to think of reasonable possibilities: “Food poisoning, appendicitis, a virus, or the new medicine I’m taking could be causing these symptoms.” But I cannot definitely determine the exact cause on my own. So, my reflection on my experience compels me to make a practical judgment: “I must go to the emergency room.” Besides just wanting to feel better, I also know, at least implicitly, that I have a moral obligation to take care of myself. With that, I have brought the emotional energy generated by my predicament under my rational control, such that it now lends force to my decision and urges me to follow through with it.

If I am true to my nature as an intellectual creature, I will want to get at the real truth of the matter — not just for love of truth as such, but for my own bodily, moral, and spiritual good. By the proper exercise of my intellect and will, I will also want to manage rationally my irrational reactions to the situation, so that my feelings and emotions do not overwhelm or skew my rationality, and hence my objectivity, which rightly points me toward the emergency room. Finally, my sense of obligation regarding my own well-being implies the knowledge that my life is not unconditionally mine to dispose of as I will. And so my rational response to my situation points me also toward the One from whom I have received my life, and to whom I must render an account for it.

The Clash between Modernism’s “Experience” and Anthropological Realism

If we were to apply, to the situation just described, the same “logic” underlying Cardinal Farrell’s Modernistic assertion that celibate clergy are incompetent, because inexperienced, in matters of marriage and the family, where would that leave us? Following his lead, we would have to conclude that there would be no point in my seeking medical help from any doctor who has not had the same experience of severe abdominal pain and nausea that I am having. What could he really know about my condition and what I’m going through? He has never had to deal with it himself! How could he possibly help me if he can’t relate directly to my situation? He only knows what little he knows about my condition from books or from the personal testimonies of others, whereas I have the actual experience! This gives me a “credibility” that he doesn’t have.

Such a conclusion bespeaks a self-centered, self-justifying, anti-intellectual, elitist, and impersonal anthropology. It has no appreciation for distinctively human and personal traits such as empathy and compassion, which presuppose a certain understanding of what another person is experiencing, based on one’s own vicarious or analogous, if not identical, experiences. Such traits allow us to identify with, and to share indirectly in, the experiences of others, and to integrate these secondary experiences critically into our own store of experience-based knowledge. Indeed, there would be no such thing as human wisdom traditions if we did not have the ability to appropriate intellectually, and to assess critically, the meaning — in both its objective and its affective dimensions — contained in our own experiences and those of others. According to a truly personalistic and Christian anthropology, therefore, a caring and conscientious doctor would have no difficulty relating to me and managing my care, any more than Jesus had difficulty relating to and healing the paralytic, even if neither the medical doctor nor the divine Physician had, at the time of intervention, the “credibility” of having personally experienced the particular affliction he was treating.

More to the point, Jesus, though the Author of marriage as God, never experienced marriage personally as man. Nevertheless, our eternal High Priest — celibate though he was — was able to express His infallible, divine knowledge of the institution in human terms, yet still infallibly, and hence with surpassing credibility. He thus made it possible for us to know and, by the gift of His grace, to live by the eternal truth of marriage’s essential meaning, structure, and purpose, and thereby to fulfill God’s creative and redemptive plan for us through it. Even if marriage is not one’s state in life, one must still live in reference to it, by respecting the laws and conditions proper to it, and by abstaining from the privileges exclusive to it.

In one way or another, then, our redemption depends on our conforming our lives to the truth that Jesus, the celibate High Priest, revealed about marriage. That truth can also be known naturally in its essentials. Those who disregard the rationally knowable and divinely confirmed, elaborated, and elevated truth about marriage — opting instead to live and act in a way opposed to it, based on irrational, subjectivistic interpretations of personal experiences deemed more “credible” — do so at their own temporal and eternal peril. For they sin grievously by denying and violating the very truth of their own nature as God created it — a truth of which they are not ignorant, thanks to the irrepressible, intellectually based knowledge that invariably accompanies their own, inescapable self-experience.

Since Christ commissioned His Apostles — and, by extension, their successors — to teach everyone to observe all that He commanded them (see Mt 28:19–20; Jn 20:21), He made it clear that the bishops, and they through their priests, are the ones to whom He was giving the primary responsibility for disseminating His teaching. That teaching includes the full truth about marriage. If the celibate clergy of the Latin rite are faithful to their vocation, they will have no problem fulfilling their mandate. For their unique and exclusive spousal relation to Christ in the Spirit, along with the concrete responsibilities it entails for them, is not only analogous to married life, but is also the premier sign of the eschatological goal toward which that life is directed.

Celibate Catholic bishops and priests are therefore not free to delegate to others their primary role in marriage preparation, and in attending to the catechetical and pastoral needs of married couples and families. Indeed, the objectivity that celibate priests have in this area, precisely because they lack the experience of sexual intimacy, makes them especially suited to the task. This is not to deny the complementary role that faithful Catholic couples can play in marriage prep and family ministry. But it remains true that the inexperienced “outsider” can sometimes see things more clearly than experienced “insiders,” who, in the case under consideration, can be overwhelmed by the feelings, emotions, attachments, temptations, psychological stress, and so on, that accompany their sexual experience, even if they are not personally mired in sexual sin and blinded by it. Indeed, it is precisely because Jesus and His mother lacked any experience of sin that they understood fully its gravity. In their perfect love for us, they grieved over our sinful condition far more than we are wont to do.

Concluding Remarks on Modernism’s “Experience”

As indicated earlier, it follows from Modernism that if someone does not have the same experiences that I do, then he cannot possibly identify either with my experience or with me. This means that we are nothing more than products of our experiences. Liberation theologies take this line of argument to the group level, pitting class against class. A class of people different from ours cannot possibly appreciate our “truth”; it cannot know what it’s like for us. This solipsistic perspective effectively cuts off communication, facilitating both the demonization of others who are not of one’s own class, and the fabrication of self-justifying rationalizations for acting immorally against, or in defiance of, the other class, no matter how egregiously.

Since they can’t identify with our experience, they haven’t the credibility to make moral judgments about our decision to fornicate, to contracept, to abort our children, to commit adultery or sodomy, and so on, ad infinitum. What might not be “right” for them according to their experience is “right” for us according to ours. Morality is therefore based on the immanence of my/our experience of my/our “situation” — that is, on subjectivism. But if moral norms are subject to the vicissitudes of subjectivistic individual or class interpretations of personal experiences that are dominated by psychological and emotional energies triggered by transient conditions and circumstances, then they amount to nothing more than expressions of irrational behavioral preferences to which the will has given its consent. Since these so-called norms have no basis in the exigencies of human nature and the teleology of the person, they have no universal extension. In consequence, they provide no basis for fostering mutual understanding and order in the family, in human society, or among nations. At that point, the principle of “might makes right” will inevitably become the rule of human affairs.

In addition, Modernistic moral subjectivism ignores the fact that the intellect must often make moral judgments about possible courses of action before the person ever engages in them, so that he can determine objectively whether he ought to engage in them at all. It does not stand to reason that I need to have the actual experience of whitewater rafting over Niagara Falls in order to arrive at the truth, moments before my demise, that this was not such a good idea.

Modernism would nevertheless have us subordinate and accommodate our spiritual faculties of intellect and will to the irrational meaning that we are inclined to confer on our experiences, based on our psychoemotive and sensual reactions to them. The “truth” about moral good or evil is then determined by whether I happen to feel “sincerely” attracted to, or strongly repelled by, the experiences I’m having, and not by an intellectual judgment, commanded by a free will, about whether I ought to pursue those experiences as objectively good, or avoid them as objectively bad, irrespective of how I might feel about them. Wholly subjective truth is consequently bound to the here-and-now of our direct experiences, with all the emotions, feelings, and habitual behaviors to which those experiences give rise, and by which they can enslave us to a way of life unworthy of our personal dignity.

Clearly, an anthropology such as this does not take seriously our fallen condition, because of which we might actually feel exhilarated by, and hence attracted to, immoral and radically evil experiences. Our transgression of objective moral boundaries with seeming impunity could thus give us a perverse “rush,” which we might experience as uniquely thrilling and hence “good,” despite the moral gravity and personal destructiveness of what we’re doing. Having thus forsaken rationality, wisdom, and objective moral goodness, we fail to recognize, in the evil, narcissistic experiences that we seek, the foretaste of the eternal dying toward which we are heading eagerly, though blindly.

Heedless of all this, a Modernistic, epistemologically vacuous subjectivism such as Cardinal Farrell’s and the IL’s leads inexorably to the conclusion, consonant with AL, that the best person to judge, or “discern,” the morality of a situation is the one experiencing it. It would then follow, for example, that only Catholics in adulterous unions are in a position to tell us how detrimental it would be to their relationship and to the good of the children, and hence how “immoral” it would be, if they were to forgo sexual intimacy (see AL 329). Likewise, only a married couple could tell us about the “morally responsible” use of contraception, and only a homosexual “couple” could tell us about the “worth” and “naturalness” of their sodomitic relationship. How could a priest who has never engaged in sexual activity of any kind possibly appreciate the “wisdom” that comes with these experiences? How dare he have recourse to God’s moral law, so as to throw stones of moral judgment at these couples (see AL 305)! He must have recourse, rather, to the experiential sensus infidelium!

These days, certain bishops and “official” Church documents are advising the faithful that the Church has to “listen” to what the “Spirit” — really, the infernal spirit of Modernism and liberationist rebellion — is telling her through people having all manner of experiences, especially, it seems, when those experiences are related to their choice to live immorally. The bishops responsible for the IL on youth purportedly took this approach to produce the document, though it evidently reflects only their own Modernistic, morally and ecclesiologically subversive ideas. Through her listening, we are told, the Church can “learn” from others about the “truth” and the “value” — about the “constructive elements” (AL 292) — contained in their experience of living immorally. She can then “integrate” that knowledge into her teaching, changing it accordingly.6 After all, traditional Church teaching just isn’t speaking to people’s actual, lived experiences anymore. These have evolved, such that Catholics can no longer accept, or “receive,” the old moral teaching. It must therefore be no longer necessary for their eternal salvation, and can be jettisoned. Their personal experience and their interior religious sense (or “conscience”) have reciprocally “progressed” beyond the longstanding ways and mentality of the Church.

We must therefore delegate roles previously reserved for the ordained ministry to lay leaders who, through their experiences, are more “in the know” about how life really is. Indeed, such leaders should be ordained themselves, men and women alike. It is worth noting that the IL on youth states that women experience discrimination by not being given an equal place in the Church (see IL 48, 70), while it studiously avoids mentioning the fact that Jesus chose only men to be Apostles (IL 94), and that only men can be candidates to the ordained priesthood (IL 102). Evidently, this reflects its confidence that “the Church can approach these problems with real discussion and open-mindedness to different ideas and experiences” (IL 48). Opening priestly ordination to everyone, and decentralizing ecclesial authority by getting lay input on doctrinal and moral matters, will help the Church “evolve” into a less “discriminatory,” more egalitarian society,7 where everyone is “welcomed,” and their absolute liberty of conscience respected.

It doesn’t get much more subjectivistic than that. As just indicated, the new resurgence of Modernism in the Church is leading her to interpret principles such as freedom, conscience, equality, and fraternity (or “welcoming”) in a way that is thoroughly debased and Masonic. This will inevitably cause the breakdown of the ecclesiastical and moral order established by God, to the extent that God permits as a means of punishing us for our sins. We have every reason, therefore, to be wary of statements uttered by Church officials or appearing in Church documents nowadays to the effect that either a person, or a “class” of persons, has no credibility to address certain areas touching on the moral life, because neither the individual nor the class has any personal experience in those particular areas. Such statements are really loaded. Their anthropological presuppositions, so beholden to Modernism, lead predictably to Modernistic conclusions and ecclesiastical agendas that are false, anti-intellectual, morally bankrupt, and radically dehumanizing.

  1. Instrumentum laboris, XV Ordinary General Assembly of Synod of Bishops: Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment (May 8, 2018),–young-people–the-faith.html.
  2. Final Document, Synod of Bishops on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, no. 4. See Edward Pentin, “Youth Synod Final Document: Five Areas of Concern,” National Catholic Register, October 27, 2018,
  3. “Cardinal Farrell Again Says Priests Have ‘No Credibility’ for Marriage Prep,” Catholic News Agency, July 5, 2018,
  4. Joshua J. McElwee, “New Cardinal Farrell: Amoris Laetitia is ‘the Holy Spirit Speaking,’” National Catholic Reporter, October 14, 2016,
  5. Lisa Bourne, “Negative Reactions to Cardinal’s Assertion that Priests ‘Have No Credibility’ on Marriage Prep,” LifeSiteNews, July 12, 2018,; Phil Lawler, “A Question for Cardinal Farrell,”, July 10, 2018,
  6. Pope St. Pius X’s decree Lamentabili Sane, no. 6, and his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, no. 27, condemn this position. See Lamentabili Sane (1907),; Pascendi Dominici Gregis (1907),
  7. Lamentabili, no. 53, condemns this principle.
Jeffrey Tranzillo About Jeffrey Tranzillo

Jeffrey Tranzillo earned his doctorate in theology at the Catholic University of America. Several of his essays have appeared in HPR and Crisis Magazine, and he posts others on his own website, He is the author of John Paul II on the Vulnerable, published by CUA Press.


  1. Avatar William Murphy says:

    I had a wonderful lesson on the credibility of “personal experience” around 1976 when I was working for the Department of Social Security in England. I interviewed a man who was the most plausible, likeable, trustworthy guy you could wish to meet. You would be very happy to enjoy his company at any party. Fortunately I also had a fat file in my bag to correct my personal, intuitive experience. He was being chased by banks, businesses and landlords for thirty miles around who were seeking unpaid debts.