Between One Synod and Another, the Battle Continues

The most active are the cardinals, the bishops, the theologians who want to innovate in Church doctrine and practice on marriage and homosexuality. But in the first round of elections for the next synod, the defenders of tradition are much more numerous [But cynics will say that Pope Francis, who has the right to appoint a large number of delegates in addition to those elected by episcopal conferences can simply balance the conservatives with progressives. – Abyssum]

by Sandro Magister

ROME, February 5, 2015 – As pre-announced by the secretary general of the synod of bishops, Lorenzo Baldisseri (in the photo), the first selection of participants at the assembly next October has been made public, after their election by their respective episcopal conferences.

What the delegation of the United States would be like was already known. The four appointees are all against the admission of the divorced and remarried to communion – a crucial point of the clash underway – while one of Pope Francis’s favorites, the progressive Blase Cupich, fresh from his promotion to the important archdiocese of Chicago, has not been elected. [Cupich

France’s delegation appears more balanced, with the progressive Jean-Luc Brunin, president of the commission for the family of the French episcopal conference, counterbalanced by Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris.

Among the delegates of Spain, the one who received the most votes is the archbishop of Valladolid and president of the episcopal conference, new cardinal Ricardo Blázquez Pérez, for years a staunch supporter of the Neocatechumenal Way, which is the Catholic movement most engaged in defending the traditional model of the family. While the pope’s favorite, new archbishop of Madrid Carlos Osoro Sierra, made it onto the roster only by a hair, passing by just one vote the conservative Juan Antonio Reig Plá, bishop of Alcalá de Henares.

Firmly pointed in the conservative direction is Holland’s only representative, in the person of Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk.

And the same applies to most of the African delegates.

One surprising case is that of New Zealand, where the new cardinal John Atcherley Dew, a staunch supporter of the progressive ideas at the synod last October, fell short of the votes needed to return to Rome as a delegate for his country.

Also not elected, in Uruguay, is fellow new cardinal Daniel Fernando Sturla Berthouet, archbishop of Montevideo, he too a progressive. The one going to the synod is Minas bishop Jaime Fuentes Martín, a member of Opus Dei and a direct witness, fifteen years ago, of the scandalous “ménage” between then-diplomatic representative Battista Ricca – today in the good graces of Pope Francis, who has promoted him as prelate of the IOR – and his lover, whom he had brought there with him from Switzerland. Fuentes’s predecessor in the diocese of Minas, retired bishop Francisco Domingo Barbosa Da Silveira, also made the news for similar acts, which led to his forced resignation in 2009.

From this first round of selection of delegates one can therefore make the forecast that at the synod in October the proponents of sweeping changes in Church teaching and practice on matters of marriage and homosexuality will not find an easy road ahead of them.

This does not change the fact that some of them are demonstrating special activism in support of their cause.


In the United States, for example, the new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, makes no secret of the fact that his beacon is Cardinal Walter Kasper, the leader of the innovators, and is acting accordingly.

As he did in his previous diocese of Spokane, Cupich has announced in an interview with “Commonweal” that he will give all his priests a copy of Kasper’s talk at the consistory of February 2014, in support of admitting the divorced and remarried to communiong, and will organize seminars so that these same priests can fully assimilate its contents [God help us! – Abyssum]:

> A Listening Church. An Interview with Archbishop Blase Cupich


In Germany, Munich archbishop Reinhard Marx, who is also one of the nine cardinals on the pope’s council, has rushed even further ahead.

In a wide-ranging interview with the magazine “America” of the New York Jesuits, he said that communion for the divorced and remarried is only a first step, because it is the doctrine of marriage that must be addressed and updated, and the same must be done with homosexual relations:

> Cardinal Marx on Francis, the Synod, Women in the Church and Gay Relationships

And meanwhile, the German episcopal conference has made public its own contribution to the synod last October: a document in support of communion for the divorced and remarried that has been signed by a large majority of German bishops and in fact is already being put into practice on a wide scale [Is that schism we smell in the air? – Abyssum]:

> Theologisch verantwortbare und pastoral angemessene Wege zur Begleitung wiederverheirateter Geschiedener


In Belgium, Antwerp bishop Johan Bonny, a former collaborator of Cardinal Walter Kasper at the pontifical council for Christian unity and an aspiring first-in-command as successor to the current archbishop of Brussels, the conservative André-Joseph Léonard, has increased the already heavy load of his proposals for innovation by demanding the Church’s full approval of “relationality” between homosexuals, in an interview with the newspaper “De Morgen”:

> Bonny wil kerkelijke erkenning holebi’s


Moving from the bishops to the theologians, one of these, the Italian Giovanni Cereti, cited by Cardinal Kasper as his first author of reference in the reconstruction of the ancient Church’s practice toward the divorced and remarried, not only has reiterated his ideas and rejected all criticism of them, but has intensified them, admonishing those who withhold the Eucharist from the divorced and remarried that they are placing themselves “out of communion with the greater Church.”

This is, in fact, what he writes in the preface to the latest edition of one of his books on the topic, “Divorced and remarried. Is a new beginning possible?”, published by Cittadella di Assisi:



“Anyone who does not recognize the possibility that these ,.persons can be granted sacramental reconciliation, denying the Church the power to exercise mercy in the name of Christ and to remit all sins, falls into the errors of the Novatianists. They excluded from reconciliation and from communion, even on their deathbed, those responsible for sins of apostasy, murder, and adultery, meaning by this latter term the persons so indicated in the Gospel (and never remarried widowers). The greater Church soon came to the understanding that it had received from the Lord the power to absolve any sin, and therefore admitted them to penance, and after the period of penance readmitted them to ecclesial and Eucharistic communion. May the Lord not permit them – those who today, in the name of defending the faith, oppose the reconciliation of the faithful who find themselves in this situation – to fall into the error of Novatian, thus running the risk of putting themselves outside the communion of the greater Church!”




From Japan a Spanish Jesuit, Juan Masiá, has gone much further, in an extensive interview with the progressive Catholic portal “Religión Digital,” which presents him as “one of the world’s leading experts on bioethics”:

> Juan Masiá, S.J.: “Hace años que tendría que ser posible que se ordenen tanto hombres como mujeres, tanto célibes como casados”

He does not only want the priesthood for all, including women, as the title of his interview highlights. On the specific point of marriage and divorce, he demands that there be no stopping at only practical innovations, like those suggested by the excessively prudent Kasper, but that what even Vatican Council II never dared should finally be done: to change doctrine, including the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage. As for “Humanae Vitae,” so highly appreciated by Pope Francis, Masiá waves it away. He says it is useless to take it into consideration. It is simply “to be forgotten.”

*[Maybe it is time for the Society of Jesus to be suppressed again, if not by the Pope then by governments as France did – Abyssum]

Less inflammatory in tone, but no less radical in substance, is the stance taken by the monastery of Bose, whose founder and prior Enzo Bianchi has influence over large sectors of Catholicism beyond just Italy, and all the more so since Pope Francis promoted him as a consultant for the pontifical council for Christian unity.

The deputy prior of Bose, Luciano Manicardi, in an erudite interview with the Osservatorio delle libertà ed istituzioni religiose, also calls upon the Catholic Church, as the Orthodox Churches already do, to admit the dissolution of a marriage and therefore the possibility of a second marriage not only because of the death of one of the spouses but also simply because of the “death of love”:

> Chiesa e famiglia dopo il sinodo straordinario: un cantiere in divenire

This is what Enzo Bianchi’s deputy says on this point:



“In the ‘Relatio synod’ reference is made to the ‘differences in the matrimonial regulations of the Orthodox Churches,’ which allow for the possibility of new marriages not only in the case of widowhood but also of divorce, accompanied by a journey of penance, and in any case not past the third time (cf. also the ‘Relatio ante-disceptationem’ 3f). At the moment it appears difficult for the Catholic Church to import the Orthodox model, which also provides for the recognition of just causes of divorce (in the Orthodox world, in fact, since canon 9 of Basil of Caesarea was adopted by the Council in Trullo in 691-692, the exception to the indissolubility of marriage in Mt 5:32 and 19:9 has been considered a true exception); nonetheless, since the Catholic Church already provides for the possibility of new sacramental marriages in the case of the death of a spouse, thus recognizing an irreversible failure of the first marriage that does not infringe the principle of indissolubility, one might imagine that it could arrive at accepting the possibility of new marriages in the face of evidence of irreversible failures due to the death of love, the death of the relationship, the transformation of life together into a daily hell. Of course, together with a penitential disposition and a willingness for a serious new beginning in a new union. And this as a pastoral and ‘oikonomical’ measure that speaks of the mercy of God, of his love that is stronger than death, and meets human frailty with compassion. Of course this solution, advanced by a theologian like Basilio Petrà, who astonishingly was not included among the experts at the 2014 synod, would have consequences at the ecumenical level in that it would represent an unquestionable step closer to the practices of other Churches.”


In the face of this massive deployment of forces, the defenders of indissoluble marriage turn out to be less strident and less showy.

To their credit can be cited the article in “Die Tagespost” of January 22 by the vicar general of the diocese of Coire, Martin Grichting, one of the rare dissonant voices with respect to the dominant pro-Kasper chorus in Germany and Switzerland:

> Eine pastorale Wende

Grichting urges that the problem of the divorced and remarried be addressed in the manner of the apostle Paul, full of understanding but unequivocal to the point of martyrdom in bearing witness to the truth. In addition to the German, his article can also be read in an Italian translation on this other page of http://www.chiesa:

> Una svolta pastorale

The “subtle heresy” of separating doctrine from pastoral practice, modifying the latter of these to the point of crumbling the former while making a show of defending it in words, has been repeatedly decried by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. [Bravo, Cardinal Mueller! – Abyssum]

Finally worth mention is the “filial appeal” addressed to Pope Francis by 100 Catholic personalities and more than 30 pro-life and pro-family associations, asking him for “a word of clarification” against the “widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery – by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion – and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to divine and natural law:”

> Filial Appeal to His Holiness Pope Francis on the Future of the Family

Among the signers of the appeal are cardinals Raymond Leo Burke, Walter Brandmüller, and Jorge Arturo Medina Estévez; bishops Wolfgang Haas of Vaduz and Athanasius Schneider of Astana; professors Josef Seifert, Wolfgang Waldstein, and Luke Gormally of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute; the Italians Roberto de Mattei and Pietro De Marco; and Cuban exile Armando Valladares, a former United States ambassador with the UN commission on human rights.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, in an interview with “Corriere della Sera” last October 22, said that the media power of Francis’s catholic critics is much weaker than that of the secular publishers who are pulling the pope onto their side and appropriating him: “It’s muzzle-loading rifles against air power.”

In the hiatus between the two synods on the family, it seems that something similar is happening. The innovators have the air power, and the defenders of traditional doctrine and practice have the muzzle-loading rifles.

But as already happened at the assembly last October, the roles could be reversed at the next synod as well.

[If that happens there will surely be schism! – Abyssum]


The documents of the two-part synod on the family:

> Synod of Bishops

The complete list of the first round of members of the synod next October, elected by their respective episcopal conferences:

> Membri e sostituti eletti

And an analysis of many of their stances, compiled by John Allen of the “Boston Globe”:

> Forecast: 2015 Synod of Bishops will be just as stormy as last time


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas