October 12, 2015, Monday — Apostasy
“Schism, heresy, or apostasy are such of their very nature that they sever a man from the body of the Church. But not every sin, even the most grievous, is of such a kind” – Pius XII, encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi (June 29, 1943)
As commonly understood by the Church, ‘If a person, after receiving baptism and retaining the Christian name, pertinaciously denies any of the truths which are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith, or if he doubts the same, he is a heretic.
If he departs entirely from the Christian faith, he is an apostate.
If finally he will not be subject to the Supreme Pontiff or refuses to associate with members of the Church subject to him, he is schismatic.
In each case, the assumption is that the person acts knowingly and culpably, which excludes all baptized non-Catholics in good faith who may be, as we say materially but not formally (or sinfully) heretical, apostate, or schismatic.
– Father John A. Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism, pp 216-217
“It is our very sleepiness to the presence of God that renders us insensitive to evil: we don’t hear God because we don’t want to be disturbed.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, April 20, 2011, General Audience
“The attempts made through the ages to extinguish the light of God, to replace it with the glare of illusion and deceit, have heralded episodes of tragic violence against mankind. This is because the attempt to cancel the name of God from the pages of history results in distortion, in which even the most beautiful and noble words lose their true meaning.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, December 14, 2012
“Catholics who have matured to this point have always been forced into a ghetto — often enough by their fellow Catholics… This is not directly a matter of their own choosing. Like most men, they would like to have some effective say in the running of their world. Their exclusion results from their choice to stay close to the Lord. Those who are less mature, like the earlier Jews, think that compromise is possible — and often it is, if one considers the matter abstractly and without realizing the intrinsic corruption of all men by sin. Hence, those less mature do not understand the somewhat distant and reserved coolness or even hostility of someone more mature towards the objects of their enthusiasms. They consider ‘getting ahead’ a benefit not only to themselves but to the Church, and are puzzled by those who do not. They fail to see that the world lets them get ahead — unless the Lord Himself intervenes — only insofar as they serve the world’s cause, first unconsciously, then with increasing awareness. But those of that maturity with which we are here concerned know clearly enough that ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God’ (James 4:4) and leads ultimately to betrayal or apostasy.” —The late Father Paul M. Quay, S.J. (1924-1994), in his book The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God (published in 1995), the result of 30 years of meditation upon how the individual Christian goes through “biblical stages” of gradual transformation into the likeness of Christ
The bombshells keep falling.
The latest news, which some of you will already have heard, is from an article by Vaticanist Sandro Magister, published this morning.
Magister reveals the text of a letter to Pope Francis which he says was sent on October 5, signed by 13 cardinals.
The cardinals express their serious “concerns” over the procedures of the Synod, especially the names of the 10 men chosen by Pope Francis to draft the final synod “relatio.” In their judgment, these procedures seem “designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.” (full text of the letter below)
In other words, the 13 cardinals were expressing concerns that the Synod is being “rigged,” to use the word chosen by British journalist Edward Pentin as the title of his new book on the Synod just out from Ignatius Press, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?: An Investigation of Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.
But, like so much else concerning this Synod, shortly after the letter’s publication, questions arose.
Within four hours, four of the 13 alleged signers had said they had not signed the letter. So, there only remain nine signers as of this writing. (At this pace, by this midnight, all 13 signers will have denied their involvement.)
So Magister, just a few moments ago, without backing off or retracting his story, added this update:
“A spokesperson for Cardinal George Pell said that a private letter should remain private but it seems that there are errors in both the content and the list of signatories. The Cardinal is aware that concerns remain among many of the synod fathers about the composition of the drafting committee of the final ‘relatio‘ and about the process by which it will be presented to the Synod fathers and voted upon.
“And in an interview with Crux, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier ‘acknowledged signing a letter, but said its content was different from that presented in Magister’s report. The letter he signed, he said, was specifically about the 10-member commission preparing the final document.'”
From these two statements, we can deduce that there was some kind of letter, expressing real concern, from some number of cardinals, evidently including Pell and Napier, to Pope Francis. So, there is reason to continue to track this story.
The 13 alleged signers were:
1. Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy, theologian, formerly the first President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family;
2. Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, Canada;
3. Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, United States;
4. Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland;
5. Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, president of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe and Relator General of the Synod;
6. Gerhard Müller, former bishop of Regensburg, Germany, since 2012 Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;
7. Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, President Delegate of the Synod;
8. George Pell, archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia, since 2014 Prefect in the Vatican of the Secretariat for the Economy;
9. Mauro Piacenza, Genoa, Italy, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, since 2013 Penitentiary Major;
10. Robert Sarah, former archbishop of Conakry, Guinea, since 2014 Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments;
11. Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Italy;
12. Jorge Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela; and
13. André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, France.
These men are generally viewed as “conservatives,” even “Ratzingerians” — prelates in tune with the theological vision of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
So the concerns of such men about “maneuvers” to unduly influence the Synod in a “progressive” direction would naturally be of great interest to the Pope and the whole Church.
But this morning, four of the 13 — Scola, Piacenza, Vingt-Trois and Erdo — said they had not signed this letter.
So the “Letter of the 13 Cardinals” has become the “Letter of the 9 Cardinals.”
And now a 5th cardinal, Napier, has said the letter he signed was not the letter Magister made public.
So, another perplexing scene in the long saga of this Synod is still shrouded in mystery.
But, even without knowing for sure who wrote or signed this document, is the underlying point valid? Is the Synod being “piloted” in a “progressive” direction?
A piece today by Italian Vaticanist Andrea Gagliarducci, a young journalist who has been distinguishing himself in his Monday Vatican column as one of the more thoughtful and well-informed among the Italian Vaticanisti, is worth reading (and whose writing in English has improved dramatically in recent months). (Full text below)
Gagliarducci says that a draft of the Synod’s final document is already being prepared by a “restricted group” of the 10-member commission chosen by Pope Francis personally to prepare that document on the basis of the Synod’s proceedings.
If this is true, it would mean that the material being prepared is not based on what will happen during the next week or 10 days in the Synod discussions.
Gagliarducci says the “adapters” at the Synod (Gagliarduccis term for the “progressives”) are seeking to influence the Synod on two main topics:
(1) the issue of conscience, and
(2) the issue of devolving authority worldwide
In both of these “maneuvers,” the goal is to provide “space” for innovation in doctrine.
In the first case, moral space, that is, the space within the individual conscience.
In the second case, geographical space, that is space out of the central control of a Pope and a Holy See entrusted with protecting the “deposit of the faith.”
Gagliarducci writes: “Personal conscience will be given a prominent role in disciplinary questions. Whether access to sacramental Communion will be given for the divorced and remarried, or for those who live in homosexual relations, will be decided on the basis of personal conscience. Each person will be encouraged to solve it for himself in the “foro interno,” that is, in sacramental confession. True, the Church teaches that conscience needs to be well-formed, but it is possible that the adapters will not highlight this aspect.”
And he continues: “The second issue adapters will focus on will be the need to devolve authority to make some disciplinary changes in keeping with the sensitivities particular to different geographic areas in the Church. No changes in doctrine will be mentioned, just changes in disciplinary practices. This way, every episcopal conference will adopt its own guidelines to meet doctrinal challenges. But the risk here is that the deposit of the faith could in the end be dismantled, and the centrality of Rome be lost.”
In these paragraphs, Gagliarducci is giving us a valuable insight into the plans of the “adapters,” as he calls them.
My understanding is that Gagliarducci’s sources include a number of Vatican officials who represent that large group in the Holy See who remain committed to protecting the deposit of the faith, and I suspect that, in giving us these two points, he is giving us the considered judgment of this group.
What this means is that we are likely to see a concerted effort in coming days (1) to appeal to the rights of the individual conscience, and to (2) appeal to the need to have different disciplinary practices regarding marriage matters out of respect for regional differences in the Church (for example, one practice in Germany and Switzerland and one in South Africa and Australia, and so forth).
And so we come to the “bottom line.” Is this in keeping with Church teaching and tradition? Is it what the Holy Spirit is inspiring the Church to do at this time?
There is no doubt that marriage and family life are in a crisis. Each generation, of course, has its own variations on these problems — each family has its own problems. These can have to do (and what follows is just a superficial overview) with economics (the lack of funds even to rent a separate family apartment, or purchase or build a family home), with job and career issues (workers, like farmers or miners, who could once provide for their families thrown out of work due to technological changes), with situations of war and famine and disease, with ideological battles (from communism to feminism), with technology (things like medical care and artificial birth control products, many invented only in the past two or three generations).
So, on all these fronts, in all these areas, the family faces difficulties and threats.
And this may be in part the reason why it appears that divorce rates are soaring, and why “holding the family together” seems increasingly problematic.
If the Synod could offer some help and guidance on these matters, it would likely be quite useful.
But there is something else that is occurring. There is something more basic happening. There is a philosophical and metaphysical change taking place which is undermining the family.
We in the West live in a changing, “globalizing” society. In this society, a relativistic metaphysical attack on traditional Christian anthropology (the belief that human beings have a transcendent dimension and dignity, and that their moral lives ought to be “conformed” as much as possible to the life of Christ, Son of God) is also undermining the traditional Christian, and human, understanding of marriage.
As other writers have noted, the “de-transcendentalization” of man — the “relativization” of man, of identity, of gender — has changed how we conceive of ourselves and our possibilities.
In this world, it is thought that individual men and women cannot, or even should not, make a lifelong commitment. We are too “relative,” too “changeable.” Having no rudder which cuts down deeply into the water, connecting us with past and future, with ancestors and descendants, we have no way to chart our course. We are rudderless, directionless, and so incapable of being, or even becoming, beings with enough dignity to become “fathers” and “mothers,” that is, beings who must become responsible for the lives, and souls, of our children, and protect them from both physical and spiritual death.
We do not have the “gravitas” in modern culture, to make eternal covenants.
This is, I would argue, the “great apostasy.” This is what Dante was saying when he spoke of the miserable condition of the damned, or better, of those who had given up even hope of being damned. He wrote: “So low had they fallen that they no longer considered themselves creatures even worthy of being damned.”
There is nothing in this life which surpasses the meaningfulness of covenants made, with God, with one’s parents or children, or spouse, or friends, or oneself.
By making a covenant, by promising oneself, one transcends the doubts and hesitations of changing life, and attaches oneself to something higher and deeper.
The fact that this can no longer be done, or rarely, is a sign of the great crisis of our age. We have lost the belief in our own dignity, which was to be “capax Dei,” “capable of God,” able to know, love and serve God, able to be in touch with the ultimate truth and power of the universe.
So what must we do now?
We must offer a heroic, and persuasive, metaphysical defense of the Church’s faith: that marriage is a lifetime covenant directed toward new life between one man and one woman who, though weak and struggling, can make and carry out such a covenant.
This is more than a religious belief.
The family is an essential bulwark of human freedom.
The attack on the family is also an attack on this freedom.
Therefore, any conclusion of the Synod which would call into question this traditional understanding would not be true mercy.
Because it would not help the individuals involved to find their true dignity and happiness.
Though “the world” may ask the Church to embrace a type of “mercy” that would accept sinful behavior even if it harms souls — especially the souls of children, who have a right to a father and a mother — the Church must never choose such a false mercy which would bring “friendship with the world” but “enmity with God.”
Christians have a very simple but awful choice: either to remain faithful to the Savior and pay the price, or remain Christians only in name and be rewarded by the same world that crucified their Master.
Here is the full text of the thought-provoking article today by Andrea Gagliarducci.
Synod of Bishops, Week 1: Suspended Between Pastoral Despair or the Decision to Hope
by Andrea Gagliarducci
October 12, 2015
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia gave probably the best description of the Synod’s Working Document – and by extension of the Synod’s discussion so far. In his October 7 speech at the Synod, published on the archdiocese web site – Archbishop Chaput said that the working documents “present us two conflicting views: pastoral despair or the decision to hope.” The Synod Fathers’ sentiment after one week has been swinging between these two poles.
Pope Francis’ role
Pope Francis has taken the floor two times in this first week. His first, planned speech was given at the opening of the Synod. In that speech, he remarked that the Synod “is not a parliament or a senate, where you can find an agreement.”
His second, unplanned speech was aimed at backing the new Synod’s procedures after a group of Synod Fathers had questioned them. He also asked the Synod Fathers “not to be taken in by a hermeneutic of conspiracy.” This phrase was not reported by Fr. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Holy See Press Office. But he did not deny that the Pope had spoken these words.
In both speeches, Pope Francis tried to cover over every controversy with his authority by trying to foster the “parresia” (frankness) he asked of the Synod Fathers at the beginning of Synod 2014. Now presenting himself as a guarantor, a guardian of the unity of the Faith, he stressed that the 2014 Synod’s official documents are only three: the Final Report and both speeches he gave, one at the beginning and one at the end of the Synod. This way, the Pope removed the controversial mid-term report from the fray, and with it the weak Synod Message to the People of God. But if the Pope thought that through his own authority he could quieten down the lively internal debates, he probably overestimated his hand.
From the 2014 Synod …
This Ordinary Synod was born following the controversial 2014 Synod Final Report. That report had accepted some of the objections of the Synod Fathers to the Synod’s mid-term report, but it also included issues that did not receive a general consensus. The outcomes of the votes on each paragraph – votes that Pope Francis wanted to be made public – showed that a great majority of bishops agreed with the traditional positions of Church doctrine and Holy Scripture, while issues like pastoral care for homosexual couples and the possibility of access to sacramental Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics had not gained the Synod’s consensus.
Even though they had failed to receive consensus approval in the 2014 Synod – a consensus which is achieved only when a paragraph gains the supermajority of two-thirds – the paragraphs concerning these issues were incorporated just as they were into the Working Document for this current Synod. The text therefore left many doors open, and it was characterized by a sociological rather than a theological approach, a criticism strongly registered by the book “Christ’s New Homeland,” a collection of essays written by ten African prelates.
This is to say that the 2014 Synod Final Report was a mere snapshot of reality, without any theological analysis or critique. On the one hand, it pushed for maximum understanding of complex situations, and for mercy in cases of persistent sin. On the other hand, the theological part was somewhat put aside. It seemed that the Synod Fathers had just given up trying to offer a strong, Christian alternative to the world. An alternative, in the end, that did not fit the current fashions and circumstances.
… to the 2015 Synod
The first week of this Synod began with an introductory speech by Cardinal Petr Erdo, the Synod’s General Relator. As the Cardinal himself put it, the speech “systemized the Working Document.” Above all, Cardinal Erdo’s speech was centered on Catholic teaching. Pastoral accompaniment for people in difficult or irregular situations and mercy were both considered. But these two issues were coupled with a strong call to conversion and a path to redemption. Cardinal Erdo showed great understanding for the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, and he clearly underscored that they are not excluded from the life of the Church. However, he also stressed that mercy or understanding do not change a comma in the doctrine of the Church. So, there is no possibility for them to receive sacramental Communion.
Many Bishops felt relieved when they heard Cardinal Erdo’s speech. In fact, many identified themselves with the “subtle despair” that Archbishop Chaput had highlighted in the Working Document. And this feeling was not totally unjustified.
The dirty way to the Synod
The Synod was preceded by a series of maneuvers that made one think of a hidden directorate. The German, Swiss and French bishops’ conferences met on May 25 in what has been called the “Shadow Synod.” The texts of the speeches – delivered in three languages, following a well-orchestrated publicity campaign – argued the need for a change in the Church’s pastoral approach, which also implies a change in doctrine. Even on that occasion, theology was replaced by sociology. The ideals of the Gospel were often presented as “difficult to be lived.”
The Pontifical Council for the Family followed the same line. This Vatican dicastery hosted a series of three closed-door meetings in January, February and March, gathering a total of 50 experts. The great majority of them showed the same approach as the “adapters,” that is, those who think that doctrine must be changed to fit the times. The collected texts of those meetings were published last August, but only in Italian. The book went almost wholly unnoticed. Yet it showed where the Pontifical Council for the Family stood.
In the meantime, the General Secretariat of the Synod started to work on changing the procedures. Changes were needed. The 2014 Synod also witnessed modified procedures, but during it many Synod Fathers raised numerous criticisms of them. The new procedures were aimed at avoiding last year’s criticisms.
Information about the ongoing discussions within the Synod has been reduced to the barest possible minimum. As during the Synod 2014, journalists are not given the texts of the Synod Fathers’ addresses. They can report on the Synod only by reporting the narrative given by the Holy See Press Office, and obviously by reporting gossip.
Moreover, the time for a discussion in the small language groups (circuli minores) has been lengthened. After two days of general congregations – during which each bishop is allowed to speak for just 3 minutes – the Synod Fathers split up into 13 small groups.
Each week is dedicated to discussing one of the three parts of the Working Document. There are a couple of days of general discussion on each part, and then the discussions are developed in small circles. At the end of every week, each small group will issue a report, presenting their “modi”, that is amendments, to the Working Document. A commission of ten people, appointed by the Pope, is entrusted with the task of drafting the Final Report, if there will be any: still it is uncertain what the Pope will decide. However, everything will be topped off at the end with a papal address.
The commission is composed of: Cardinal Petr Erdo, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Archbishop Bruno Forte, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Cardinal Donald William Wuerl, Cardinal John Atcherley Dew, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, Archbishop Mathieu Madega Lebouakehan, Archbishop Marcello Semeraro and Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, SJ.
The composition of the commission has raised some concerns. During last year’s synod the Pope appointed a commission to help the General Relator (Cardinal Erdo) and Special Secretary (Archbishop Forte) to draft the Final Report. There is no news in that. However, of the ten members comprising this year’s commission, only two were elected to take part in the Synod by their respective episcopal conferences. All the others are Synod members appointed by the Pope. Moreover, no general criterion was identified behind the papal appointments to the Synod. Finally, in general those chosen to be part of the 10-person commission mostly lean more toward the side of the adapters of doctrine, than toward the side that is faithful to doctrine.
The concern of Synod fathers. And the response of the adapters
So it was to be expected that some Synod Fathers would raise their concerns about these matters at the beginning of the Synod. After the Pope’s opening address, aware of the need to make the Synod’s procedures more transparent, certain Synod Fathers voiced their concerns about the new procedures. But, it was also to be expected that the Pope would try to dampen down any dispute. In stating that “the Synod is not a parliament,” he gave a clue as to what he was thinking.
Behind the scenes, the General Secretariat of the Synod had moved to defend itself. Cardinal Baldisseri probably spoke with the Pope or with some of his collaborators. In addressing the Synod, Baldisseri stressed that all of the new procedures had been approved by the Pope personally, and that the Pope was always present during the meetings of the General Secretariat at which the changes were discussed. In the end, the critics of the synod methodology were depicted as directly criticizing the Pope. This move attempted to isolate the estimated 13 cardinals and bishops who had made some kind of specific request to make the Synod more collegial. Baldisseri’s move received a green light from the Pope.
On Tuesday, October 6, Cardinal Baldisseri restated the new procedures, and insisted that everything had been approved. The Pope then took the floor in an attempt to calm the disputes.
A hermeneutic of conspiracy?
The Pope’s mention of a “hermeneutic of conspiracy” was directed not only to those who were complaining about the Synod’s new procedures. He was also challenging the champions of the so-called “agenda of mercy”. It seems that some bishop told Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, that his statements had also contributed to fostering conspiracy theories. And it seems that Cardinal Marx was not very happy to hear this.
Synod’s side meetings
Cardinal Marx organized a press conference with other German delegates to the Synod on October 5 at the Teutonic College adjacent to the German cemetery within the Vatican walls. He and his group will hold other press conferences of that kind in the future. In the first presser, Marx opened up about his favorite topic: the language of the Church is not the language of exclusion. This is the same argument he used at the 2014 Synod to support the controversial mid-term report.
Even bishops in the Francophone small groups are hard at work in this sense. Johan Bonny, Bishop of Antwerp (Belgium), who has supported civil unions, was one of the first to make public his intervention at the Synod. His speech was vague, aimed at extending a hand to the contemporary world, and to find the “seed of good” in civil marriages.
Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, of Gatineau (Canada) also published his intervention. He advocated a greater role for women, and supported the idea of women deacons. This topic, however, seems to be beyond the bounds of a Synod on the family.
Even pastoral care for homosexual couples should be beyond the Synod’s competence, as Cardinal Erdo noted in his opening address. During this Synod, only a single bishop, the New Zealander Charles Drennan, raised the issue in a speech from the floor. However, the way the whole question was reported to the media – but not by Fr. Lombardi – allowed the press to conclude that numerous Synod Fathers had mentioned the issue in their speeches.
These little manipulations, or exaggerations, suggest that there was an agenda at work behind the Synod’s back, one that comes from the agenda at work behind Pope Francis’ back. Obviously, the existence of this agenda cannot be proven. But the lack of transparency is suspicious. And there is also the growing suspicion that a restricted group within the 10-member commission currently drafting the message – that is, the group closest to the Pope – has already prepared a first draft of the eventual Final Report.
Time is the main evidence behind this suspicion. The last group of reports on the third part of the Working Document will be given between the Thursday and Friday of the last week of the synod (October 22-23), while the Final Report will be presented on Saturday (October 24). Time is too tight for a commission of 10 to draft a really original Final Report, unless there is a draft already written, or they simply submit as the Final Report the Working Document with a few amendments. Both choices would leave people unhappy.
Conspiracy is only a hermeneutic?
It’s for these reasons that those who are defending doctrine feel surrounded, spied upon and uncertain whether to voice their concerns or not. They also suffer from media naiveté. Their need always to be precise hurts the timing of their interventions, slows down their communication with the media, and heightens the likelihood of their being manipulated.
Above all, they are so faithful to the Church that they are not willing to claim papal support for their position when this has not been expressed clearly by the Pope. But the Pope never takes a strong position while a discussion is still on going. Nevertheless, he has spoken clearly about the family continuously over the past year. And even in his intervention at the Synod, he reassured the bishops that “no one wants to change doctrine.”
Moves on the other side
However, the media narrative for the promoters of the agenda of mercy is all polished. For months Cardinal Walter Kasper has presented his agenda of mercy as the Pope’s agenda, making others think that those opposed to his views in the end were opposing the Pope. This led Cardinal Wilfried Fox Napier of Durban (South Africa) at one point to insist publicly that “Kasper is not the Pope’s theologian.”
Cardinal Napier is one of the most prominent prelates of the African corps at the Synod. The African periphery is one of the most determined to defend doctrine, together with the Eastern European peripheries. African prelates periodically hold meetings in order to maintain a common line in the Synod. But Archbishop Charles Palmer Buckle, of Accra (Ghana), rejected the notion that Africans are blocking the Synod’s works. Instead, he said, they are making proposals. In the end, Africa is at the frontline in combating the ideological colonization of the family that Pope Francis has always denounced.
The Polish Bishops are united, too. Before the Synod, they published a manifesto in 9 points, while a group of 100 laypeople in Poland sent a letter to the Synod Fathers asking them to preserve the Church’s doctrine. Archbishop Gadecki, President of the Polish Bishop’s Conference, has posted some notes from the Synod on his blog. He revealed that there was at least one Synod Father who backed some form of Catholic theological acceptance of divorce: Cardinal Maestrojuan of Panama. The General Secretariat of the Synod censored him, with the excuse that some of the Synod fathers might feel biased. The notes were then removed.
The need to voice concern
The majority of Synod Fathers share the concerns and the mission of these peripheries, as the small circles reports on the first part of the Synod’s working document show. Most of the Synod fathers noticed the lack of a theological framework, and moreover the need to present the family in positive terms. The report – they noticed – highlighted the difficulties of families, but it never highlights the bright examples of family. One of the small groups affirmed that “Pope Francis and the people of the Church deserved a better document.”
However, only a few of them find the courage to voice their worries while the general discussions were ongoing. Cardinal Erdo’s introductory speech has been put aside, and is now officially considered just a document like any other. At the same time there is a risk that the deposit of faith is being put into question as Synod Fathers debate how to find a new language for the Church. This is a hot topic for the adapters. Even indissolubility is considered a notion too difficult to be understood, and some of the Synod Fathers have proposed that a new way be found to refer to it.
These discussions on language are symptoms of one of the Church’s disorders: searching for a new language to speak to the world instead of speaking to the world with the Church’s own language. The sense of despair has indeed replaced hope. Pope Francis has put himself forward as a sort of mediator between the parties. However, the impression exists that polarization is too high for a successful mediation, and that the Pope should therefore choose a side. But there is every possibility that he will not do this.
So what’s next?
The adapters who are trying to influence the Synod will focus on two main topics. First, the issue of conscience. Personal conscience will be given a prominent role in disciplinary questions. Whether access to sacramental Communion will be given for the divorced and remarried, or for those who live in homosexual relations will be decided on the basis of personal conscience. Each person will be encouraged to solve it for himself in the “foro interno,” that is in sacramental confession. True, the Church teaches that conscience needs to be well-formed, but it is possible that the adapters will not highlight this aspect.
The second issue adapters will focus on will be the need to devolve authority to make some disciplinary changes in keeping with the sensitivities particular to different geographic areas in the Church. No changes in doctrine will be mentioned, just changes in disciplinary practices. This way, every episcopal conference will adopt its own guidelines to meet doctrinal challenges. But the risk here is that the deposit of the faith could in the end be dismantled, and the centrality of Rome be lost.
These proposals carry with them many questions. What is the value of the Eucharist? What is the value of Church’s catechism? What is the value of papal teaching on marriage and family?
These issues will be raised by many bishops, who are not seeking pre-determined solutions, but who, at the same time, do not seek a revolution for the sake of the secular world. These bishops have definitely made the decision to hope.
As Archbishop Chaput stressed in a media briefing, it is normal for there to be many different positions. But the final goal of the discussion is not a win. It is the Truth.
Here is the text of the letter published today by Sandro Magister.
The Letter of the 13 Cardinals, now of the 9 Cardinals
As the Synod on the Family begins, and with a desire to see it fruitfully serve the Church and your ministry, we respectfully ask you to consider a number of concerns we have heard from other synod fathers, and which we share.
While the synod’s preparatory document, the “Instrumentum Laboris,” has admirable elements, it also has sections that would benefit from substantial reflection and reworking. The new procedures guiding the synod seem to guarantee it excessive influence on the synod’s deliberations and on the final synodal document. As it stands, and given the concerns we have already heard from many of the fathers about its various problematic sections, the “Instrumentum” cannot adequately serve as a guiding text or the foundation of a final document.
The new synodal procedures will be seen in some quarters as lacking openness and genuine collegiality. In the past, the process of offering propositions and voting on them served the valuable purpose of taking the measure of the synod fathers’ minds. The absence of propositions and their related discussions and voting seems to discourage open debate and to confine discussion to small groups; thus it seems urgent to us that the crafting of propositions to be voted on by the entire synod should be restored. Voting on a final document comes too late in the process for a full review and serious adjustment of the text.
Additionally, the lack of input by the synod fathers in the composition of the drafting committee has created considerable unease. Members have been appointed, not elected, without consultation. Likewise, anyone drafting anything at the level of the small circles should be elected, not appointed.
In turn, these things have created a concern that the new procedures are not true to the traditional spirit and purpose of a synod. It is unclear why these procedural changes are necessary. A number of fathers feel the new process seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.
Finally and perhaps most urgently, various fathers have expressed concern that a synod designed to address a vital pastoral matter – reinforcing the dignity of marriage and family – may become dominated by the theological/doctrinal issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried. If so, this will inevitably raise even more fundamental issues about how the Church, going forward, should interpret and apply the Word of God, her doctrines and her disciplines to changes in culture. The collapse of liberal Protestant churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions.
Your Holiness, we offer these thoughts in a spirit of fidelity, and we thank you for considering them.
Faithfully yours in Jesus Christ.