Well, it’s been an interesting week for Synod-watchers! In what John Allen has wryly called “letter-gate”, Australian Cardinal George Pell reportedly hand-delivered a letter to Pope Francis on October 5, detailing concerns about the structure of the Synod.
According to Allen, who relied on a report from veteran Vaticanista Sandro Magister, the letter raised three major objections:
- Bishops taking part in the synod will not be asked to vote on individual propositions, raising concerns about whether the pope will get a full picture of where the assembly stands on controversial points.
- Members of a 10-member drafting committee charged with preparing the synod’s final document were appointed by the pope rather than elected, causing doubt about how representative they really are.
- The synod’s working document, called the Instrumentum Laboris, is described as inadequate to serve as the basis for the synod’s final conclusions.
The letter was, according to Magister, signed by thirteen Synod participants, including Cardinal Pell, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.
BUT WAIT! No sooner had reports of the letter been leaked to the press than four cardinals on the list of signatories stepped forward to say no, they hadn’t signed such a letter.
Then one senior participant in the Synod said on Monday that while there actually was a letter, the content as reported, as well as the list of signatories, was “not correct.”
And Tuesday morning, speaking to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Gerhard Müller condemned the disclosure of the pope’s private correspondence, calling the leak a new “Vati-leaks.” Cardinal Müller believed that those who willed the letter’s publication had intended to sow strife, to create tensions; and he declined to say whether or not he had signed it.
* * * * *
Certainly there will be disagreements among the hierarchy gathered in Rome this week to discuss the family. It’s well known that a number of Synod participants disagree with the call by Cardinal Kasper for communion for those who are divorced and remarried, as well as fierce opposition to opening the door to homosexual marriage.
But the flurry of news leaks and the public hints of disagreement are concerning. Just what exactly did the Synod Fathers say, and what did they NOT say?
* * * * *
I wasn’t in the room, so I can’t give you a minute-by-minute report about the small and large disagreements which have characterized this week’s Synod conversations. I have, though, been reading a lot lately–and I reported for the National Catholic Register about seven important books which were released in the weeks leading up to the Synod. “The authors of these seven books,” I wrote,
“…seek not to change what has been the Church’s constant teaching, but to present that teaching with clarity and charity, so that the Synod Fathers can discuss how best to convey that message consistently, with mercy and understanding, to the Church and the world.”
All of the titles I covered in that article were of great import to the conversations, and you can read the full text of my review here.
I would like to tell you about one of those titles, though–one which is particularly important because it draws upon the wisdom of eleven of the Catholic Church’s leaders from around the world. That book is Eleven Cardinals Speak on Marriage and the Family: Essays from a Pastoral Viewpoint edited by Winfried Aymans and published by Ignatius Press.Included in Eleven Cardinals Speak are reflections from many of the Synod participants and from other cardinals around the world including Cardinals Robert Sarah, Carlo Caffarra, Baselios Cleemis, Paul Josef Cordes, Dominik Duka, Joachim Meisner, Camillo Ruini, Antonio María Rouco Varela, Willem Jacobus Eijk, John Onaiyekan, and Jorge L. Urosa Savino.
I’ll be talking about these chapters individually, in the days and weeks ahead–it’s that good. My thoughts, after reading this excellent book:
The cardinals’ helpful essays address the challenge of providing adequate marriage preparation in a secularized world, the need for evangelization and conversion, the relationship between charity and truth, the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics, and the demands of authentic pastoral care. The authors are united in their conviction that the teaching of Jesus Christ must not come into question, and that unabridged Church teaching must find its expression in the modern world.
Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, cites Pope Francis’ call for “mercy and conversion” but warns that without due carefulness, terms like “mercy” can easily be exploited. Paul Josef Cardinal Cordes, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, calls for Church teaching to be preserved without rupture or discontinuity, and deals harshly with the alleged paradigm shift proposed by the German bishops in which the “signs of the times” are declared to be the source of the faith. Jorge L. Cardinal Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, sees a tendency toward secularization and argues that the Church must resist the pressure of the spirit of the world. Cardinal Savino warns that admitting to Communion persons who have civilly remarried after divorce would contradict the longstanding doctrinal tradition of the Church. Camillo Cardinal Ruini, vicar general emeritus of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome, concurs and proposes, instead, that the problem about admitting the divorced and civilly remarried to Communion should be addressed, in part, by a simplification of the annulment process.
Marriage preparation is a recurrent theme in the essays. Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop emeritus of Cologne, discusses challenges which must be addressed in marriage preparation, including an “education for love” which reiterates the theme of marriage and sexual morality, including the connection between love and fertility, and the language of the body as an expression of love. Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, is concerned that especially in the Western world, the majority of young people who wish to marry are already cohabiting. Sexuality taken for granted, Cardinal Sarah writes, is no longer an expression of love but a form of narcissism for two.
Special problems confronting the Catholic Church in Africa are addressed by John Cardinal Onaiyekan, archbishop of Abuja (Nigeria), who discusses polygamy, premarital sexual relationships, and the importance of offspring. Cardinal Onaiyekan further reminds the reader that the purpose of the synod is not to change Church teaching or to revisit doctrinal issues, such as whether divorced and remarried couples can continue to receive Holy Communion or whether two men or two women can present themselves at the altar for marriage. Rather, the synod has been called to confirm the faith, to study the pastoral challenges confronting the Church, and to allow bishops to compare notes with one another so as to know how best to deal with these pastoral challenges.