Pell Contra Synodality: The Last Written Words of George Cardinal Pell

Pell Contra Synodality: The Last Written Words of George Cardinal Pell January 17, 2023

On January 10th, 2023, the Church lost another giant—this time a literal physical giant. George Cardinal Pell died of cardiac arrest following hip surgery in Rome. The loss of both Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Pell within two weeks presented a hard pill to swallow. A stalwart defender of Catholic orthodoxy, Cardinal Pell’s candor and courage, even in the face of false conviction and imprisonment, give testimony to his strength of faith.

The last written piece from Cardinal Pell appeared in The Spectator. Titled, The Catholic Church must free itself from this ‘toxic nightmare, Cardinal Pell’s final concern was chaos caused by the Synod of Synodality document (SoS). As someone who shares the cardinal’s concerns regarding the Synod of Synodality, this article stands as my tribute to this faithful prince of the Church. The Holy Father has called this process one of listening. May he listen to the words of the late Cardinal Pell.

Enlarge the “Tent” or Make Disciples of All Nations?

With no sense of irony, the document is entitled ‘Enlarge the Space of Your Tent’, and the aim of doing so is to accommodate, not the newly baptised —those who have answered the call to repent and believe — but anyone who might be interested enough to listen. Participants are urged to be welcoming and radically inclusive: ‘No one is excluded’.

The document does not urge even the Catholic participants to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), much less to preach the Saviour in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).

Cardinal Pell zeroes in with exact precision to the main issue with the SoS document, that is, accommodation over holiness, inclusivity over discipleship. The Catholic Church’s mission or “great commission” is to make disciples of all nations. Not to accommodate or exercise radical inclusivity.

Hostility to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Faith

What is one to make of this potpourri, this outpouring of New Age good will? It is not a summary of Catholic faith or New Testament teaching. It is incomplete, hostile in significant ways to the apostolic tradition and nowhere acknowledges the New Testament as the Word of God, normative for all teaching on faith and morals. The Old Testament is ignored, patriarchy rejected and the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments, is not acknowledged.

Moreover, Cardinal Pell’s correct that the SoS document reads like a laundry list of dissent from apostolic tradition and Catholic faith. It reflects the failure of proper catechesis. In place of the apostolic tradition and the Catholic faith are calls for women priests, the acceptance of homosexual activity, abortion, and contraception. God’s revealed truth on these matters nowhere appears.

Servant of Apostolic Tradition or Sovereign?

The synods have to choose whether they are servants and defenders of the apostolic tradition on faith and morals, or whether their discernment compels them to assert their sovereignty over Catholic teaching. They must decide whether basic teachings on things like priesthood and morality can be parked in a pluralist limbo where some choose to redefine sins downwards and most agree to differ respectfully.

Cardinal Pell reminds his brother bishops that they are servants of apostolic tradition, not its sovereign or master. No bishop, even the pope himself, is sovereign over apostolic tradition. Pope, college of cardinals, bishops, priest, and deacons are servants and defenders of the apostolic faith first and foremost. Any attempt to redefine sin shows a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.

Bishops in Need of Rebuke

Outside the synod, discipline is loosening – especially in Northern Europe, where a few bishops have not been rebuked, even after asserting a bishop’s right to dissent; a de facto pluralism already exists more widely in some parishes and religious orders on things like blessing homosexual activity.

The good cardinal references Belgian, Flemish, and German bishops in dissent from Catholic Church in regard to homosexual activity. When all the bishops meet in late 2023 and 2024, they must address this dissent and the pluralistic tendances in Northern Europe. Failing to rein in these rogue bishops, the Church may find itself in the mist of a second Protestant Reformation. This time surrounding the redefinition, not of faith, but of objectively sinful behavior.

Plenty of New-Marxist Jargon, No Last Things…

The ex-Anglicans among us are right to identify the deepening confusion, the attack on traditional morals and the insertion into the dialogue of neo-Marxist jargon about exclusion, alienation, identity, marginalization, the voiceless, LGBTQ as well as the displacement of Christian notions of forgiveness, sin, sacrifice, healing, redemption. Why the silence on the afterlife of reward or punishment, on the four last things; death and judgement, heaven and hell?

Furthermore, what place does the concept of sin occupy in a welcoming and affirming Church? When the focus changes from forgiveness of sin to identity and affirmation, sin of forgiveness falls by the wayside. Sadly, when we stand before God at our particular judgement, our knowledge of Marx and our redefinition of sin will not save us.

Christ Against the Holy Spirit

So far the synodal way has neglected, indeed downgraded the Transcendent, covered up the centrality of Christ with appeals to the Holy Spirit and encouraged resentment, especially among participants.

Moreover, an appeal to the Holy Spirit provides those in dissent with an unverifiable justification for change. Christ’s words and teaching reflect in apostolic tradition. Therefore, Christ presents a figure less manipulatable. On the other hand, the Holy Spirt “moves” and “inspires” individual believers. We must ask the question, can the Holy Spirt contradict Christ? The SoS document seems to indicate so.

Work to be Done…

This working document needs radical changes. The bishops must realize that there is work to be done, in God’s name, sooner rather than later.

In conclusion, the bishops have a ton of work to do at the synodal meetings of 2023 and 2024. The SoS document represents a doctrinal mess. Failure to clarify Catholic doctrine will lead to disappointment and schism. The “listened to” will find a Church hierarchy now hard of hearing.

Let’s pray the pope, cardinals, and bishops heed the words of the late George Cardinal Pell. May his last written words represent the last gasps of the SoS document.

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