But Francis has rejected their requests en bloc. And meanwhile, the “Relatio finalis” has disappeared from the program of the synod
by Sandro Magister
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.”
ROME, October 12, 2015 – On Monday, October 5, at the beginning of work at the synod on the family, Cardinal George Pell delivered a letter to Pope Francis, signed by him and twelve other cardinals, all present in the synod hall.
The thirteen signatories occupy positions of the first rank in the Church’s hierarchy. Among them there are, in alphabetical order:
– Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy, theologian, formerly the first president of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family;
– Thomas C. Collins, archbishop of Toronto, Canada;
– Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, United States;
– Willem J. Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland;
– Gerhard L. Müller, former bishop of Regensburg, Germany, since 2012 prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith;
– Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, president delegate of the synod underway as also at the previous session of the synod of October 2014;
– George Pell, archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia, since 2014 prefect in the Vatican of the secretariat for the economy;
– Robert Sarah, former archbishop of Conakry, Guinea, since 2014 prefect of the congregation for divine worship and the discipline – Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Italy;
– Jorge L. Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela.
In the letter, concise and perfectly clear, the thirteen cardinals bring to the pope’s attention the serious “concerns” of themselves and other synod fathers over the procedures of the synod, in their judgement “designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions,” and over the “Instrumentum laboris,” viewed as inadequate as a “guiding text or the foundation of a final document.”
Here is the text of the letter, in the original English.
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.
On the afternoon of that same Monday, October 5, during the first discussion in the assembly, Cardinal Pell and other synod fathers referred to some of the questions presented in the letter, without citing it.
Pope Francis was present and listening. And the next morning, on Tuesday, October 6, he spoke.
The text of these unscheduled remarks has not been made public, but only summarized verbally by Fr. Federico Lombardi and in writing by “L’Osservatore Romano.” As follows:
“The pontiff wanted to reaffirm that the current synod is in continuity with the one celebrated last year. With regard to the “Instrumentum laboris,” Francis emphasized that this results from the ‘Relatio synodi’ together with the contributions that came afterwards, that is was approved by the post-synodal council – meeting in the presence of the pontiff – and that it is the basis for continuing the debate and discussions of the upcoming days. In this context, the contributions of the various linguistic groups take on essential importance. The pope also recalled that the three official documents of last year’s synod are the two discourses, initial and final, and the ‘Relatio synodi.’ The pontiff emphasized that Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched and then cautioned against the impression that the only problem of the synod is that of communion for the divorced, appealing against a reduction in the horizons of the synod.”
To this account from “L’Osservatore Romano,” Fr. Lombardi added that “the decisions of method were also shared and approved by the pope, and therefore cannot be brought back into discussion.”
From this it can be gathered that Francis has rejected the requests of the letter en bloc, apart from the marginal recommendation not to reduce the discussion only to “communion for the divorced.”
And he has not rejected them without a polemical jab, as afterwards made known – in a tweet that has not been disowned – by the director of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” Antonio Spadaro, also present in the hall, according to whom the pope told the fathers “not to give in to the conspiracy hermeneutic, which is sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful.”
All of this at the beginning of the synod. But toward the end of the first week of work, something else happened. Once again contrary to the wishes of the letter from the thirteen cardinals.
On Friday, October 9, Cardinal Luis Antonio G. Tagle, archbishop of Manila and president delegate of the synod, said out of the blue that with regard to the final relation, “we await the decision of the pope.”
And the next day, Fr. Lombardi clarified that “we do not yet have certainty on how the conclusion of the synod will take place, meaning if there will or will not be a final document. We will see if the pope gives precise indications.”
Incredible but true. With the synod in full swing, a question mark has suddenly been raised over the very existence of that “Relatio finalis” which figured in the programs as the goal toward which all of the work of the synod was finalized.
The “Relatio finalis,” in fact, was the subject of extensive remarks from the secretary general of the synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, in his official presentation on October 2:
That same day, Baldisseri also revealed that Pope Francis had appointed a commission of five cardinals and bishops precisely “for the elaboration of the final relation.”
On October 5, in the opening talk for the work of the synod, Baldisseri returned to illustrate in even greater detail the phases of elaboration and approval for the “Relatio”:
And he talked about it again in the assembly on the morning of October 6, right before the pope spoke.
Not to mention the official working calendar for the synod, which still assigns four full days, from October 21-24, to the writing of the “final relation,” to its presentation in the assembly, to the discussion and presentation of written observations, to its rewriting, to its re-presentation in the assembly and to the definitive vote:
In the letter to Pope Francis, the thirteen cardinals expressed their hopes for the restoration of the procedure of past synods, which ended with votes, one by one, on “propositions” to be offered to the pope. Or that at least, in the absence of these propositions, there be a point-by-point vote on a “Relatio finalis” written by an elected commission, not one appointed from on high.
But if even the “Relatio” – as implied – is to be no more, the only product of the synod can be nothing other than a re-elaboration of that “Instrumentum laboris” which the thirteen signers of the letter maintain is incapable of acting as “the foundation of a final document,” partly because of its “various problematic sections,” which are of uncertain fidelity to doctrine.
Because it is true that the 270 synod fathers are working day after day to re-elaborate the “Instrumentum” from the ground up. But it is just as true that the rewriting of the text will be the prerogative of that commission entirely appointed by Pope Francis in which the innovators have an overwhelming majority, the opposite of what holds true in the assembly. And in a sprawling, rambling text like the “Instrumentum” – not telegraphic like the “propositions” of many past synods – it is much easier for a repeat of the 2014 synod to take place, with the inclusion of vague, kaleidoscopic formulas that are hard to praise or reject in assembly with a straightforward vote.
“Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched,” Pope Francis pledged in referring to the entire conduct of the synod from 2014 to today, in response to the “concerns” of the thirteen cardinals of the letter.
But Cardinal Tagle, a prominent representative of the innovators, also said at the press conference on October 9, with visible satisfaction:
“The new method adopted by the synod has definitely caused a bit of confusion, but it is good to be confused once in a while. If things are always clear, then we might not be in real life anymore.”