I hope you’ll pardon me if I offer some commentary that is a bit more stream-of-consciousness than usual. The storm is gathering, but life goes on. I’ve had a couple of days this week, mostly related to my children and their end of quarter school events, that have kept me away from my desk for much of the time. I wanted to share some thoughts before I have to leave again in about an hour.
Many of my colleagues in Catholic Media are in Rome this week, on the eve of the Amazon Synod, which opens this Sunday, October 6th. Much as I would have loved to visit the eternal city again — I’ve not been there in 16 years — I suspect I’ll get much more accomplished right here in the familiar environs of 1P5 HQ, where I will not be tempted to fraternize with my counterparts and run around trying to find a decent internet connection.
Although the synod doesn’t officially get underway until Sunday, there was a press conference yesterday, and Diane Montagna of LifeSiteNews stepped forward and asked some important questions:
At Presser for Amazon Synod #SinodoAmazonico, @dianemontagna asks about the criticism of the Instrumentum Laboris, specifically Cardinal Brandmüller who said it contained "heresy and close to apostasy"; and the exceptions to celibacy and the German Bishops [Thread] pic.twitter.com/LAzeEGvhL1
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) October 3, 2019
The answers were…circumlocutory at best, as you can see in this thread, which summarizes them. Cardinal Baldisseri, who remains Secretary General of the Synod pending his replacement by Bishop Mario Grech of Malta, who denies that he is a priest-threatening tyrant, but openly promotes Communion for adulterers. Baldisseri responded to the question about criticism of the Instrument Laboris with idiomatic evasion: “I have read the criticism, I hope it is not fake news. If there is a puddle of water in Rome, and two cars stop the whole of Rome is stopped.”
He then rambled on about the instrumentum laboris of the synod being “the voice of the local church…in the Amazon,” and about the importance of “listening,” because that, dontcha know, is what the “synodal path” is all about: “listening seriously.”
He did, however, confirm that the question of relaxing priestly celibacy will be discussed. “It is in the instrumentum laboris,” he said. “Therefore, the synod fathers are free to express themselves, to discuss it.”
At LifeSiteNews, Matthew Cullinan Hoffman explores the question further, reporting that LifeSite has independently confirmed with their own sources a story that appeared in the Spanish Language religion portal Religion Digital about a new “rescript” from the Vatican that changes the rules on laicization of priests, and their ability to offer sacraments after laicization – even if they are married.
According to the report, the new procedures makes dispensations from the priestly life much easier to obtain, and removes waiting period and minimum age requirements for laicization. Further, Hoffman says that their source indicates “the new rescripts are connected with the Amazon Synod agenda, which includes permitting the ordination of married men as priests.”
According to a recent decree or “rescript” issued in Spanish by the Vatican in response to a request by a priest to be returned to the lay state, which was published by Religion Digital and has been translated into English by LifeSite, such priests may now remain in the communities that they served, where they must be “accepted,” even after marrying, and may even marry publicly in that same community.
In previous rescripts, laicized priests were prohibited from distributing Holy Communion or directing pastoral activities. These restrictions are reversed in the current version of the rescript, which instead states that “the dispensed cleric will be able to exercise those ecclesiastical offices that do not require sacred Order, with the permission of the competent Bishop.”
Previous rescripts for laicizing priests stated that they must leave the communities they served and live in a place in which they were not known as having been ordained as a priest, and in addition, any marriage contracted by the laicized priest had to be “carried out with caution and without pomp and outward display.” Such rescripts also required laicized priests to carry out a penance through “some work of devotion or charity,” another requirement that has disappeared from the rescript.
However, the text of the new rescript hints that the prohibition on the priest continuing to function as a priest while married may be lifted in the future, stating that the dispensation “includes, inseparably, the dispensation from celibacy and, at the same time, the loss of the clerical state. These two elements can never be separated, because according to current practice they are part of a single procedure” (boldface added).
Take note of a key statement found in Hoffman’s translation of the rescript: “the dispensed cleric will be able to exercise those ecclesiastical offices that do not require sacred Order, with the permission of the competent Bishop.”
Ecclesiastical offices? Which ones?
There is another section in the rescript which reads:
It is desirable that the dispensed cleric be received by the ecclesial community in which he resides, to continue his journey, faithful to the obligations of his baptismal vocation. In the reception of the dispensed cleric in the ecclesial community “as a layman” (“tamquam laicus”), it will be appropriate for the competent Bishop to be attentive so that the functions or services that might be eventually entrusted to him do not cause confusion or scandal among the faithful.
This, to my mind, is also indicative of a move towards giving at least some functions previously reserved only to active, ordained ministers to married, laicized former priests. My guess would be that in the beginning, this might start out with the leading of communion services in lieu of full Masses. Time will tell.
What I will say is that in the summer of 2017, I was informed by one of our writers that during a conversation with a source in Rome, that individual had alerted them to an alleged plan for the (then future) synod. The source said that the idea would be to use the relaxation of celibacy at the Amazon synod as a means of “inviting back” those priests that had been laicized in order to be married so that they could, once again, distribute the sacraments. With no sources willing to go on record at the time, we determined that we could not move forward with the story, but the text of the new rescript and the independent confirmation of LifeSiteNews, it seems likely that an attempt, at the very least, is in the works.
I think we need to brace ourselves for the relaxation of priestly celibacy, at the very least, which will begin as something like an indult, and then spread like wildfire. Be prepared.
Moving on to today’s events, there is a panel discussion taking place in Rome between a number of the principals of traditional or alternative Catholic news media. I suspect that we’ll be seeing a number of interesting observations being shared from this synod — Roberto de Mattei has already made some points I’ve seen being shared that are worth repeating — but ultimately I suspect that what is being discussed will be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention for the past couple of years.
An item of particular note is this ceremony, which appears to be pagan in nature, taking place in the Vatican gardens, in which Pope Francis has had some participatory role:
This morning in the Vatican Gardens, Indigenous leaders of the Amazon offered up prayers for the Earth, in a ceremony where Pope Francis consecrated the upcoming Pan-Amazon Synod to St. Francis of Assisi #SinodoAmazonico pic.twitter.com/v9Ljy3q3Bh
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) October 4, 2019
And to think what poor Pope Marcellinus went through for allegedly offering a pinch of incense to the pagan gods to avoid persecution! He was seen as an apostate, and then is believed to have repented, and been martyred for his reversal by the tyrranical emperor Diocletian.
With Francis, it seems unlikely that there will be any dramatic change of heart. He’s not facing persecution. In fact, this event is happening at an event over which he has total control, and which he has chosen to publicize. Just another average Friday.
God, save your Church!
UPDATE 10-11-2019: Originally this article mentioned a missing section (point 5) of text from the translation of the rescript. Matthew Cullinan Hoffman informed me that the section was accidentally left out of the copy of the translation that was originally posted by LifeSite. An updated copy is available at the link above. The above article has been updated to reflect the new information.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.