What’s really going on inside the Synod? That’s the question many are trying to answer, including those journalists tasked with covering the proceedings. Despite revised procedures that were designed to give the appearance of transparency, the inner workings of the Synod are being obscured by a filter of “language attachés,” whose job it is to tell the media from various countries their version of what’s happening inside.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Thomas Rosica is the official point-man in relating what’s transpiring behind closed doors to English-speaking audiences. Considering the significance of his role, it is relevant to relate what we know about Fr. Rosica — a figure not without controversy in recent months — in order that we may attempt to understand any possible agenda that could affect his duties. His report earlier this week — complete with references to accomodating polygamy! — left many Catholics feeling uneasy. On CNN last month, his response to Anderson Cooper’s question about streamlining the annulment process also raised eyebrows:
ROSICA: Yes, stream line and also offer it as a possibility and experience of mercy and you can start over. Something is broken, love is failed, your life is not condemned, your life is not finished. Let’s get on with this. Let’s correct the situation so that people have another chance. All of it has to be understood. He’s [Pope Francis] got this theme of mercy in him. It’s his DNA, his model. (emphasis added)
Remember, this is the same Fr. Rosica who threatened to sue a Canadian blogger for criticizing comments made by Rosica on the very issues being discussed at the Synod. According to Austin Ruse:
At issue are a number of posts criticizing Rosica for his role in the unusually contentious Extraordinary Synod on the Family at the Vatican last October, which drew global attention to the debate within the Catholic hierarchy over communion for the divorced and civilly remarried and the Church’s approach to homosexual unions. Some feared, and others hoped, that the Church was set to change traditional doctrine. The blog Vox Cantoris claimed that Father Rosica, who was one of the official spokesmen of the Synod, was central to efforts to change at least Church practice, if not Church teaching.
Fr. Rosica eventually backed down from his litigation threats in the face of significant backlash, but as we previously reported, a shot was fired, and was heard loud and clear by Catholic bloggers around the world.
More recently, it was Fr. Rosica who, during the papal visit to the United States, went on Fox News Sunday and said,
The backdrop [of the papal visit] is a world steeped in violence and bloodshed and rancor and hatred, and here we have coming — to your city, to your diocese — a real prince of peace. If there’s any princely title that should be associated with Francis, it’s “The Prince of Peace.”
(You can see it for yourself here, beginning at 5:08 on the video timeline.)
It is an uncomfortable thing to have a priest acting in an official capacity as a Vatican spokesman using Our Lord’s prophetic title from Isaiah 9:6 to describe his boss. But this was not an isolated incident. After Pope Francis’s speech in Philadelphia, Rosica said, “I have often wondered how Jesus taught on a Galilean hillside. Tonight in Philadelphia I saw how Jesus taught.”
Such statements might be explained away as a sort of overzealous enthusiasm, but they also raise questions of impropriety, inasmuch as they can be interpreted as a sort of borderline-idolatry. If Rosica were saying that Francis is like Jesus, that’d be one thing. But his words, taken literally, make it sound as though he is describing Jesus Himself. Another such statement was posted the following day:
It would not be unreasonable to discuss in greater depth what is at work behind Fr. Rosica’s conflations between the Vicar of Christ and Christ Himself, and whether these might be dismissed as rhetorical excesses. But that is not our concern here. What does concern us is that Rosica is clearly a man so uncritically in awe of his pontiff that it would be implausible to expect him to report the Synod proceedings objectively – especially if he believes he knows the Holy Father’s agenda and desires to promote it. And with Father Rosica serving as the principle conduit through which we in the English-speaking world are receiving our information about the Synod, this presents a serious problem.
Fortunately for us, the ever-stalwart Ed Pentin continues to dig deeper and provides glimpses of what is actually happening behind the scenes – and there is more resistance to the agenda of “accompaniment” and accommodation of sin than Fr. Rosica lets on:
It wasn’t clear who said what under the synod rules, but neither was it clear how many synod fathers addressed the issues Father Rosica, or the other language attaches, had mentioned.
In effect, this meant the public were left with a skewed interpretation of what was said at the opening debate, as happened throughout the last synod.
Thankfully, reliable sources have shared with me a few of the subjects covered by other synod fathers, helping to provide a more rounded picture of what was discussed:
* A number of synod fathers spoke in support of Cardinal Peter Erdo’s introductory speech, including one who underlined the importance of keeping fidelity to truth about marriage, the family and the Eucharist.
* A synod father asked “What are we doing here?” and stressed the synod is about the family, not other relationships such as homosexual ones. He also stressed that if the synod accepts the divorced-remarried issue, the Church effectively “supports divorce”.
* Another said the emphasis should be the sacrament of marriage, so the spiritual beauty of marriage is brought to the fore. Often the Church is not united around the “positive vision” of marriage and family. He said instability around marriage is “against its nature”.
* A synod father referenced St. Augustine, saying some of the baptized living in “irregular situations” don’t want to approach the Sacrament of Penance; he said the crisis of the family is a crisis of faith. He quoted 2 Timothy 4:2-5
* Another intervention noted the flock are too few, and that one should show respect for families which battle and try to remain faithful, those who in particular remain faithful to their marital vows given before God, although there are controversies and difficulties.
* A further intervention stressed that the Church has to defend that which God revealed about marriage and family and that the work of prelates is to support healthy families. A danger for families are “certain cultural currents,” as well as a sociological approach. In order to serve the family one has to take point of departure the word of God.
These were just some of the interventions the press didn’t hear about from Father Rosica among the 72 delivered to the synod on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.
We have heard that even before the Synod began, a secret group of theologians began work on its final documents, which would make it somewhat difficult for them to accurately reflect the proceedings. We know that whatever happens in the Synod, Pope Francis has the final say on what we are to take from it. We have been told that Francis’s own intervention in the opening days of the Synod has kept the most controversial aspects of last year’s portion in central focus. And now, we have one of Francis’s biggest fans in the position of telling us what (and only what) he thinks we should know about the proceedings.
Fortunately for us, journalists like Pentin have their own sources within the Synod. But as long as the smokescreen persists, we’ll only be receiving an occluded view.
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.