If the Synod Fathers Stay Faithful, will Their Votes be Counted?


Rorate Caeli published an urgent report (as of this morning) on the opposition of Synod fathers to communion for the divorced and remarried:

Urgent news from inside the Synod hall today:

The news source is from the correspondent of the highly liberal official newspaper of the French Bishops’ Conference, La Croix, Sebastien Maillard – the head count comes directly from inside the hall (tweeted 16 minutes ago at the time of this post):

The text reads: “Overwhelming majority against communion for remarried divorces, according to observer in the Synod hall”

The question on my mind is simple: what difference does it make, practically speaking, if the majority of Synod fathers opposes this? The number of votes according to the Synod rules didn’t matter when it came to controversial language the Synod fathers did not muster enough votes to include in the concluding document to last year’s Synod:

The final document of the Extraordinary Synod was released Saturday as the Synod Fathers voted to approve all 62 paragraphs, but with three paragraphs not receiving the normally required two-thirds majority vote.

The three paragraphs, which in the past would not have been included in a final synod report, speak of: 1) permitting certain remarried divorced Catholics to receive communion after a period of penitence, 2) invoking a deeper call to understanding of the issue of spiritual communion for the divorced and remarried and 3) receiving homosexuals “with respect and gentleness.” However, the document has removed the much-criticized language that spoke of “valuing” the homosexual orientation.

And we know that this happened by the direct intervention of Pope Francis:

Why did the final Relatio published in the Lineamenta include the paragraphs on homosexuality, extra-marital cohabitation and Communion for the divorced-and-remarried that failed to gain the approval of the Synod Fathers in October. (Paragraphs 52,53,55 in the Italian; the English has a slightly different numbering system.)

“It was the Pope’s decision to include the points that did not receive the two-thirds majority,” Cardinal Baldisseri responded. “The Pope said: ‘These three points received an absolute majority. They were therefore not rejected with a ‘no,’ as they received more than 50 percent approval. They are therefore issues that still need to be developed. We as a Church want a consensus. These texts can be modified, that’s clear. Once there has been further reflection, they can be modified.”

The Cardinal also informed us that the 46 questions published in the Lineamenta were the work of both the General Secretariat and the 15 members of the Council of the Secretariat. Responses are due April 15th.

Asked if the Pope had reviewed the questions before they were published, the Cardinal replied: “The documents were all seen and approved by the Pope, with the approval of his presence. Even the documents during the [Extraordinary] Synod, such as the Relatio ante disceptatationem [the preliminary report], the Relatio post disceptationem [interim report], and the Relatio synodi [final report]were seen by him before they were published.”

He added, wryly: “This point is important not only because of his authority, but also it puts the Secretary General at ease.”

We know also that Pope Francis unilaterally imposed the two motu proprio letters on the annulment process, having had them drafted in secret, without consulting those canonical experts whose opinions and input should have been crucial in such documents. We know further that he already plans to delegate the authority on such matters through forced decentralization. From Damian Thompson this past Sunday:

Pope Francis yesterday gave an address to the profoundly divided Synod on the Family in which he confirmed his plans to decentralise the Catholic Church – giving local bishops’ conferences more freedom to work out their own solutions to the problems of divorce and homosexuality.

This is the nightmare of conservative Catholic cardinals, including – unsurprisingly – those in the Vatican. They thought they had a sufficient majority in the synod to stop the lifting of the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving communion, or any softening on the Church’s attitude to gay couples.

But in yesterday’s keynote speech, delivered as the synod enters its last week, Francis told them that the decentralisation will be imposed from above.

While deliberately referring to himself as ‘Bishop of Rome’, to underline his solidarity with local bishops everywhere (as opposed to the Roman Curia – i.e., ‘the Vatican’), he invoked the power of the Supreme Pontiff to overrule mere cardinals. ‘The synod journey culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called to speak authoritatively as the Pastor and Teacher of all Christians,’ he said. This is more authoritarian language than I can remember Benedict XVI using as pope. It means: I call the shots. In the end, you listen to me, not the other way around.

One statement in particular horrified the conservatives. Francis told them that ‘the sense of faith impedes the rigid separation between the Teaching Church and the Learning Church, because the flock possesses its own “sense” to discern the new roads that the Lord reveals to the church…’ Meaning? We shall have to wait until the Pope delivers a final response to the synod next year.

This is such a startling development that it deserves fuller analysis once the synod is over. I was going to say ‘once the dust has settled’, but I don’t expect any dust-settling in the foreseeable future – at least until after the next conclave, which lots of conservative Catholics want to happen as soon as possible.

It has long been my concern that Francis will make an end-run around the restrictions of papal infallibility by not making a decision that is binding, but rather by delegating the decision on matters as important as Holy Communion given to the unrepentant to Bishops, who must determine their own “pastoral process.” We know what this would lead to. We know that it could be done through ambiguities and vagueries, so that no one could easily pin the blame on the Holy Father. We even know the language to look out for – the idea that the Eucharist is “not a prize for the strong, but a source of strength for the weak, for sinners.”

It saddened many of us when Pope Benedict abdicated the papacy in 2013. Seeing him now, looking healthy and happy, we wonder if much of this could have been prevented if he had stayed on. But of the two scenarios we have and are witnessing — abdicating one’s office for fear that one lacks the strength to do the right thing, and abdicating one’s duties of office because one is unwilling or unable to believe a thing is right, and thus worth doing — the latter is a far, far more dangerous and damaging course. And the latter is precisely what Pope Francis has done thus far. He has disciplined not a single bishop or cardinal who speaks openly against Catholic teaching on the Sixth Commandment, and his silence, coupled with his homilies railing against ridigity and doctors of the law and hermeneutics of conspiracy give us clear indicators of his sympathies.

Of course, we saw the handwriting on the wall in numerous gestures over the past 31 months, gestures we and others have documented through countless posts and articles while we have seen our concerns go dismissed and even scoffed at.

If our concerns about this Synod prove to be wrong, what a joyous opportunity for humility it will be! If our concerns are proven right, woe to those through whom this scandal will come – a scandal that will rock the Church to its very foundations.

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