While the eyes of most of the faithful who follow Church news remain fixated on the near-constant drumbeat of new information about Clerical Abuse Scandal 2.0, another papal document has dropped, and in it, another likely time bomb.
This morning, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Constitution Epicopalis Communio (EC) – “Episcopal Communion” – which aims to “reform” the synodal process. The document, available thus far only in Italian, makes changes that should be of familiar concern to anyone who paid attention to the 2014 & 2015 synods on the Family. From Chris Altieri’s commentary today at the Catholic Herald:
The role of the General Secretary appears greatly increased and his powers expanded, along with those of the General Secretariat. These expanded powers especially regard the steering of Synod Assemblies, from their early organisation, through the sessions, to the drafting and approval of final documents — all of which come to be part of the Synod Assembly proper.
Though the Synod of Bishops remains a consultative body, the new law envisions a sort of elision of the body’s teaching authority with that of the Roman Pontiff. Article 18 § 2 reads, “If expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff, the final document participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor to Peter.”
Lawyers will quibble over just what sort of elision that is, as they will also discuss the nature of and extent the participation any document thus approved has in Papal teaching authority. [emphasis added]
Once again, we are witnessing an attempt to broaden the scope of papal authority in a dangerous way. Recall the book written by National Catholic Register Rome Correspondent Edward Pentin, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod, about the manipulation that went on behind the scenes at the 2014 Synod on the Family. That manipulation — aimed at a change in Catholic teaching on sacraments for the divorced and remarried and a reformulation of the Church’s take on homosexual behavior — transpired under the direction of the General Secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.
And things got worse in the 2015 synod. The lack of transparency and manipulation escalated significantly between the first and second session. Baldisseri later disclosed that the most controversial parts of the first synod — those on “homosexuality, extra-marital cohabitation, and Communion for the divorced and remarried that failed to gain the approval of the Synod Fathers” in October, 2014, were kept on the table for the 2015 synod by Pope Francis himself:
“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.”
Baldisseri also indicated that the pope had been involved with, and had approved, every document — including the deeply divisive mid-term relatio — along each step of the synod process:
“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.”
And in terms of just how much authority is purportedly going to be given to these kinds of documents, see Article 18 of EC:
Article 18 – The Consignment of the Final Document to the Roman Pontiff
When it has been approved by the Members, the Final Document of the Assembly is presented to the Roman Pontiff, who decides on its publication.
If it is expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff, the final Document participates in the Ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter.
If the Roman Pontiff has granted deliberative power to the Synodal Assembly, according to the norm of canon 343 of the Code of Canon Law, the final Document particpates in the Ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter once it is ratified and promulgated by him.
In this case, the final Document shall be published with the signature of the Roman Pontiff together with the signatures of the Members of the Synod. [emphasis added]
Does everyone remember when Cardinal Burke argued that Amoris Laetitia was not really an “act of the magisterium”? And that it was merely “written as a reflection of the Holy Father on the work of the last two sessions of the Synod of Bishops”?
This new rule — effective immediately — appears to be an attempt to head such critiques off at the pass. “I hereby establish,” writes Francis, “that what is decreed in this Apostolic Constitution has full efficacy beginning from the day of its publication in L’Osservatore Romano, anything to the contrary notwithstanding, also if meriting special mention, and that is shall be published in the official register Acta Apostolicae Sedis.” And further: “I exhort all to welcome with a sincere soul and a ready disposition the norms of this Apostolic Constitution, with the help of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles and Mother of the Church.”
(It is a dangerous thing for the pope to encourage the faithful to invoke the assistance of the Virgin Mary for help dealing with acts of his pontificate, which is why I wholeheartedly encourage it.)
So what is the upshot of all of this?
We have two upcoming synods – one for addressing the issues facing youth, and one for the Amazon region. Between these two, several controversial issues are expected to be tackled, namely, homosexuality, clerical celibacy, and the inclusion of women in some level of the sacrament of Holy Orders.
Marco Tosatti makes a noteworthy observation today in his column at La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana:
[I]t appears clear, after the two Synods on the Family of 2014 and 2015, and after the announcement of the 2019 Synod focused on the Amazon, that this sort of meeting has changed subtly but radically in its form and purpose. Prior to Francis, the Synods had a purpose of bringing forth numerous voices speaking about problems that had not been noted before – even if they were at times a bit scattered. But beginning with the Synod on the Family in 2014, organized, prepared, and conducted under the leadership of Cardinal Baldisseri, we have seen that in reality these mega-events are coordinated to follow a precise agenda, intended and directed from on high. And, in the final analysis, they serve merely to create a backdrop for documents – Amoris Laetitia is the prime example – which are in large part pre-cooked, to which the contributions of the Synod Fathers make purely cosmetic additions. How can we not recall the candid confession of Archbishop Forte about the confidential conversation he had with the Pope? “If we speak explicitly about giving communion to the divorced and remarried,” reported Msgr. Forte, referring to a remark made by Pope Francis, “they don’t understand what a mess that will put us in. So we will not speak about it in a direct way – do it in a way that the premises are there, and then I will draw out the conclusions.” After reporting this remark, Forte made a joke, saying, “Typical of a Jesuit.” [emphasis added]
[W]e must ask what agenda is being brought to the Synod on Youth. After Dublin, and given the presence of Eminences and Excellencies who may easily be ascribed to the pro-homosexual philosophical current in the Church, it is no stretch of the imagination to place among the possible objectives for the Synod another little or big step towards the “normalization” of homosexuality and homosexual relations – stable and loving, of course. The wind from Santa Marta seems to be blowing in that direction. In the facts, not in the statements. We hope we are mistaken.
The presence of those “eminences and excellencies” he refers to is certainly of concern. Tosatti lists them:
[O]ne cannot help but be perplexed by certain nominations the Pope has made of the bishops who will attend the Synod. Like the nomination of Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, for example, a man who is in the chain of bishops linked to McCarrick and who has declared that the Pope has more important things to focus on than the denunciation of Archbishop Viganò, such as the environment and immigration. Or Cardinal Joe Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, student and heir of McCarrick in that diocese, who candidly admitted that he had not given any weight to the voices denouncing McCarrick because they seemed unbelievable to him. And then there is Cardinal Marx, and Archbishop Paglia…
It’s almost as if the abuse scandal doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter at all.
If they think that, they have grossly underestimated the concern — and the anger — of a great many Catholics. They appear to have calculated, however, that none of that matters. They have ignored the accusations of Vigano (despite saying a response would be forthcoming), they have continued to act with impunity despite increasing media and governmental scrutiny, and they have demonstrated that there is no slowing the freight train of the Francis pontificate, no matter how many flaming dumpsters they have to plow through on the tracks. The agenda of “reform” must move forward at breakneck speed.
It’s almost as though they don’t care how much damage this is doing to the Catholic Church. Or for that matter, as though they welcome it.
Italian texts translated for 1P5 by Giuseppe Pellegrino.
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 eight children.