As much as we’d like to catch our breath after last week’s papal media blitz (which we’re still processing), the Synod begins in just five days.
It’s impossible to know for certain how things will play out, but with the list of synod appointees who openly defy Church teaching on sexuality, we can count on trouble. We know that last year, the coverage of faithful Catholic bloggers and news outlets was important in pushing back the Kasper agenda. We know that the bishops who participated in the Synod last year wanted their working group documents published to show where they differed from the mid-term relatio that caused so much scandal, and that they didn’t get their way. We also know now that the intention of those in charge of the Synod this year is to lock things down, producing no mid-term report and no final report, leaving everything in hands of Pope Francis.
If you haven’t read it yet, Ed Pentin’s book on last year’s Synod (which is now cheaper at Ignatius Press, for some reason)is absolutely critical in understanding the machinations and manipulations that are going on behind the scenes. (I’m hoping to review it soon, but I have to make time to finish reading it.)
Veteran Vaticanista Sandro Magister summarizes what we can expect in this year’s showdown:
The synod will last for three weeks, and the procedures that will be adopted have not yet been made known, despite having a big influence on the outcome of the work.
What is certain is that there will not be a final message, no commission having been set up to write one.
Another definite feature, preannounced by Pope Francis, is that “each week there will be a discussion of one chapter” of the three into which the preparatory document is subdivided:
So this time there will be no “Relatio post disceptationem” halfway through the work, after a first phase of free discussion on everything, as at the synod of October 2014. The discussion will be broken up right away into narrow linguistic groups, each of which will sum up its perspectives in reports destined to remain confidential. At the end of the three weeks there will be a vote on a final “Relatio,” and the pope will give the concluding talk.
Also unlike in the past it is not expected that after a few months there will be a postsynodal apostolic exhortation to cap everything off. The discussion will remain open to future developments. The only embodiment of the provisory conclusions will be the pope’s talk at the end of the work, which will as a matter of course overtop and obscure all the other voices.
In spite of the much-heralded emphasis on collegiality, in fact, the next round of the synod will also see at work in Francis a monocratic exercise of papal authority, as in last year’s session, at the end of which the pope kept alive propositions that had not obtained the votes necessary for approval. And they were precisely the ones on the most controversial points, divorce and homosexuality.
One undisputed sign of this monocratic exercise of papal authority was the publication, last September 8, of the two motu proprio with which Francis reformed annulment procedures:
A reform of marital cases had been expected for some time. But Francis set it in motion while keeping out the family-centered synod, which he knew was not inclined to approve what he had in mind. He set up the preparatory commission in August of 2014, before the convocation of the first session of the synod. And he signed the motu proprio last August 15, before the second session, scheduling its implementation for next December 8.
The most substantial innovation of the new procedures is that in order to obtain a declaration of nullity, the mere word of the applicant will have the “force of full proof,” without the need for other evidence, and the presumed “lack of faith” will act as a universal master key not just for thousands but for millions of marriages to be declared null, with an ultra-fast procedure and with the local bishop as the sole judge.
On this the synod fathers therefore find themselves facing a fait accompli. But it is hard to imagine that they are not discussing it. Church historian Roberto de Mattei has even hypothesized that some synod fathers may ask for the abrogation of this act of governance on the part of Pope Francis, “up to now his most revolutionary.”
I recommend the whole piece if you want a more concrete idea of how things are coalescing. I haven’t written about it yet, but I also believe that the annulment “reform” procedures present a fait accompli. It’s an abuse of subsidiarity. It’s a delegation of authority to a level where it will almost certainly be improperly used. It has removed checks and balances that keep annulments from being granted in cases where the marriages are valid and sacramental. It will lead to determinations of nullity happening in the “internal forum” — the conscience of the couple — and adulterous second marriages and sacrilegious reception of Holy Communion will therefore follow.
My sources in Rome say that there is a press conference scheduled for this Friday, where we will likely learn what we need to know about the proceedings. I expect that an attempt to lock down the information pipeline and keep the word from getting out to the media will be very difficult to enforce, unless ecclesiastical penalties are somehow attached to those who leak information to the media. I don’t know how this might be done, but I’m worried that it will be done. It would effectively stifle the voices of the faithful clergy — who would honor such strictures — and leave even more room for the heterodox to control the message.
For our part, we’ll be covering different aspects of the Synod, and of the Sacrament of Marriage, as we can. I will also be reaching back into our archives for some of our commentary and analysis from last year’s portion. Our writers did some truly excellent work, and many of our newer readers will not have seen it. We’ll also be continuing to publish unrelated articles that support and encourage authentic Catholic living. Now, more than ever, we need to remember what it means to be Catholic. The Kasper Koalition will not take that away from us.
I encourage you all to pray for God’s will in the Synod. I’ve stopped trying to petition Him for certain things. As a wise clergyman recently said to me, “I think that God permits that the evil inside the Church must grow and reveal itself in all its wickedness, and then God will intervene and make shine the truth and the beauty of the faith…”
God may in fact will that this Synod give forth some very wicked fruit indeed, if only that what has been hidden in darkness may at last be brought into the light.
May His will — not ours — be done.
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.