Papal Promises and Maneuvers: the Revelations of Cardinals Sistach and Meisner

Many of our readers might already be aware that in spite of his own exhortations in favor of open-hearted dialogue, Pope Francis himself was responsible for steering some of the discussions during the two family synods, especially with regard to the question of divorced and “remarried” couples. The most prominent example of these kinds of papal maneuvers is what Archbishop Bruno Forte had revealed less than a year after the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family, in May of 2016. Steve Skojec then reported, as follows:

Archbishop Forte has in fact revealed a “behind the scenes” [moment] from the Synod: “If we speak explicitly about communion for the divorced and remarried,” said Archbishop Forte, reporting a joke of Pope Francis, “you do not know what a terrible mess we will make. So we won’t speak plainly, do it in a way that the premises are there, then I will draw out the conclusions.” [emphasis added]

Archbishop Bruno Forte is of course also the same man who is said to have written the highly controversial mid-term report of the 2014 Synod on the Family which had stressed the “positive aspects” of homosexual relationships. It is also worthwhile here to remember Edward Pentin’s own book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?

Here we would like to introduce for your consideration two more important disclosures which were published some time ago, but which we believe merit further reflection. The first of these comes from Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach, the retired Bishop of Barcelona. Sistach had been appointed by Pope Francis to participate in both the 2014 and the 2015 Synods on the Family. In February of 2017, in an article in L’Osservatore Romano, Sistach supportively discussed Amoris Laetitia and gave his thoughts on how to put it into practice. It was within this context that the Spanish cardinal mentioned a conversation he had had with Pope Francis during the 2015 Synod — including a discussion of divorced and “remarried” couples. In this conversation, the pope gave Sistach the recommendation not to talk so much about their possible access to the Sacraments, but, rather to talk about their “integration” in more general and somewhat abstract terms (perhaps, so as not to disquiet the synod fathers). Cardinal Sistach recounted the occasion as follows:

This greater potential “integration” [sic] of the divorced and “remarried” includes different forms, which could extend to the celebration of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. Remember that this new orientation during the Synod – to talk about greater “integration” rather than about receiving absolution and the Eucharist – was introduced in the synodal assembly in mid-October 2015. After the coffee break, as I walked back into the classroom, I had the privilege to converse with the Pope, who told me it was better to talk about integration. I immediately prepared a proposal with this new orientation with respect to the content of paragraph number 85 of the final document that we were looking at in groups, and I distributed it to my friends (cardinals) in the different groups. In my own linguistic [Spanish-speaking] group, in sets of three we prepared a new proposal speaking of “integration”, and within the group three similar proposals were formulated, then from all three together we prepared one formulation, which was approved by the group and was then included in the final document, and therefore our work [that day] became part of the final draft of Amoris Laetitia. I think it was a very positive change in orientation; rather than focusing on the ability of our brothers and sisters to be able to go to confession and receive Holy Communion, we agreed to talk about greater “integration” in the Christian community. And we know that in order for greater integration to be achieved, it takes an accompaniment and discernment which are the instruments of this integration. [emphasis added]

This revelation gives us yet another glimpse at the way in which Pope Francis tried to convey his own clear intent, and thereby to steer the discussions at the Synod in the direction he wished. He had applied this same method ahead of the second family synod when, in December of 2014, he gave an interview to the Argentine newspaper La Nacion. He then said:

In the case of divorcees who have remarried, we posed the question, what do we do with them? What door can we allow them to open? This was a pastoral concern: will we allow them to go to Communion? Communion alone is no solution. The solution is integration [sic – not conversion?]. [emphasis added]

What followed is not speculation, but history. The papal letter of approval – later, in September of 2016, to be sent to the Argentine bishops of the Buenos Aires region with regard to their admittance of divorced and “remarried” couples to the Sacraments – has made it clear by now what was in Pope Francis’ mind all along. And it seems he also made use of the collaboration of Cardinal Sistach to calm concerns during the 2015 synod itself.

Let us now turn to the second revelation. In the case of another cardinal – this time Cardinal Joachim Meisner – Pope Francis applied the same method of calming down and re-orienting a troubled prelate. As was revealed by Cardinal Meisner himself – even before the 2014 Synod on the Family – Pope Francis had assured Meisner that he [the pope] was a “son of the Church” and that, should there arise any doubt about a teaching concerning divorced and “remarried” couples, he surely would consult with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. As Cardinal Meisner then, in December of 2013, told the German radio station Deutschlandfunk in an interview:

When I last visited with Pope Francis, I was able to speak very freely with the Holy Father about all kinds of things. And I also told him that, in his teaching in the form of interviews and short speeches, some questions do indeed remain open which should really be better explained for those who are uninformed. The pope looked at me with big eyes and asked me to give an example. And my answer was then that, during his flight back from Rio to Rome, he was asked about the problem of the divorced and remarried couples. And that is when the pope responded and very simply said: the divorced may go to Holy Communion, the divorced and remarried not. In the Orthodox Church [however], one may marry two times. So far his statement. And then he spoke about mercy which – according to my words, this is how I told him – in our country [Germany] it is always being interpreted as a replacement for all kinds of failures of men. And the pope responded then very energetically that he is, after all, a son of the Catholic Church and that he does not say anything different from what the Church teaches. And mercy has to be identical with the truth, otherwise it does not deserve the name mercy. And additionally, he then said explicitly, if there are any remaining open theological questions, then the important Congregation for the Faith is there to clarify and to formulate that [matter] in detail. [emphasis added]

Being of good faith, the dear cardinal good-heartedly and trustingly added his own comments in that 2013 German interview:

That is to say, the Congregation [for the Faith], you always have to remember, […] still has the first place. And one may not simply declare its Prefect [Cardinal Gerhard Müller] to be a private man, simply because he had been once the member of a bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Meisner was later to lose that trust however, which came to light when he, together with another three cardinals, issued five dubia concerning Amoris Laetitia. Moreover, as we all know rather well, under Pope Francis, the influence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been progressively minimized, and the pope himself did not even pass on to Cardinal Gerhard Müller the full final version of Amoris Laetitia for the cardinal’s final review before its publication and papal promulgation. And Cardinal Müller has now been altogether removed from his former office.

Does anyone have any doubts why we have lost so much trust in the papal promises and in his tendentious maneuvers?

Andrew Guernsey contributed to this report. 

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