Last night I finally had a chance to get back to Ed Pentin’s fantastic book, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod. There was a particular section that, once I read it, led to an almost audible “click” as pieces fell into place in my mind.
Allow me to explain.
Some well-informed people say that the 2015 Synod will be completely different from any other. First of all, a midterm report will not be released. Last year, the midterm report was completely revised by some of the Pope’s closest collaborators prior to its release, and the report resulted in many controversies. Even Cardinal Petr Erdo, the Synod’s General Relator, distanced himself from the report. But its release united the followers of the Church’s doctrine, who stood up against the Synod’s drift. They ultimately achieved an acceptable compromise for the Synod’s Final Report, which was filled with biblical references that had been lacking in the midterm report.
Avoiding the release of a midterm report would mean eliminating any possibility of discussion. The plan is for the Synod to carry out discussions mostly in “small groups” (circuli minores) without a general discussion. In the end, the reports of the small groups would be put in the Pope’s hands, and the Pope would then give a final address. No final report or post-synodal apostolic exhortation is foreseen at the moment, at least according to recent rumors. In this way the adapters hope to convince the Pope to employ vague language so they can eventually exploit his words.
In some of my discussions with various people over the past week, this subject came up. What was the thinking? Were they trying to do everything behind closed doors to keep the bloggers and faithful Catholic media from asserting pressure? The last Synod wasn’t quite as easy going as the Kasperites had hoped because of our resistance. It was impossible to say, and the most we could do was speculate.
Which brings me back to Pentin. This account, in the first chapter of his book, tells us everything we need to know about why this change may well be in the works. Pay particular attention to the section I’ve put in bold:
For the second week of the synod, the synod fathers were divided into ten small working groups, otherwise called circuli minores, made up of three Italian groups, three English ones, two Spanish, and two French. Each group proposed amendments to the controversial Relatio post disceptationem (the interim report), in preparation for the final document, the Relatio synodi.40
During the late afternoon of October 15, at the conclusion of the working-group sessions, Cardinal Baldisseri announced to the participants in the aula of the synod hall that the reports of the groups would not be made available to the public, contrary to the practice of previous synods. Instead, a summary would be made of the groups’ discussions, which would be published.
Cardinal Pell was having none of it. Eyewitnesses said he slammed his hand on the table and insisted that people had a right to hear what the bishops were saying. Others, such as Cardinal Napier, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, and Archbishop Leonard of Brussels, also weighed in, calling for the discussions to be made public.
But the resistance did not come only from them. Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna along with those of the so-called “progressive” wing such as Vincent Cardinal Nichols and Reinhard Cardinal Marx were also angry and voiced their opposition.
“There was uproar in the synod hall”, a source who was present told me. “Everyone wanted to publish them.” Cardinal Baldisseri was suddenly announcing to everyone that he wanted to “introduce secrecy into the proceedings, and it raised all sorts of hell”, the eyewitness said.41
“Seventeen people, bam, bam, bam, one after another, each giving reasons why the reports should be published”, said Father Fawcett. “My hand was burning writing down each of their interventions, it was so quick.”
He said it was a “Holy Spirit moment” and that it “wasn’t just ‘right wingers’, it was people across the board saying: ‘That’s not consistent with the process. ’ ” Fawcett said that after “the flack” the synod fathers had taken with the interim document, to say they were not going to publish the small-group discussions either “was just too much”.
The English priest said he could see why the synod managers did not want to publish the small-working-group summaries. “But if you’re not going to do that, then you don’t publish the interim document, either”, he said, although he understood and supported Pope Francis’ vision for a freer debate, allowing participants to feel as comfortable as possible to say what they wanted to say.
The appeals led by Cardinal Pell were followed by thunderous and lengthy applause. During this time, Cardinal Baldisseri and other members of the secretariat sat in silence. After Baldisseri’s suggestion of a vote was so unanimously shouted down, Pope Francis eventually nodded his head to indicate that the reports could be published and let it go.
Thanks to this mini “revolt”, summaries of the small working groups’ interventions were posted by the Vatican press office, although no mention of the revolt was made to reporters in the subsequent briefing.
The English summaries reveal broad and deep opposition to the interim report and plans to add substantial new text affirming the constant teaching of the Church “on the truth of human life and sexuality as revealed by Christ”, along with other “major amendments” and other small ones that still had “significant meaning attached to them”.42
Along with the row over the interim report, the uproar over efforts not to publish the working-group reports became viewed as a major tactical and political error on the part of the synod managers, especially as it provoked the strong opposition of Cardinal Pell—one of of the pope’s closest collaborators—and even those participants thought to be sympathetic to a more “progressive” agenda.43
Pentin, Edward. The Rigging of a Vatican Synod (Kindle Locations 371-403). Ignatius Press.
“If you’re not going to do that, then you don’t publish the interim document either.”
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.