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What Does the Choice of Exhortation Presenters Tell Us?

Image Source: La Croix
Cdl. Baldisseri & Pope Francis. (Image Courtesy of <i>La Croix</i>)

While the names of the academics presenting the Apostolic Exhortation on Friday are unknowns to me, the two prelates who will be co-presenting are not. At Crux, John Allen notes that the first of the two —  Cardinal Christoph Schönborn — has been associated with some very avant-garde positions on traditional marriage, family, and sexuality issues:


During an Oct. 26 press conference last year, Schönborn, whose own parents were divorced when he was a teenager, told reporters he felt that the synod could not recommend a clear yes or no to Communion for the divorced and remarried.

“There is no black and white, a simple yes or no,” he said, arguing that situations vary widely and so too must the Church’s response.

On the issue of how the Church talks about gays and lesbians, Schönborn also has been a champion of more inclusive approach.

“The Church should not look in the bedroom first, but in the dining room!” he said in a September 2015 interview with Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit-run journal in Rome.

“We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, [and] to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection,” he said in that interview.

Schönborn spoke of a gay friend who, after multiple temporary relationships, now has a stable partner.

“They share a life, they share their joys and sufferings, they help one another,” he said. “It must be recognized that this person took an important step for his own good and the good of others, even though it certainly is not a situation the Church can consider ‘regular’.”

During the 2014 synod, Schönborn also argued that the Church can find positive moral elements in other non-traditional relationships, such as cohabitation outside marriage.

He drew an analogy with Lumen Gentium, a document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which taught that there are “elements of sanctification and of truth” outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.

In the same way, he suggested, there may be virtues and truth in relationships that fall short of the Church’s full vision of marriage as a permanent, lifelong union between a man and a woman open to new life.

“Who are we to judge and say that there are no elements of truth and sanctification in [those relationships]?” he asked in 2014.

Given that track record, the choice of Schönborn to present the pope’s document may be an indication of where Francis is likely to come down on those matters, at least in a big-picture sense.

It seems strange now that Cardinal Schönborn was once considered a very orthodox prelate — even a good candidate for the papacy — particularly due to his work overseeing the production of the new Catechism.

The other ecclesiastical presenter, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, is the Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops, and the man who ran the two recent Synod portions on the family in Rome. Baldisseri was widely suspected of being the man behind the disappearance of over a hundred copies of the so-called “Five Cardinals Book” at the outset of the first portion of the Synod in 2014:

Both and Edward Pentin are reporting that Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of secretariat of the synod of bishops, ordered the interception of over a hundred copies of the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, which had been mailed to participants in last October’s Extraordinary Synod.

The book, which consists of essays by five Cardinals—including Cardinals Burke and Brandmüller—and four other scholars, was written in response to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book The Gospel of the Family, and defends the Church’s teaching that Catholics who have been divorced and civilly remarried cannot receive Holy Communion. It was edited by Fr. Robert Dodaro, OSA, who was interviewed about it by CWR last September.

Pentin reports:

Reliable and high level sources allege the head of secretariat of the synod of bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, ordered they be intercepted because they would “interfere with the synod.”

A source told me that Baldisseri was “furious” the book had been mailed to the participants and ordered staff at the Vatican post office to ensure they did not reach the Paul VI Hall. reports that around 200 copies of the book were mailed, but only a few apparently made it into the hands of the proper recipients, a report that has also been confirmed by Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ, of Ignatius Press. Pentin states that the books were mailed through “the proper channels within the Italian and Vatican postal systems”, but that Baldisseri claimed they were mailed “irregularly,” and so the interception of the books was legitimate.

In other words, Baldisseri has apparently admitted that the books were taken; the dispute is over why they were taken. Pentin further reports that the books were apparently destroyed after being taken.

We reported to you in January, 2015, that Cardinal Baldisseri claimed to have worked closely with Pope Francis on the controversial mid-term relatio in the first half of the Synod in October, 2014:

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.”

Baldisseri was also involved in the attempt to keep a tight lid on the second half of the Synod, in an early attempt to force the proceedings into secrecy.

Later, he was alleged to have worked together on a document that might well, if early rumors were true, comprise at least part of the substance of the coming exhortation. From a report in December of 2015:

Will there be a Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Synod of the Family, the commentators on Vatican matters ask. In fact, it was already completely ready before the Synod! Several months before the Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Family, last October, the group of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Assembly, together with men such as Abp. Bruno Forte, Special Secretary, Abp. Paglia, President of the Council for the Family, and a few others, had already established a campaign plan in four stages:
1st: Pretending to base itself on the conclusions of the Extraordinary Assembly of October 2014, the Instrumentum Laboris, the roadmap for the 2015 Assembly, was unveiled in June 2015. It was in its third part that the explosive mines were placed to destroy the bastion of traditional doctrine: regarding eucharistic access for “remarried” divorcees, the Instrumentum inserted this proposal (n. 123): “Others refer to a way of penance, meaning a process of clarifying matters after experiencing a failure and a reorientation which is to be accompanied by a priest who is appointed for this purpose. This process ought to lead the party concerned to an honest judgment of his/her situation. At the same time, the priest himself might come to a sufficient evaluation as to be able to suitably apply the power of binding and loosing to the situation.”
2nd: Then on September 8, without waiting for the meeting of the Synod at all, the Pope published a double text, prepared under the greatest secret under the direction of Msgr. Pinto, Dean of the Roman Rota, to reform the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, regarding the procedures of the declarations of nullity of marriages. Shocked canonists found out only then the introduction of a kind of “annulment by mutual consent” asked directly of the bishop judging by himself in one month and a half. The grounds for “mercy” were prepared.
3rd: But the most important element of the Baldisseri Team’s plan was this: the group was working in great secret on the document that the Pope was to publish after the Synod, whose crucial point would hinge on the famous “penitential path”, or “path of mercy”, presented in a maliciously ambiguous way, in order to open up a liberal gate with the pretense of not changing traditional doctrine. In such a way that, in the month of September 2015, one month before the opening of the Synodal assembly, the Post-Synodal Exhortation was ready.
There’s more to that report, which now demands a re-read. Suffice to say, the pseudonymous priest who wrote it gave us the gist: “In sum, the October 2015 assembly was nothing but a theatrical play destined to prepare the final act which is already written: the post-Synodal Exhortation of mercy and forgiveness for all.”
So, do these presenters indicate what we might expect from the exhortation? It would be foolish at this point to assume that they do not.

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