Sins of The Synod: Behind The Scenes at The Synod on The Family

Edward Pentin's new book is an eye-opener: The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation of Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family

By William M Briggs Published on September 10, 2015

“Earthquake in the Catholic Church!” That was a typical headline in the Western press after the mid-way point in last year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family held at the Vatican. The press, in their calm and sensible way, were reacting to the release of a document which purported to summarize what the attendees of the synod — bishops, archbishops, and cardinals — spoke about during their first week.

The religious temblor was caused in large part because of these words:

Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

It’s rare, but the metaphor the press chose in this case was accurate. An earthquake is a violent, unpredictable, destructive and often deadly cataclysm; an event the wise do not welcome. Yet, the press and the liberal blogosphere was aflame with giddiness that the Church was going to abandon some 2,000 years of doctrine and accept same-sex acts as on par with normal sexual relations. Traditionalists who honored Church teachings feared the liberals might be right.

The words in the Relatio post disceptationem, the interim report, came as a shock. Few of the synod fathers recalled having more than one or two discussion about same-sex attraction out of hundreds of discussions. Yet, here was an assertion that same-sex attraction was not only front and center, but that, somehow, the same-sex attracted had “gifts” and “qualities” beyond those given to the sexually normal.

The interim report also seemed to suggest that the Church was about to ignore our Lord’s direct and unambiguous words and begin to accept divorce.

What happened?

Edward Pentin has an idea, which he details in full in his must-read new book The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation of Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Pentin makes the case that a group of prelates, starting well before the synod and not ceasing even after it concluded, worked behind the scenes to steer the outcome in a progressive direction, engaging in everything from stacking committees with compliant members or with only those with liberal bona fides, to Machiavellian machinations involving documents like the Relatio, to schoolyard shenanigans such as hiding a book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, from the synod fathers that presented the traditionalist case.

One of the leading lights of the left is Walter Cardinal Kasper, a German, who introduced in a speech well before the synod the idea that divorced and remarried Catholics should no longer be denied Holy Communion. Jesus said remarriage after divorce (where the divorced spouse still lives) is adultery. Cardinal Kasper based his theology on historical relativism: The theory that truth is relative to the times in which one lives. And since current Western culture sees a flood of divorced, it is not “pastoral” — the favored buzzword — to deny communion. Yet, such relativism is preposterous. Accepting it means believing that whatever a majority accepts as right and wrong is therefore true. Even a cursory reading of history refutes this idea. Nonetheless, his speech did not fall on deaf ears.

Pentin reports that a few months before the meeting “an official within the synod secretariat is asked to choose suitable expert theologians for the synod and is then instructed to present them to the synod secretary general Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, an Italian. The official is asked if the names he has collected are progressive or conservative. If the official says they are more progressive, he is told to include them; if conservative, they are ordered to be taken out. Cardinal Baldisseri later tells a newspaper that “it is time to ‘update’ the Church’s doctrine on marriage … The Church is not timeless’, he says. ‘She lives amidst the vicissitudes of history … .’” Later still, Baldisseri is “overheard in a restaurant … explaining how the synod was going to be manipulated in order to achieve a desired result.”

There were many more questionable practices as to the structure of the synod, which Pentin documents with crystalline precision and which are of particular interest to Catholics, but the maneuvers that caught the attention of the world were those revolving around same-sex attraction. Pentin says that during the synod, a “married couple speak of the importance of welcoming homosexual couples in the family. The text of their [speech] is immediately released, unlike those of the bishops, which are kept secret.” The media latched onto that speech, but the reaction to it was nothing next to the paroxysm caused by that curious Relatio post disceptationem, ushered into existence by Archbishop Bruno Forte, an Italian.

“The Relatio is sent to the press before it is read to the synod fathers and is immediately reported around the world as a ‘revolution’ in the Church. The Relatio is also published in various languages within 48 hours, suggesting to critics it was written before the end, or perhaps even before the state, of the first week. …”

Traditionalist Raymond Cardinal Burke, an American prelate “demoted” by Pope Francis, an action which many think was predicated on the theological divide between these two men, was quoted as saying that “something is not working well if the information is manipulated in a way so as to stress only one position instead of reporting faithfully. This worries me very much, because a consistent number of bishops do not accept the idea of a break with traditional Church teaching, but few know this.” George Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, an Australian and another traditionalist, said the Relatio was “tendentious, skewed, it didn’t represent accurately the feelings of the synod fathers.”

At the end of the synod, a final document was presented to the fathers and the various paragraphs in that document were voted on. Traditionally, paragraphs that do not receive at least two-thirds approval are cut, but in this case paragraphs on same-sex unions, cohabitation and civil remarriage, which did not receive anything like a super-majority, were left in on the approval of Pope Francis. This deepened the sense that the process was being steered in a pre-determined direction.

The big question, which Pentin admits he cannot answer, is whether progressives had and still have the support of Pope Francis. The Pope, Pentin tells us, tried to create an atmosphere of openness among synod fathers, where anybody could say anything without fear that his words would be reported, where no opinion would be banned. Pope Francis likes a good argument. But because one side of the argument in this case is against tradition, it gives the appearance of favoring progressives.

The fault lines, to mix metaphors, are being drawn again. The second part of the synod convenes in a month. The fathers will meet and hash out many of the same questions as last year. Only this time, forewarned by their experiences last year, and the well-documented history in Pentin’s book, it won’t be so easy to catch traditionalists unaware.

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