The truth is, yes, they can and, yes, they have been in the past.
For many years synods of bishops were seen as little more than talking shops. The Roman Curia ensured certain questions would be discussed and determined what the conclusions of the process would be.
The accusation of manipulation now comes from a group of conservative cardinals who have written to the Pope complaining the process is being moved in a more progressive direction.
They have been led by Cardinal George Pell, who is in charge of the Secretariat of the Economy, and include Cardinal Francis Napier - who sits on the synod council and Cardinal Gerhard Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Some of the original signatories, like Cardinal Peter Erdo, have denied signing the letter but there is no doubt a letter exists.
So what are they really complaining about?
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In essence it is that they are losing the influence they were so long used to having. Cardinal Pell said in a statement this week that “there is no possibility of change” in regards to communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. The truth, however, is that this question is still very much an open one for the synod.
For many of the cardinals who signed the letter, the questions on this and, for example, whether the Church can adopt a more welcoming language for gay Catholics, have already been answered.
Yet by calling the synod on the family the Pope clearly disagrees. There is no need to call a synod to simply restate what has been repeated by the Church so many times. The large number of bishops gathered in Rome also disagree with that approach.
Many of them have spoken of the need for a rethink: for the Church needs to find practical ways to apply mercy to those whose marriages have broken, not to judge young people who are cohabiting but encourage them to marry, to put less stress on the rules but focus on pastoral compassion.
This would require the Church to come closer to the messy reality of the world, which for some is a frightening prospect. It is far easier to simply repeat familiar truths.
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