13 October 2015, The Tablet

Can a synod be manipulated?

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? 


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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User comments (6)

Comment by: Charles II
Posted: 16/10/2015 18:17:27

Maybe neither the Catholics, nor the Anglicans, nor the Evangelical churches get it.

Maybe the chaos we've been suffering through for the past 20 years (at least) and the rudderlessness that Francis is doing nothing to manage are signs that it's time to move away from institutions, and retreat into our own gardens, like Christian Candides?

With a sore heart I say this, especially considering the Sacraments.

But then you have a symptom like Charamsa.

Maybe HUS was right about priests?

Comment by: MargaretMC
Posted: 15/10/2015 12:25:46

Short answer to the question: Vatican II was manipulated by a tiny % of "set in concrete" Cardinals so absolutely no reason at all why a synod can't be manipulated too.

Comment by: Bernard
Posted: 14/10/2015 21:00:54

Like any other group of delegate, of course any synod of bishops can be manipulated. But not the Holy Spirit, nor any outcome requiring an infallible imprimatur (ex cathedra endorsement) by the Pope.

Pope Francis has already spoken strongly against redefining, or breaking any valid marriage contract. Going back to Genesis, because man was ‘lonely’ God gave him a wife.

Eve was created from the substance of Adam – and both tasked with co-operating with God in the male/female act of procreation. Adam sleeping while God makes a woman out one of Adam’s ribs can be interpreted as the aeons taken for a single cell to evolve and divide into male/female derivatives. 

God is in marriage from the very beginning of creation. Pope Francis says God even remains in broken marriages.
Since Original Sin, all matter (except the immaculate bodies of Jesus and Mary) is flawed – with concupiscence in us. ‘It is the Father’s will that all be saved’.

So Jesus came into the world, suffered and died for us – ‘We adore you oh Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world’.

Redemption not just of humanity but the entire dung heap (the whole universal pool of matter) out of which we are made.

It is because we are weak, with a tendency to sin, Jesus came as the infinitely merciful saviour. Therefore his vicar on earth and the synod of bishops must be mindful of this merciful attribute, when treating with the difficulties of married, separated and divorced.

Comment by: BJC
Posted: 14/10/2015 13:20:24


Interesting that you don't deny there's manipulation going on. Your attitude seems to be as long as it advances my own argument, I'll turn a blind eye to it.

Not very Christian though, is it?

I thought with the high moral standards liberals endlessly brow beat others with, you'd be jumping up and down with indignation that liberal Catholics could behave in such a cynical way. Apparently not.

As for this quote, give me a break:

"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."

Liberal catholics feel exactly the same way, do they not?

There's no one more dogmatic than a liberal, no one more rigid in the views.

Journalists like yourself need to get out more, you seem to think people uncritically read what you write; hate to tell you this, but they don't, and they're not fooled by baloney like this.

Comment by: martin
Posted: 13/10/2015 14:39:49

These attempts to block any progress towards more positively pastoral responses to the needs of divorced and remarried, or LGBT Catholics, are exactly what Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa was blowing the whistle on.

Although most media attention has focussed on his 'coming out', what triggered his action was what he referred to as Curial homophobia and 'Francisco-phobia'.

He had become so frustrated by the machinations and manipulations going on in the Curia, that he had come to the end of his tether.

These stances are embedded primarily in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but to varying degrees in some other Vatican Dicasteries.

The signatories to the 'Letter from the 13' epitomise such rigidity.

May the Spirit lead all conscientious synod delegates to places of honesty, where they can listen sensitively and speak openly about ALL the challenges facing the rich tapestry of family-life today.

Comment by: Charles
Posted: 13/10/2015 14:06:06

"In essence it is that they are losing the influence they were so long used to having."

This statement makes me cringe because it is not true. These prelates are simply concerned about the obvious manipulation of the synod and the direction it is taking, namely towards Anglican-style chaos and schism where divine revelation and Sacred Tradition are replaced with opinions.

This exactly what Bl. J.H. Newman warned us about (liberal religion being the replacement of revelation with opinion).

The patronising tone this article has towards orthodox good and holy cardinals sickens me.

They simply want what is best for the Church and its mission to save souls and remain faithful to divine revelation.

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