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Rome Synod may be rigged, conservatives warn

16 October 2015


Deliberations: Pope Francis listens to contributions to the Synod on the Family in the Vatican last week

Deliberations: Pope Francis listens to contributions to the Synod on the Family in the Vatican last week

A LEAKED letter from a group of senior cardinals has warned Pope Francis that the outcome of the Synod on the Family might be rigged.

The signatories also told the Pope that, if he played down Roman Catholic doctrine in pursuit of “pastoral adaptation”, he risked making the same mistake as “liberal Protestant Churches”, which, they said, were collapsing.

The letter appeared on the website of the Italian journalist Sandro Magister. Its publication was later described by one of the signatories, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, as a scandal as grave as the “Vatileaks” episode that dogged Benedict XVI in his final days as Pope.

The letter reveals the extent of the discomfort of conservative cardinals to the prospect of changes in past-oral practice, particularly for those who divorce and marry again, arising in the Synod (News, 9 October).

“A synod designed to address a vital pastoral matter — reinforcing the dignity of marriage and family — may become dominated by the theological/doctrinal issue of communion for the divorced and civilly remarried,” the cardinals write in the published version of the letter.

“The collapse of liberal Protestant Churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions,” they continue.

The cardinals complain that the instrumentum laboris, or working document, is so poor that it “cannot adequately serve as a guiding text or the foundation of a final document”.

The director of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, declined to confirm whether the letter had been received by the Pope.

The letter was said to have been signed by the Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Pope’s finance chief and one of a group of nine “super-cardinals” who form the Pope’s advisory inner circle. It was also signed by the South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, a president delegate to the synod.

Cardinal Napier later said that the content of the letter and the list of 13 signatories as given by Mr Magister were incorrect. Cardinal Pell did not dispute that the letter had been sent to the Pope, but said simply that it was private, and “should remain private”.

His spokesman, however, acknowledged that there was “some disagreement, because minority elements want to change the Church’s teachings on the proper dispositions necessary for the reception of communion. Obviously there is no possibility of change on this doctrine,” he said.

Mr Magister said that the letter was delivered to Pope Francis on 5 October, the first day of the synod, which will run until 25 October.

The next day, Pope Francis took the microphone during deliberations in the synod hall to tell the 270 delegates: “Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched or put into question.”

Non-RC families. A dispute has broken out over a suggestion in the working document that the families of Roman Catholics who belong to other denominations might be allowed to take communion in RC churches.

The passage in the instrumentum laboris does not appear to extend the provision further than currently exists: “Some have suggested that a baptised person who is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, yet shares the Church’s faith in the eucharist, be allowed to receive the eucharist, when their pastors are not available and taking into account the criteria of the ecclesial community to which they belong.”

But its appearance in the document has brought criticism from conservative critics. Ann Widdecombe, a former Anglican, said that any proposed weakening of the practice of the reception of holy communion should be approached “with caution”.

The Most Revd Bernard Longley, RC Archbishop of Birmingham, who co-chairs the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC), set up to further unity, was sceptical about any proposed move.

He said last week: “Such a proposal would tend to establish a category of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church yet distinguished from other Christians by a ‘right’ to receive holy communion at a Roman Catholic mass on any occasion.”

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