This post originally appeared on 30th December, 2014 under the Title " REFLECTIONS ON THE SYNOD  - AND THE CARDINALS "

The dust is beginning to settle after the Synod. And it could be said to have been quite a "dust up"! 

Synods are in recent centuries, a post-Conciliar times "novelty" for the universal Church. Since the time of Pope Saint John Paul the Great, they have been held and have labored mightily but quietly - even though the full detail of each of the Synod Fathers' interventions was fully available on the Holy See Website within a day or so of their being made.Then , in due course, the Holy Fathers, Pope Saint John Paul and his successor Pope Benedict XVI, issued their Post-Synodal Exhortations .The whole process was normalised and a routine well-established.

Pope Francis brought a bit of South American  excitement to the process. Firstly, he had Cardinal Kasper of Germany deliver an address to a preparatory commission, and he warmly commended Cardinal Kasper's ideas and spoke of his writings as "theology on its knees".(Some might have thought "brought to its knees".)

As it happened, Cardinal Kasper espoused ideas inconsistent with Catholic teaching , pastoral practice and Theology. That this was so , was made abundantly clear in the lead - up to the Synod by the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy Australian Cardinal George Pell, by the  Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , another German, Cardinal Gerhard Muller, by the Prefect of the Apostolic Segnatura Cardinal Raymond Burke, and others and evidenced in the publication of no less than five books expanding on their views as the Synod approached.

Cardinal Kasper had evidently thought he had the inside running, but this vigorous universal rebuttal of his novelties led him to complain of being attacked and ambushed.

When the Synod got down to work, Pope Francis was seen to have arranged a novel approach to its proceedings. There would be no more daily , not even weekly, release of the Fathers' intervention texts. Rather, each day an anonymous editor's summary of all the interventions would be released by the Vatican Information Service. The Holy Father urged the Synod Fathers to be open and forthright and free in expressing their opinions in the Synod. 

The first few days Vatican Information Service reports on Synod deliberations caused a great deal of concern because of  their emphasis almost exclusively on Kasperite views, ignoring the contributions of others who formed the Synod majority. The ease with which this could be done on this anonymous, no names basis was a cause for great concern among the Synod Fathers. They knew that the reports were not truly reflecting what most of them were saying.

But the wheels were really blown off the wagon the Synod management had gotten rolling, when they produced at the end of Week One, an interim Relatio (a summary of discussions so far) which was put forward for the Fathers to vote upon.There was almost universal consternation at its content , which the Fathers vigorously refuted, and they wanted to know who had prepared it. The Head of the management team Cardinal Baldisseri did not give them much satisfaction - " it was the result of the process" - begging the question "who were the processors?". But even he was apparently annoyed by the paragraph advocating more sympathetic treatment of the attitudes and activities of homosexuals, and he did reveal that that was the work of Bishop Bruno Forte whom he left to try justifying it to the Fathers - without success.

At about this time the Australian Cardinal George Pell is reported to have stood up and, thumping his fist on the desktop demanded  "You must stop trying to manipulate this Synod!" addressing Cardinal Baldisseri. He went on to demand that the Reports of the individual small Groups of Cardinals and Bishops should be made public to clearly show what was really going on.

This left Cardinal Baldisseri in an awkward position - he was evidently not in charge as had seemed . He is reported to have turned to the Holy Father who was looking down and simply slowly nodded his OK.

Then Cardinals Muller, Burke , Napier and others added their voices to Cardinal Pell's and the jig was up. Or so it seemed. Later in a public Press Conference Cardinal Napier of Durban South Africa made clear the dissatisfaction of the Synod Fathers with what had gone on. The discomfort of the Vatican Press Office Head was obvious.This is not a matter of interpretation - it is all plainly visible on video of the Press Conference.

The whole affair has reflected very badly on Pope Francis' administration. It might not have been so if it were not for the fact that his stamp was all over the business. From the selection of Cardinal Kasper to "set the scene" , to his personal endorsement of Cardinal Kasper's bizarre ideas, to the selection of the officers of the Synod and their obvious dependence on his nod for their manner of proceeding.

That adverse reflection was heightened when, in the days following the Synod's conclusion, Cardinal Kasper criticised the African Bishops and questioned their right to " tell US" about these theological and moral issues. His remarks were widely publicised and often characterised as racist. He then denied having made the comments. Alas for him the highly regarded reporter had, and he made publicly available, a recording of the Cardinal's remarks.

 But if the Cardinals and Bishops thought that they had induced a change of heart in those seeking to manipulate the Synod, they were in for a shock. When the final Synod document was published it contained the three contentious clauses which the Synod Fathers had NOT approved in the clause by clause voting process. And it was made clear that this had been done as a result of the intervention of the Holy Father.

Clauses 52, 53 and 55 of the Relatio Synodi which are included in Part 1 of the Lineamenta of the 2015 Synod  are those specifically failing to gain the Synod Fathers' approval.

The evident willful riding roughshod over the intentions of the Synod Fathers working within the established norms, is disturbing to many.

                                   Pope Francis at the time of the La Nacion interview

Meantime some significant insight into the personality of Pope Francis was given in his answers in an interview very recently in the Spanish language Argentinian daily newspaper La Nacion.One of the most revealing of the Holy Father's comments was this:

"God is good to me, he has bestowed on me a healthy dose of unawareness. I just do what I have to do. From the start I said to myself, 'Jorge, don't change, just keep on being yourself, because to change at your age would be to make a fool of yourself'"."

The "unawareness" of which the Holy Father speaks, relates to the comments of others upon his actions.  " Just keep being yourself..." is OK for a few occupations, but it has a strange sound when one has become the Vicar of Christ upon Earth. Surely one is obliged to rise to the occasion. And again, to espouse "unawareness" of what is being said about one, is a very strange stance for anyone, let alone someone in public life, let alone someone charged with " strengthening the brethren" and "teaching, sanctifying and governing" Christ's Church.In fact, as the interview went on the Holy Father's own words made it very clear that he does keep a close eye on what is being written and said about him.

A couple of weeks later, in his end of the year address to the Curia, which instantly became very public, the Holy Father launched into what amounted to a heavy attack on the Curia, listing at length 15 "diseases" affecting it collectively and its members.These were highly critical remarks given the Sacred character of the roles the members fulfil and the role of the Holy Father himself fulfils. Whether it was consistent with the injunctions of Sacred Scripture on the appropriate manner of correcting one's brethren, or consistent with the obligations of Charity, let alone Prudence in the management of those who serve one, is a matter for each individual to assess. No doubt the Curial Prelates will be doing just that for some time to come.

Surprisingly within a few days, in an annual address to the workers in the Vatican, the Holy Father warned them about carrying gossip and making uncharitable remarks among other things.This would have been read with great interest in the Curia.

All eyes are now firmly fixed on the 2015 Synod which will have to bring all of the pressures to a head and produce a result consistent with Catholic Teaching. In a move re-assuring many the Holy Father has named Cardinal Napier (mentioned above) to the leadership level of the Synod.

The situation seems far from ideal,in many respects. We are left to pray and that is greatly re-assuring : pray for the Holy Father and for the Synod Fathers. 


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