Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa tells us that the Synod will all come down to what Pope Francis decides:
ROME, September 28, 2015 – Back in Rome after his journey to Cuba and the United States, culminating with the world meeting of families in Philadelphia, Pope Francis is now facing the much more exacting challenge of the synod that will open on October 4, the Sunday of the liturgical year on which – as if by a jest of providence – Catholic churches all around the world will resound with these words of Jesus: “Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
So this time there will be no “Relatio post disceptationem” halfway through the work, after a first phase of free discussion on everything, as at the synod of October 2014. The discussion will be broken up right away into narrow linguistic groups, each of which will sum up its perspectives in reports destined to remain confidential. At the end of the three weeks there will be a vote on a final “Relatio,” and the pope will give the concluding talk.
Also unlike in the past it is not expected that after a few months there will be a postsynodal apostolic exhortation to cap everything off. The discussion will remain open to future developments. The only embodiment of the provisory conclusions will be the pope’s talk at the end of the work, which will as a matter of course overtop and obscure all the other voices.
In spite of the much-heralded emphasis on collegiality, in fact, the next round of the synod will also see at work in Francis a monocratic exercise of papal authority, as in last year’s session, at the end of which the pope kept alive propositions that had not obtained the votes necessary for approval. And they were precisely the ones on the most controversial points, divorce and homosexuality.
A reform of marital cases had been expected for some time. But Francis set it in motion while keeping out the family-centered synod, which he knew was not inclined to approve what he had in mind. He set up the preparatory commission in August of 2014, before the convocation of the first session of the synod. And he signed the motu proprio last August 15, before the second session, scheduling its implementation for next December 8.
The most substantial innovation of the new procedures is that in order to obtain a declaration of nullity, the mere word of the applicant will have the “force of full proof,” without the need for other evidence, and the presumed “lack of faith” will act as a universal master key not just for thousands but for millions of marriages to be declared null, with an ultra-fast procedure and with the local bishop as the sole judge.
On this the synod fathers therefore find themselves facing a fait accompli. But it is hard to imagine that they are not discussing it. Church historian Roberto de Mattei has even hypothesized that some synod fathers may ask for the abrogation of this act of governance on the part of Pope Francis, “up to now his most revolutionary.” And he has cited the historical precedent of the retraction made in 1813 by Pius VII – imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte – of his act of subjection of the Holy See to the sovereignty of the emperor: a retraction invoked publicly by Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca, pro-secretary of state, and by other “zealous” cardinals, as well as by the great spiritual master Pio Brunone Lanteri, a future venerable:
Meanwhile, an appeal has been issued in the American magazine “First Things” by a hefty number of theologians, philosophers, and scholars from various countries, asking the synod fathers to reject paragraph 137 of the preparatory document, judged as contrary to the magisterium of the Church and a portent of confusion among the faithful:
The appeal concerns the teaching of Paul VI’s encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on birth control – an encyclical that Pope Francis himself has called “prophetic” – and numbers among its authors and signatories a good number of professors from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family: Stephan Kampowski, Livio Melina, Jaroslav Merecki, José Noriega, Juan José Pérez-Soba, Mary Shivanandan, Luigi Zucaro, as well as luminaries like the German philosopher Robert Spaemann and the Swiss ethicist Martin Rhonheimer.
In the judgment of the signatories of the appeal, paragraph 137 of the preparatory document assigns absolute primacy to the individual conscience in the selection of the means of birth control, even against the teaching of the Church’s magisterium, with the added risk that such primacy could also be extended to other areas, like abortion and euthanasia.
In effect, it is precisely on the primacy of the individual conscience “beyond what the rule might say objectively” that the supporters of communion for the divorced and remarried rely, as one of these, cardinal of Vienna Christoph Schönborn explained in an interview with “La Civiltà Cattolica” of September 26:
“There are situations in which the priest, the guide, who knows the persons, can come to the point of saying: ‘Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my conscience as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church.’”
The split between the individual conscience and the magisterium of the Church is analogous to that which separates pastoral practice from doctrine: a danger that in the judgment of many looms over the synod and has been the object of very strong words from Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in a lecture given on September 1 in Regensburg on the occasion of the release of the German edition of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s book “God or Nothing”:
According to Müller, “the separation of teaching and practice of the faith” was precisely that which in the 16th century led to the schism in the Western Church. With the deceptive practice of indulgences, the Church of Rome was in fact ignoring doctrine and “the original protest of Luther himself against the negligence of the shepherds of the Church was justified, because one may not play with the salvation of souls, even if the purpose of the deception would be to bring about a good deed.”
And today – the cardinal continued – the question is the same: “We may not deceive the people, when it comes to the sacramentality of marriage, its indissolubility, its openness toward the child, and the fundamental complementarity of the two sexes. Pastoral care must keep in view the eternal salvation, and it should not try to be superficially pleasing according to the wishes of the people.”
On September 29 there will be a repeat presentation in Rome, backed up with 800,000 signatures including those of 202 cardinals and bishops, of the “Filial Appeal” to Pope Francis that he pronounce “a word of clarification” against the “widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has been opened within the Church that would accept adultery—by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion—and would virtually accept even homosexual unions.”
“The urgent priority, for me, is that the synod would suggest to the Holy Father a magisterial statement that would unify by simplifying the doctrine on marriage. A statement aimed at demonstrating the relationship between the experience of faith and the sacramental nature of marriage.”
On September 30, at the Angelicum University, cardinals Carlo Caffarra and Raymond Leo Burke, two of the five cardinals who on the verge of the synod of 2014 took a stance against their colleague Walter Kasper with the book “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” will reassert their ideas together with Archbishop Cyril Vasil, secretary of the congregation for the Oriental Churches and also a coauthor of the book.
And two more books with the same perspective are about to come out, written by not just five cardinals but seventeen, from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, six of whom will take part in the synod either by reason of office, like the Guinean Robert Sarah, or because they were appointed by the pope himself, like the Italian Caffarra:
It is absolutely stunning that the Church is being put through all this for frankly a largely non-existent problem. Many Catholics divorce and then enter into second marriage. Very few of these individuals bother to seek an annulment. If they cannot be bothered to do this, how many in that pool will bother to observe the restrictions of the Church on receiving communion? Most probably rarely darken the doors of the Church in any case. No great groundswell exists among the laity for this change, due to the fact that most of those involved could probably care less about the rules of the Church regarding communion . The movement for this change is almost entirely among clergy who wish to transform the nature of marriage from what Christ commanded to the way the secular world perceives it: one among many legal relationships that may be severed at will by the whim of one of the parties. If marriage becomes that and nothing more in Catholic teaching, expect the next push for the Church to bless gay marriage, since once marriage is no longer sealed to the teaching of Christ, it becomes simply the plaything of the intellectual prejudices and fads of the chattering classes of the West. It is frightening to think that Pope Francis may not discern any of this. It is even more frightening to think that he does discern this and is in favor of going forward with this change anyway.