A letter from Cardinal Claudio Hummes, dated January 13, 2020 and sent to all cardinals and bishops, is already circulating on the Internet. The letter, which was not intended for publication, was revealed by an unknown source.
Cardinal Hummes, 85, was the general rapporteur of the Synod on the Amazon and chairs REPAM (Panamazonian ecclesial network). In a letter reserved to ordinary bishops around the world but which quickly leaked to the Internet, the cardinal announces the upcoming publication of Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation. This exhortation, he explains, presents “the New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit during the Synod for the Amazon.” He said that “Pope Francis hopes to promulgate it by the end of this month or in early February.”
He also announced that the text would be sent in advance to the recipients of this letter and under embargo, so that they could present it to the press and comment on it. To do this, some preparation is necessary. Several readings are recommended: these are, first, the texts of the synod and the essential encyclical Laudato si’. Cardinal Hummes, who is a Franciscan but could have been a Jesuit, believes it useful to add: “The purpose is not to generate publicity or attract attention. Rather, it is quietly to support you the Ordinary, in communion with Pope Francis, as you prepare to receive the Exhortation and pass it on to the People of God in your jurisdiction.”
What follows, however, looks very much like a “media plan”: “You may also want to begin planning a press briefing or a press conference or other event as soon as convenient after the publication of the Exhortation. For example, you may find it opportune to have the Exhortation presented by yourself along with an indigenous spokesperson if relevant in your area, an experienced pastoral leader (ordained or religious, layman or laywoman), an expert on climate or ecology, and a youth involved in peer ministry.”
The utmost discretion is requested: “Please keep this letter confidential and share it only with those directly involved in the Diocesan preparation for publication of the Exhortation, not with others or with the media.”
A Communication Plan?
It is perfectly understandable that the publication of a pontifical text must be prepared beforehand, and that the document can be received by the bishops so that they can present it to their diocese. However, Cardinal Hummes’s letter, the authenticity of which hardly seems questionable, raises many questions.
Does a bishop need help with this point to present a text from the sovereign pontiff? Isn't that treating him like a child, to whom everything must be explained? Or is the content such a hard pill to swallow that the "patient" should be warned first in order to prepare for the foreseeable reactions of the “People of God”?
Must the bishop from now on summon an “ecological expert” to present a text from the pope? Such documents should normally deal with the glory of God, the salvation of souls, heaven and grace ... at least one might assume.
The bishop must also be helped by an “experienced pastoral leader,” who is the only true pastor in the diocese! It is no longer infantilization, but a debasement of his mission, diluted in a democratism that is covered with the name of synodality.
As for the “indigenous representative,” it is undoubtedly mentioned to move the faithful and provide some exotic photo-ops for the media. Unfortunately, it is not specified in which outfit he should appear.
This “bringing up the big guns” does not bode well. It announces the same “pastoral care of the cat door” as that which had been implemented after the synod on the family: a theoretical reminder of traditional doctrine and discipline, seasoned with one or two calamitous lines in the name of pastoral care.
In his letter, Cardinal Hummes concluded by asking for prayers for Pope Francis and all the bishops “in promulgating the Exhortation, and to dispose the People of God in the Amazon and throughout the world to receive it.”
Certainly it is never too late to pray and ask God to protect his Church.