The Synod: The Pope Provides Some Details

September 12, 2023

During his return from Mongolia, the Pope sought to debunk several controversies, notably that concerning the Synod. Because all over the world the tone is rising and concerns are becoming pressing, with reactions of distrust and warning coming from pastors.

Jean-Marie Guénois, in the August 13 edition of Le Figaro, summed up the doubts of many Catholics in France and elsewhere: “The Church, however, lives in confusion in the face of the guidelines that the Pope intends to impose from the start of the school year in the institution. The sweet summer consolation of Lisbon could turn into a real autumnal shock,” wrote the religious chronicler.

He added: “This (synodal) assembly will bring together three hundred bishops and lay experts in the Vatican in two sessions, scheduled for next October and a year later. On July 7, the Vatican unveiled the decisive list of participants in this synod, the majority chosen for their opinion in favor of reform.”

“For example, among them, Francis wanted to name Fr. James Martin, an American Jesuit and a leader in the defense of the LGBT cause. This priest is a symbol. He is also extremely effective and during the assembly he will not be inert in advancing the issue of blessing homosexual couples, one of the reforms publicly requested by this synod.”

During the return flight from Mongolia, Cindy Wooden, journalist at Catholic News Service (CNS), a news portal sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave Pope Francis the opportunity to discuss the functioning of the next assembly which must be held behind closed doors and the accusation of a “lack of transparency.”

“Everything is very open,” replied the Holy Father before adding that “a commission chaired by Ruffini will provide news every day. … This commission will be very respectful of everyone’s interventions, will try to precisely describe the stages of synodal progress.”

Francis also explained that means will be taken to “smooth” communication: “If you want, if someone wants the information given to be of the type: ‘this one took this other for this or that,’ then no, that is just political chatter.… A synod is not a parliament. Remember that the protagonist of the synod is the Holy Spirit.”

Asked about the preface signed by Cardinal Raymond Burke which compares the synod to the opening of “Pandora’s box,” the Pope responded with a revealing anecdote. “A few months ago, I called a Carmelite. ‘How are the nuns, Mother?’ And the prioress told me at the end: ‘Your Holiness, we are afraid of the synod.’ ‘Oh, but what’s going on,’ I said to her jokingly, ‘maybe you want to send a nun to the synod?’”

“‘No, we are afraid of changing doctrine,’ she answers me. See: always the same idea... If you go back to the root of this idea, you will find ideology. … Some defend a so-called ‘doctrine’ which is more like distilled water: it tastes like nothing and is not the true Catholic doctrine which is in the Creed.”

It is the oh-so-well-known reflex of the Pope which characterizes in a negative way any criticism of his headlong rush, by designations such as: “"retrograde,” “frozen,” “ideology,” without forgetting the boilerplate “clericalism.”

This episode shows that the numerous criticisms, episcopal or cardinal, of the synod, have hit the mark and have had wide resonance among Catholic people, and also on the Pope’s side. Francis attempted a final justification: “I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that the synod is not my invention but that of Saint Paul VI.”