Synodality: From Words to Reality

December 02, 2021
The Pope walking in the French Military Cemetery in Rome

On October 10, 2021, Pope Francis officially opened a Synod on “Synodality in the Church,” whose long process will take place over three years. On November 4, the Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli asked, on his blog, what this synod may well mean - etymologically this “march together” - after hearing the strange words the pope uttered in the French cemetery in Rome, on November 2.

Indeed, on this occasion, Francis quoted an inscription he read on a grave in a small cemetery: “You who pass, think of your steps, and of your steps think of the last step,” and he recalled that “life is a journey,” that “we are all on the journey,” and that “we will all have a last step.”

But he also said, “The important thing is that this last step finds us on the journey, not walking around. To be on the way so that the last step will find us walking.” Aldo Maria Valli aptly commented, “It is not necessary to be a great theologian to see that in this reflection, at least one thing lacking. The goal of the journey is missing.”

“Assuming that life is a journey, the specificity of the Christian is that this journey has a goal, namely heaven, or the salvation of the soul in eternity. A goal that, in order to be reached, requires conversion to God and the rejection of sin. The pope, however, did not make the slightest reference to the goal, to the objective.”

“For him,” he said, “the important thing is that the last step finds us not fixed in God, not in prayer, not in adoration, but ‘finds us walking.’ So it turns out that the journey itself is the goal.” And the Italian journalist applies this to the synod that is about to open:

“Since the Catholic Church, precisely by Francis’s will, is engaged in a synod on synodality which is all an exaltation of the journey of walking together, as if this walking together (even with non-Christians and non-Catholics) consisted of the peculiarity of the Christian life and not in trying to achieve salvation by distinguishing the true from the false, the homily delivered on November 2 takes on a particular flavor. And not a pleasant flavor.”

“The logo chosen for the synod also comes to mind, an image that shows a group of people always on the move, in the midst of whom is the bishop (or the pope)—in the middle, and not at the head, as he should be. As if, once again, the important thing was not to have a destination, but to walk together.”

“For some time now, the rhetoric of walking together has replaced that of aggiornamento, just as the rhetoric of listening has replaced that of dialogue. In fact, there is not a single man of the Church today, starting with the bishops, who does not insist ad nauseam on the importance of walking together and listening. But the fundamental question remains unanswered: walking to go where? And listen with what objective?

“Jesus did not say to the apostles: ‘go into the whole world and walk together.’ He said, “Go ye into the whole world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned.” (Mk. 16:15-16)

These very correct considerations of current Roman rhetoric could lead one to believe that the synod does not know where it is going, that the pontificate itself is erratic. In words perhaps, but certainly not in deeds. This is what Sandro Magister recalled in his blog Settimo Cielo of November 2:

“On October 10, Francis set in motion a mammoth synod on synodality, as if wanting for the first time ever to hear from the whole people of God. But he made it known right away - from the lips of synod secretary general Cardinal Mario Grech - that when the final document comes along it may not even be voted on.”

“The counting of votes will be used only in extreme cases, ‘as a last and undesired resort.’ In any case, the document will then be delivered to the pope, who will do what he wants with it.”

“That this Leninist party practice is the synodality longed for by Jorge Mario Bergoglio comes as no surprise, given the unbridled monarchical absolutism with which he governs the Church, unrivaled by the popes who came before him. There are at least two overwhelming proofs of this absolutism so far. The first is well known, the second less so.”

The first proof of Francis’s authoritarianism is, according to Sandro Magister, “the way in which Francis steered the three previous synods, and in particular the one on the family, based in part  on what was candidly revealed after the operation by the special secretary of that assembly, Archbishop Bruno Forte, as himself revealed innocently once the transaction was concluded.”

“It was May 2, 2016 and Forte, speaking in the theater of the city of Vasto, reported the answer Francis had given him in the run-up to the synod, to his question on how to proceed in the assembly on the incendiary topic of communion for illegitimate couples, as follows:

“If we were to speak explicitly of communion for the divorced and remarried, you don’t know what a mess these [the cardinals and bishops against it - ed] would make for us!”

“So let’s not talk about it directly, you make sure the premises are in place, then I will draw the conclusions.” After that Forte commented, amid smiles from the audience: “Typical of a Jesuit.”

And the Roman Vaticanist immediately noted: “Bad move. That learned archbishop, who until then had been one of Pope Francis’s favorites and was on the way to the dazzling triumph of his career, from that day fell into disgrace. The pope dropped a cross on him.”

“No more buddying up, no more insider roles, advisory or executive, gone as theologian of reference, no promotion as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, nor even, though a Neapolitan by birth, as archbishop of Naples and cardinal.”

The second proof of the very personal government of Francis is provided, Sandro Magister tells us, by a recent work, “extensively documented, with an impressive array of notes, by Geraldina Boni, professor of canon and ecclesiastical law at the University of Bologna,” a volume (available only in Italian from the Mucchi editore site) that already in the title expresses a severe judgment: La recente attività normativa ecclesiale: finis terrae per lo ius canonicuм? (The Recent Normative Activity of the Church: The End of the World for Canon Law?)”

“Professor Boni does not belong to the opposing camp, far from it. She was appointed in 2011 by Benedict XVI as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and “developed this volume step by step through a continuous dialogue with Professor Giuseppe Dalla Torre,” an outstanding jurist and very loyal to the Church, who had been her teacher and predecessor at the University of Bologna as well as president of the tribunal of the Vatican City State from 1997 to 2019, who passed away prematurely on December 3, 2020 due to complications from Covid.”

“Scrolling through the pages of this book, the picture one gets from it is of devastation.”

“In fact, the whole book shows that under the pontificate of Francis one sees an “abnormal quantity of laws, decrees, ordinances, instructions, and rescripts issued by him on the most disparate matters. Abnormal not only for the number of provisions — which in a few years ran to the dozens — but even more for how he is reducing the Church’s juridical architecture to rubble.” Sandro Magister even speaks of “the tower of legal Babel created by Pope Francis.”

Among the many examples provided, one can find in the context of the fight against sexual abuse, “an accumulation of norms that, yielding to ‘truly obsessive media pressures’ ended up sacrificing “inviolable rights such as respect for the cornerstones of criminal law, the non-retroactive nature of criminal law, the presumption of innocence, and the right to defense, in addition to the right to a fair trial.”

“Professor Boni cites as her support another important canonist, Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, secretary of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican supreme court, who has himself denounced the fact that in this matter they have yielded to “a summary justice,” if not to “de facto special tribunals, with all the consequences, sinister echoes, and sinister memories that this entails.”

Sandro Magister adds: “It is a normative disorder that here too threatens to undermine the cornerstones of the Catholic faith, for example when it makes it obligatory to report certain crimes against the sixth commandment to the state authorities.”

“Badly formulated and badly interpreted, such an obligation appears to be difficult to reconcile ‘with the ties of secrecy that bind clerics, some of which - and not only the one attributable to the sacramental seal - are absolutely unbreakable.’”  

“And this ‘at a peculiar historical moment, in which the confidentiality of disclosures to priests is fiercely being brought under siege in various secular systems, in violation of religious freedom.’ The cases of Australia, Chile, Belgium, Germany, and most recently France are proof of this.”

Ultimately, “this volume examines and thoroughly criticizes numerous other normative acts produced by the current pontificate, from the ongoing reform of the Roman Curia to the new rules imposed on monasteries for women or on the translations of liturgical books.”

“In particular, it denounces the very frequent recourse, by this or that dicastery of the Vatican Curia, to the Pope’s ‘specific approval’ of every new norm issued by the same dicastery.”

“This clause, which excludes any possibility of recourse, has been used in the past ‘very rarely, and for cases marked by the utmost gravity and urgency.’ While it now enjoys widespread use, ‘inducing an appearance of an unjustified arbitrariness and jeopardizing the fundamental rights of the faithful.’”