Different impressions at the opening of the Synod on the Family (October 5-19, 2014)

Source: FSSPX News

Impression of malaise, because for the first time this Synod is taking place largely behind closed doors.  The Vaticanist from La Stampa, Marco Tosatti, gives voice to this malaise.  On October 3, 2014, he wrote on his blog San Pietro e dintorni:  “For the first time in a several-decade history, a Synod of Bishops will take place largely behind closed doors.  In many previous Synods, the public was not admitted either;  yet all the interventions, from those of the Archbishop of Milan to the one by the smallest Diocese of Patagonia were published, in their entirety or in summary, every day.

“In this Synod, on the contrary, no intervention will be made public.  It is surprising that this should happen during the reign of a Pontiff who—at least judging by the choices that he makes and the rhetorical devices that he uses—is the most ‘modern’ and the most ‘progressive’ in recent history.”

On September 20 of this year, Tosatti had given an explanation for this surprising decision to hold a closed Synod;  he saw it as a way of coming to the aid of Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has been jeopardized by critiques from several cardinals concerning communion for the divorced-and-remarried, of which he is the most visible promoter:  “For Kasper & Co., things do not look like they are going to turn out well.  But there is perhaps one way of helping him and trying to prevent the disruptive voices from becoming too noisy.

“First:  ask that the written interventions arrive well in advance.  Which has been done.  Anyone who wishes to speak at the Synod has to send in his little text before September 8.

“Second: read all these interventions carefully and, in case some of them are particularly piquant, give the floor to a speaker who, before the thorny intervention, already tries to reply, in part or in toto, to the problems raised by the intervention to come.

“Third: if several interventions should appear to be really problematic, say that unfortunately there is not enough time to let everyone speak, but that anyway the text has indeed been received and filed with the acts of the Synod and that it will be taken into account at the final elaboration.

“Indeed, what matters is not the Synod itself, but the synthesis thereof that will be made, which will have the Pope’s signature as a Post-Synodal Exhortation.  It is quite likely that this will not be a clear, definitive text, but a document based on a “fluctuating” interpretation.  So that in reading it everyone can pull it toward the side that suits him better.”


Impression of déjà-vu, because the references and the spirit of the beginning of the Synod are those of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago.  On October 4, during a prayer vigil on Saint Peter’s Square, Pope Francis made his expectations known.  In a homily shored up by many citations from the Council documents, he invoked the Holy Spirit:  “We ask above all for the Synod Fathers the gift of listening.  Listening to God so as to hear with him the cry of the people, listening to the people so as to long for the will to which God is calling us.”  “May the wind of Pentecost blow on the work of the Synod,” he prayed, “on the Church and on all humanity.”

The Pope also asked the participants in the Synod on the Family to be willing to have a sincere, open and fraternal confrontation that will lead them to deal responsibly and pastorally with the questions that this change of era brings with it.  He then praised “episcopal collegiality”.  In order to find out what the Lord is asking of His Church today, “we must lend an ear to the throbbing of our era and smell the ‘odor’ of the people of this time....  Then we will know how to propose in a credible way the Good News about the family,” he declared lyrically.

The next day, on Sunday, October 5, in Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Supreme Pontiff opened the Synod and, in the presence of more than 200 Synod Fathers and many of the faithful, he asked that the Spirit might “give us that wisdom which surpasses knowledge, and enables us to work generously with authentic freedom and humble creativity” in confronting the challenges of pastoral care to families on which the bishops and cardinals will have to reflect.  He also denounced the bad pastors who load insupportable burdens on the people’s shoulders.  “Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent,” he remarked.  “They are meant to better nurture and tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his ‘dream’, his loving plan for his people.”

The same tone could be heard two days earlier, on October 3, in the voice of Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod, who was answering questions from the press and giving an idea of the atmosphere of the coming debates.  Concerning the very lively exchanges between cardinals concerning the question of access to communion for divorced-and-remarried persons, Cardinal Baldisseri welcomed these different “contributions” (sic), before expressing the hope that “points of convergence” might be found.  “Nothing is static, we are walking in history,” he declared, before adding:  “The Christian religion is history and not ideology.”  And the Roman prelate explained that “if this Synod is dedicated to the family, it is because the context of the family is different from what it was 33 years ago at the time of Familiaris consortio,” the Apostolic Exhortation by John Paul II on the family, in 1981.  “If there is no history, where are we going?  We say a few nice phrases from 2,000 years ago and that’s it?” he asked with a candor that no one could miss.

Cardinal Baldisseri assured reporters that this Synod would be characterized by “a broad freedom of expression” and would play out “in an atmosphere of respect for all positions, of mutual charity and an authentically constructive direction.”  “It is important to express oneself clearly and courageously,” he declared, while cautioning (or warning) that “in an atmosphere of serene, honest dialogue, the participants will be asked not to try to make their own point of view prevail as though it were exclusive, but to seek the truth together.”

Several journalists took the occasion of this press conference to display their disappointment with the Vatican’s decision, for this Synod, not to publish a summary of the interventions made by the Synod Fathers.


The impression of frontal opposition between proponents of communion for the divorced-and-remarried and the defenders of the indissolubility of marriage.  Cardinal Walter Kasper, who for several weeks has been going from one interview to the next, declared on September 18 to the French daily newspaper La Croix:  “We are experiencing today a certain crisis of the family, as is clearly shown by the number of divorces and of young people who do not want to marry or commit themselves....  The Church can therefore not be content today to assert an ideal of family life but must be realistic and be of service to people in these situations....  The Church must encourage family life by knowing the reality of the concrete situations.”

On September 29, he stated to an Argentine journalist Elisabetta Piqué, in La Nación, concerning the cardinals who criticize his position:  “I think that they are afraid of a domino effect:  that by changing one point, everything will collapse.  That is what they fear.  All that is combined with ideology, an ideological interpretation of the Gospel, but the Gospel is not a penal code.  As the Pope said in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, citing Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Gospel is a grace of the Holy Spirit that is manifested in faith, which works through love.  This is a different interpretation.  This is not a museum.  It is a living reality in the Church and we must walk with the whole people of God and see what its needs are.  Then we must discern in the light of the Gospel, which is not a code of doctrine and commandments.  We cannot simply take a sentence of Jesus from the Gospel and deduce everything from it.  What is lacking is a hermeneutic to understand the totality of the Gospel message and then to distinguish what pertains to doctrine and what pertains to discipline.  The discipline can change.  That is why it seems to me that we are dealing here with a fundamentalism that is not Catholic.” 

La Nación:  Is there fear among some cardinals because, as the Pope said, there is a moral construct that could collapse like a house of cards?

Cardinal Kasper:  Yes, it is an ideology, it is not the Gospel!

La Nación:  Is there also fear with regard to an open discussion at the Synod?

Cardinal Kasper:  Yes, because they are afraid that everything will collapse.  But above all, we are living in an open, pluralistic society, and it is good for the Church that there be an open discussion, as we had at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).  It is good too for the image of the Church, because a closed Church is not a healthy Church.  On the other hand, when we debate about marriage and the family, we have to listen to those who are living this reality.  There is a sensus fidelium.  Everything cannot be decided from on high, from the hierarchy of the Church, and in particular we cannot cite old documents from the last century;  we have to look at the situation today, discern the Spirit and arrive at concrete results.  I think that this is the Pope’s approach, whereas many others start with doctrine and then use a more deductive method....

La Nación:  In recent days the Pope spoke several times about mercy;  he said that it is necessary to grasp “the signs of the times”, that pastors must be close to the people, which suggests that the thing he wants is very clear.... 

Cardinal Kasper:  Yes, the signs of the times were fundamental during the Second Vatican Council.  I cannot imagine that the majority of the Synod could oppose the Pope on this point....

Commentary:  What Cardinal Kasper calls “a fundamentalism that is not Catholic” in the cardinals who criticize him is nothing but fidelity to the teaching of Jesus Christ about marriage.  He constantly refers to Vatican II, careful to “read the signs of the times”, to have an “open discussion” with “open, pluralistic society”....  But beneath these conciliatory words there is a resolute intention:  to denounce any idea of a universal nature, as Prof. Roberto de Mattei fairly concludes in his analysis in the October 1 issue of Corrispondenze Romana:  “Cardinal Kasper does not believe that there is such a thing as a universal, absolute natural law, and in the Instrumentum laboris, the official Vatican document preparing the October Synod, this rejection of the natural law is clearly evident, although it is presented from a perspective that is more sociological than theological.  It says that ‘the concept of natural law, as such, proves today to be very problematic in different cultural contexts, or even incomprehensible,’ among other reasons because ‘today, not only in the West, but progressively throughout the world, scientific research presents a serious challenge to the concept of nature.  Evolution, biology and the neurosciences, in confronting the traditional idea of natural law, arrive at the conclusion that it should not be considered as “scientific”.’  According to the Kasperian program, the natural law is contrasted with ‘the spirit of the Gospel’, the values of which must be communicated ‘in a way that can be understood by people today’....

“The inevitable consequences of this new concept of morality, which the Synod Fathers are going to have to discuss, are drawn by Vito Mancuso, in the September 18 issue of La Repubblica.  The natural law is ‘a burden too heavy to carry’, and therefore we must envisage ‘a profound renewal movement in matters of sexual ethics’ which would necessarily lead to ‘further openings:  yes to contraception;  yes to sexual relations before marriage;  yes to recognizing homosexual couples.’”  This is what is at stake in this Synod, which may prove to be the Vatican II of marriage.  Recall that 50 years ago Cardinal Suenens had declared:  “Vatican II is 1789 [i.e. the French Revolution] in the Church” and that Father Congar [a theological expert at the Council] declared:  “The Church has peacefully (sic) had its October Revolution.”

(Sources:  San Pietro e dintorni/Nación/benoîtetmoi/corrispondenzaromana – DICI no. 302 dated October 10, 2014)

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