Updating the four cardinals’ dubia

Updating our post early this morning about the dubia of the four cardinals, we note that Rorate Caeli‘s Roman correspondent, “Fr. Pio Pace,” has weighed in with an interesting bit of news. The Holy Father made clear—how is not clear at this point—that he would not answer Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner. That is, if true, the four cardinals went public not on some arbitrary schedule—i.e., they decided to publish when they didn’t hear back within a time frame of their own choosing—they went public after they received word that they would not hear back at all. The cardinals’ dubia, then, are doubly extraordinary; extraordinary that they would propose them and extraordinary that the Holy Father would simply refuse to answer them.

There are also reports—beginning with Rorate‘s Pio Pace, but in other places—that the four cardinals who proposed the dubia are simply the public face of a larger group of prelates. Sandro Magister says:

The four cardinals who signed this letter and are now making it public are not among those who a year ago, at the beginning of the second session of the synod on the family, delivered to Francis the famous letter “of the thirteen cardinals”[.]

[hyperlink omitted]

The thirteen were all members of the synod and in full service in their respective dioceses. Or they held important positions in the curia, like cardinals Robert Sarah, George Pell, and Müller himself.

These four, however, while all are recognized for their authoritativeness, have no operational roles, either for reasons of age or because they have been dismissed.

And that makes them more free. It is no mystery, in fact, that their appeal has been and is shared by not a few other cardinals who are still fully active, as well as high-ranking bishops and archbishops of West and East, who however precisely because of this have decided to remain in the shadows.

In a few days, on November 19 and 20, the whole college of cardinals will meet in Rome, for the consistory convoked by Pope Francis. And inevitably the appeal of the four cardinals will become the subject of animated discussion among them.

(Emphasis supplied.) In the words of Fr. John Hunwicke, “Apparently, it is now to be the particular ministry and calling of the elderly or the retired or the sacked, because they have nothing to fear being sacked from, to speak with Parrhesia.

The news of the dubia breaks about a week before the ordinary public consistory of the College of Cardinals for the creation of new cardinals, including the Americans Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, and Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark (recently translated from Indianapolis in an unprecedented move).

Four cardinals seek clarifications on “Amoris laetitia”

At the National Catholic Register, Edward Pentin presents the full text of five dubia concerning Amoris laetitia, along with introductory material sent to the Holy Father by Cardinals Brandmüller, Burke, Caffarra, and Meisner. Apparently, the cardinals sent the dubia to the Holy Father in the middle of September, and no response has been forthcoming to date. Accordingly the four cardinals “have interpreted his sovereign decision [i.e., not to respond formally to the dubia] as an invitation to continue the reflection, and the discussion, calmly and with respect,” and released the documents for discussion and reflection by the faithful. The five dubia are, with some clarifying emphases:

1. It is asked whether, following the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (nn. 300-305), it has now become possible to grant absolution in the sacrament of penance and thus to admit to Holy Communion a person who, while bound by a valid marital bond, lives together with a different person more uxorio without fulfilling the conditions provided for by Familiaris Consortio n. 84 and subsequently reaffirmed by Reconciliatio et Paenitentia n. 34 and Sacramentum Caritatis n. 29. Can the expression “in certain cases” found in note 351 (n. 305) of the exhortation Amoris Laetitia be applied to divorced persons who are in a new union and who continue to live more uxorio?

2. After the publication of the post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia (cf. n. 304), does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 79, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, on the existence of absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts and that are binding without exceptions?

3. After Amoris Laetitia (n. 301) is it still possible to affirm that a person who habitually lives in contradiction to a commandment of God’s law, as for instance the one that prohibits adultery (cf. Mt 19:3-9), finds him or herself in an objective situation of grave habitual sin (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration, June 24, 2000)?

4. After the affirmations of Amoris Laetitia (n. 302) on “circumstances which mitigate moral responsibility,” does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 81, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, according to which “circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice”?

5. After Amoris Laetitia (n. 303) does one still need to regard as valid the teaching of St. John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor n. 56, based on Sacred Scripture and on the Tradition of the Church, that excludes a creative interpretation of the role of conscience and that emphasizes that conscience can never be authorized to legitimate exceptions to absolute moral norms that prohibit intrinsically evil acts by virtue of their object?

(Emphasis supplied.) Read the whole thing at the Register, including the introductory and explanatory notes prepared by the cardinals.

We are sure that we will have more to say about these dubia and the explanatory materials in due course.

New “mega-dicastery” for laity, family, and life formally established

Today, the Holy Father has handed down the Apostolic Letter motu proprio data Sedula Mater, formally establishing the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life. He has also appointed the Bishop of Dallas, Kevin Joseph Farrell, as the first prefect of the new dicastery. Recall that the statutes of the Dicastery were approved ad experimentum in June, and scheduled to come into force in September. In an interesting twist, the statutes anticipate that the secretary of the Dicastery may be a layperson, and three lay undersecretaries (for the laity, family, and life divisions). (Art. 2 § 1.) Indeed, much about the new dicastery is interesting in comparison to the ordinary structure of a Roman congregation under Pastor Bonus. (Though Pastor Bonus, art. 3 § 1, plainly anticipates that particular law might create a unique dicastery.)

All of this is interesting, to be sure, but we are especially interested in the fact that the Holy Father approved the statutes before he created the Dicastery. Certainly, since the Dicastery is ultimately the product of a merger, for the moment, of the Pontifical Council for Laity and the Pontifical Council for the Family, with, we suppose, the anticipated involvement of the Pontifical Council for Life, perhaps it was easier to put the cart before the horse this time, but still the optics are passing strange.

A short fantasy in the hermeneutic of conspiracy

What follows is pure, groundless speculation. The merest fantasy in the hermeneutic of conspiracy. So, it’s worth at most what you paid for it. But the question we pose has been on our mind for some time. 

As the whole world knows, on July 5, Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, gave a speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London calling for, among other things, a return to ad orientem (versus apsidem) worship. This drew a quick, pointed correction from the Holy See Press Office, no doubt distracting them from the festive-if-bittersweet preparations for Fr. Federico Lombardi’s imminent retirement. Father John Hunwicke suggests that Vincent Cardinal Nichols, archbishop of Westminster and a long-time supporter of the Holy Father’s cause (even before the Conclave, if some are to be believed), was perhaps the prime mover in obtaining an unusual rebuke of a Curial cardinal. All this is, of course, well known among Catholics of all liturgical stripes now.

We were struck, however, by the unusual nature of the very public rebuke to Cardinal Sarah. Certainly he is likely seen by many as a potential leader for next time, in opposition to some candidates more simpatico to the Holy Father’s program, such as Cardinal Tagle. But that was not exactly it. Consider all the things that have not drawn rebukes. Cardinal Müller has criticized at length the liberal interpretation of Amoris laetitia at length. Cardinal Burke called it non-magisterial. And Archbishop Gänswein gave an extraordinary talk that, for a time, called into question just what Benedict thought he was doing when he abdicated. Yet, to our knowledge, none of these comments drew quick, decisive rebukes from official quarters (to say nothing of the rebukes from the Pope’s friends, including dear Father Spadaro). Curious.

But something else was happening at about this time: the Holy Father was handing down his Apostolic Letter motu proprio data on the competences of the Vatican financial organs, I bene temporali. As is now customary for Vatican documents of significant importance, I bene temporali is available in only Italian and Portuguese; however, the Holy See Press Office has provided a capsule summary:

The document published today responds to the need to define further the relationship between the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See and the Secretariat for the Economy. The fundamental principle at the base of the reforms in this area, and in particular at the base of this Motu Proprio, is that of ensuring the clear and unequivocal distinction between control and vigilance, on the one hand, and administration of assets, on the other. Therefore, the Motu Proprio specifies the competencies pertaining to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See and better delineates the Secretariat for the Economy’s fundamental role of control and vigilance.

(Emphasis supplied.) In short, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA, in Vatican lingo) recovered significant responsibility for the day-to-day financial administration of the Holy See, I beni temporali § 3, from George Cardinal Pell’s Secretariat for the Economy.

Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen was blunt about what this means:

There are many ways of analyzing the fault lines in the Vatican, but perhaps the most time-honored (if also often exaggerated) is the tension between an Italian old guard and pretty much everybody else. By conventional political logic, anyway, Saturday saw the Italians notch a fairly big win.

It could turn out, however, to be a Pyrrhic victory – because by taking back control over a range of financial powers, the old guard has also reclaimed the blame the next time something goes wrong.

On Saturday, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio, meaning a legal edict, delineating the division of responsibility between the Vatican’s Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APSA) and the Secretariat of the Economy (SPE). The former is headed by Italian Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, the latter by Australian Cardinal George Pell.

In effect, the motu proprio restores several important functions to APSA that had been given to Pell’s department in 2014. One local news agency bottom-lined the result this way in its headline: “The Italians win!”

(Emphasis supplied.) The Vatican line is more or less that the Holy Father has delineated clearly oversight and management by this action and he has solved the problem of letting the financial watchdog also have control over administration.

And perhaps the Vatican line would be believable, if Pell’s oversight functions hadn’t been undercut recently by Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the secretary of state, when the Secretariat of State, apparently with the Holy Father’s permission, suspended an audit that Cardinal Pell had ordered. In other words, over the last few months, the independent authority of the Secretariat for the Economy and Cardinal Pell have been undermined significantly, always in favor of the Vatican old guard—generally Italian—that had been in charge prior to 2013. And we know what the finances at the Vatican looked like at about the same time.

In other words, reform of the Curia and the Vatican’s finances, one of the Holy Father’s signature initiatives—indeed, the St. Gallen group notwithstanding, one of the major reasons why he was elected in 2013, has apparently gone exactly nowhere. Certainly new organs have been established, but in the name of separation of powers, the new organs have been stripped of actual control, leaving them with policy and “oversight.” But, as we have seen from the audit kerfuffle, it is unclear that the Secretariat for the Economy will be permitted to exercise complete, independent discretion in pursuing its oversight functions. Certainly the Secretariat of State has shown a willingness to intervene in favor of, well, more traditional Vatican concerns. In other words, after three years and numerous provisions and amendments and restructuring, things have not changed much. Were the Holy Father a secular politician, one might call this part of his platform “not a success.”

And this brings us back to the kerfuffle over Cardinal Sarah’s speech. If we were to adopt the hermeneutic of conspiracy, we would wonder whether the timing of the rebuke of Cardinal Sarah’s speech had something to do with I bene temporali. What would be the best way to ensure that everyone focused on a relatively trivial matter, rather than the serious issue that the Holy Father’s reform of the Curia, including the Vatican’s finances, has not made huge progress, even now, three years after his election? Once upon a time, we were going to get a rewritten Pastor Bonus. Now, we’ll be lucky to get anything. Certainly, keeping the motu proprio locked in those hugely widely spoken languages, Italian and Portuguese, would help. But you would want to change the news cycle, wouldn’t you? And what drives page views—left and right—better than liturgy stuff?

As we say, this is rank speculation, mere fantasy, and a feverish indulgence in the hermeneutic of conspiracy. Sometimes it is helpful to clear the cobwebs with such thinking.

Cardinal Sarah’s Sacra Liturgia speech

Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has released a text of his speech at the Sacra Liturgia conference. You may recall this speech encouraged priests to celebrate Mass ad Orientem (or versus apsidem, depending on how persnickety you want to be) and informed the crowd that the Holy Father encouraged him to continue studying the so-called Reform of the Reform. These remarks drew an unusual rebuke from Father Lombardi, departing head of the Press Office, who emphasized that Cardinal Sarah wasn’t issuing juridical norms (as though a speech in London were the way to do that), that the GIRM presupposes versus populum worship (it does not), and that the Reform of the Reform is not how the Pope likes to talk about the liturgy (okay, we suppose). However, according to Edward Pentin, Cardinal Sarah has, so far from retreating, chastened, from the field, strengthened some of the controversial sections of his talk and encouraged wide distribution.

The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene

Today, the Congregation for Divine Worship has released a decree, Resurrectionis dominicae, dated June 3raising the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalene from a memorial to a feast. Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation, has written a lengthy article for L’Osservatore Romano, currently in Italian, discussing the decision of the Holy Father to raise the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalene to a feast. Here is an interesting portion of the decree:

Nostris vero temporibus cum Ecclesia vocata sit ad impensius consulendum de mulieris dignitate, de nova Evangelizatione ac de amplitudine mysterii divinae misericordiae bonum visum est ut etiam exemplum Sanctae Mariae Magdalenae aptius fidelibus proponatur. Haec enim mulier agnita ut dilectrix Christi et a Christo plurimum dilecta, “testis divinae misericordiae” a Sancto Gregorio Magno, et “apostolorum apostola” a Sancto Thoma de Aquino appellata, a christifidelibus huius temporis deprehendi potest ut paradigma ministerii mulierum in Ecclesia.

(Emphasis supplied.) We are, of course, particularly interested in the decree’s reference to the New Evangelization. As you may recall, the New Evangelization was a major theme of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. However, since February 28, 2013, not much has been heard about the New Evangelization. (And, perhaps, with good cause: it seemed to be little more than a buzzword for many people.) It is, therefore, interesting to see St. Mary Magdalene being mentioned as an example in the context of the New Evangelization.

What is also interesting is the extent to which St. Gregory the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas are cited in the decree and Archbishop Roche’s article. Particularly the description of Mary Magdalene as “apostolorum apostola,” apostless of the apostles. Obviously, this is, as Rorate Caeli noted in a series of tweets, a more or less literary appellation. However, at a time when the enemies of the Church have decided to renew their efforts for the so-called ordination of women, such language must be used carefully—or not at all—lest false equivalences be drawn. If we have learned nothing else from the Synodal process, we have seen that the progressives will twist, contort, and restate facts until their conclusions, once thought ridiculous, become “inevitable.” Add to this the modern (Modernist?) fetish for the language of “rights” and “equality,” and you’ve got a powerful brew.

Of course, none of this is a reason not to celebrate Mary Magdalene’s feast. It is a reason to ask for her intercession that the teaching of the One she loved so dearly be upheld and defended in His Church, however.

The other revolution of “Amoris laetitia”

In the furor over Amoris laetitia, one point, we think, has escaped wider notice: what are we to make of the Holy Father’s frequent quotation of aspects of the Relatio finalis of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops? For example, various paragraphs in the hugely contentious chapter eight consist primarily of quotations of the Relatio finalis (e.g., ¶¶ 294, 299–300). And at least one commentator—we can’t remember who just now, but we definitely recall that someone has—has observed that this wholesale quotation of the Relatio finalis is a factor that ought to be considered when determining the magisterial weight of Amoris laetitia. Certainly, Familiaris consortio did not consist of repeating vast excerpts of the Synod’s report. Neither, for that matter, did Evangelii gaudium, which, in addition to being the Holy Father’s “party program,” was supposed to be a post-synodal exhortation following a synod on the “new evangelization.” (Remember that? Us neither.)

Notwithstanding Cardinal Burke’s lengthy, learned argument to the contrary, there is a broad consensus that Amoris laetitia has done something. The Pope’s close collaborator, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, a likely contributor to Amoris laetitia, contends that it’s magisterial. (If we had written it, we would say it’s magisterial, too.) And traditionalist commentators have been, frankly, as aggressive in articulating this view as those pleased by Amoris laetitia. (Why this is so, we daren’t guess.) Now, we are not especially convinced, not least because Amoris laetitia explicitly did not change the Church’s law (¶300)—but we have seen where legalism has gotten Cardinal Burke. But let’s set aside for the moment whether or not Amoris laetitia did anything and assume that it did. If that’s the case, then we’ve witnessed a revolution bigger than anything regarding communion for bigamists. We have witnessed the Synod take on the appearance of legislative authority without a formal papal act granting it such authority.

The Synod process was not explicitly legislative. Recall what happened. Questionnaires were circulated and an instrumentum laboris was prepared based upon those questionnaires. (Cardinal Erdö tried to corral the debate envisioned by the instrumentum laboris with his initial presentation, but that plan was shot down pretty quickly.) Small groups issued their own reports and made suggestions for a final report. A final report was prepared and voted upon and passages that received the necessary majority (all the important passages, at any rate, even if only just) were included in the final report. And that final report was not in the nature of a decree or other juridical document settling questions of doctrine and practice. It was, essentially, an extended discussion of issues, some of which fell into the “Some Synod fathers say X, but others say not-X” mode of reporting. The report was then forwarded to the Holy Father, who responded to it with Amoris laetitia.

As we said, nothing about this process is necessarily legislative. (We’ll see here in a minute that the Synod can be imbued with legislative authority, albeit on an ad hoc basis.) Yet, throughout the synodal process there was a sense among observers that whatever the Synod voted, the Holy Father would ratify. The votes on the relationes were, therefore, hugely significant. (Remember the attention to and tension surrounding the 2014 and 2015 rounds of voting? We do.) The thinking went: if the bad paragraphs got into the final report—as, in fact, they did—then something bad would happen. While we would never denigrate the catastrophe of a broad cross-section of bishops and special papal appointees falling into error, there was a sense that the votes were more significant than that. In other words, the Synod had the air of a legislative assembly, even if it was not properly constituted as such.

And, certainly, the Holy Father’s response to the Synod’s final report confirms that sense of authority. While the Holy Father did not explicitly establish a penitential path or a forum internum solution, despite speculation that he would, he did put the stamp of papal approval on the final report by quoting vast sections of it and referring to it over and over (and over and over) in his footnotes. Thus, the concern that whatever the Synod voted, the Pope would ratify, was to some extent completely justified. The Pope did ratify whatever the Synod voted, with some exceptions; however, the Pope did not grant the Synod explicit legislative authority. It just sort of became a legislative body.

Of course, the possibility of a legislative synod has been present since the beginning. Paul VI, in his 1965 apostolic letter issued motu proprio, Apostolica sollicitudo, by which he established the Synod of Bishops, established:

The Synod of Bishops has, of its very nature, the function of providing information and offering advice. It can also enjoy the power of making decisions when such power is conferred upon it by the Roman Pontiff; in this case, it belongs to him to ratify the decisions of the Synod.

(Emphasis supplied.) So, Paul acknowledged the possibility of a legislative synod, but only if the pope conferred upon it legislative power and if he ratified the decisions. In a sense, therefore, a decision of a legislative synod is a decision of the pope: he gives the synod authority to decide and confirms its decisions. Yet one has the sense that Paul did not exactly believe in the idea of a legislative synod:

1. The general purpose of the Synod are:

a) to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world; 

b) to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that should be carrying on in today’s world; 

c) to facilitate agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.

2. Its special and immediate purposes are:

a) to provide mutually useful information;

b) to discuss the specific business for which the Synod is called into session on any given occasion.

(Emphasis supplied.) In other words, the primary purposes of the Synod of Bishops as Paul conceived of them were essentially advisory and communicative, not legislative. As an idle aside, one wonders what dear Papa Montini, so grieved by the changes that were unleashed in his name, would have made of the 2014–2015 Synod of Bishops, especially with respect of its stated purpose of “facilitat[ing] agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.” Certainly no one thinks that there is more agreement on the question of communion for bigamists than before 2014. Certainly no one thinks even that there is more agreement on the framework to discuss the question than before 2014. Regardless of Amoris laetitia—and remember, we’re assuming, with the majority of leading voices in the traditionalist blogosphere, that it did something—no one can dispute that the 2014–2015 Synod is one of the most divisive events in the life of the Church since 1965. (And, even then, pretty much everyone signed the conciliar decrees, whatever happened in the aula. Even dear Cardinal Ottaviani. [Santo subito!])

Moreover, one of the complaints about the Synod under John Paul and Benedict is that the assemblies were low-risk, stage-managed affairs. That is, the interventions were thoroughly vetted, the final reports were carefully written by central authority, and the post-synodal exhortations, when they came out, were more of the same. The Holy Father has made it a priority to revitalize the Synod as a deliberative assembly. But, at the same time, it seems to us that there is something to be said for a quieter, low-risk approach; if Paul’s initial vision for the Synod was based upon closer union among the bishops of the world, exchanging information, and facilitating agreement, the high-stakes, high-conflict Synod is plainly at odds with that vision. Thus, it seems to us that John Paul and Benedict may well have been in greater continuity with Paul’s vision for the Synod than the Holy Father, who seems to like the idea of the Synod as a mini-Vatican II with all that entails. But we digress.

The Apostolica sollicitudo settlement found its way into John Paul’s 1983 Code of Canon Law, under canon 343:

It is for the synod of bishops to discuss the questions for consideration and express its wishes but not to resolve them or issue decrees about them unless in certain cases the Roman Pontiff has endowed it with deliberative power, in which case he ratifies the decisions of the synod.

(Emphasis supplied.) Thus, under the law currently governing the Synod, Paul’s intention remains: the Synod does not have authority to “resolve” issues, unless the pope gives it that authority and ratifies its decisions.

Yet, despite these clear conceptual and juridical limits to the Synod’s authority, there was, as we say, a sense that the advisory report of the Synod would represent some victory (or defeat, depending on your position). We do not recall the Holy Father granting the Synod any specific legislative authority, as Apostolica sollicitudo and canon 343 would require. Yet everyone fairly quickly assumed that the Synod’s vote mattered. Indeed, everyone fairly quickly assumed that the Synod itself was a body that mattered, a body with authority. This is extraordinary, isn’t it?

Of course, this is, we think, a major point in the Holy Father’s program for the Church. Remember what he said as recently as last fall in Florence:

I prefer a restless Italian Church, ever closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I would like a glad Church with a mother’s face, that understands, accompanies, caresses. You too dream of this Church, believe in her, innovate with freedom. The Christian humanism that you are called to live radically affirms the dignity of every person as a Child of God, it establishes among all human beings a fundamental fraternity, teaches one to understand work, to inhabit creation as a common home, to furnish reasons for optimism and humour, even in the middle of a life many times more difficult.

Although it is not for me to say how to accomplish this dream today, allow me to leave you just one indication for the coming years: in every community, in every parish and institution, in every diocese and circumscription, in every region, try to launch, in a synodal fashion, a deep reflection on the Evangelii Gaudium, to draw from it practical parameters and to launch its dispositions, especially on the three or four priorities that you will identify in this meeting. I am certain of your capacity to put yourselves into a creative movement in order to make this study practical. I am sure of it because you are an adult Church, age-old in the faith, firmly rooted and with an abundance of fruit. Therefore be creative in expressing the genius that your great ones, from Dante to Michelangelo, expressed in an incomparable way. Believe in the genius of Italian Christianity, which is neither a legacy of individuals nor of elites, but of the community, of the people of this extraordinary country.

(Hyperlink in original, but emphasis supplied.) And just a little before that, at the ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Synod, the Holy Father stated:

From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome, I sought to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to reproduce the image of the Ecumenical Council and reflect its spirit and method. Pope Paul foresaw that the organization of the Synod could “be improved upon with the passing of time”. Twenty years later, Saint John Paul II echoed that thought when he stated that “this instrument might be further improved. Perhaps collegial pastoral responsibility could be more fully expressed in the Synod”. In 2006, Benedict XVI approved several changes to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, especially in light of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which had been promulgated in the meantime.

(Hyperlinks in original, but footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) He went on to observe in a lengthy passage:

In a synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most evident manifestation of a dynamism of communion which inspires all ecclesial decisions.

The first level of the exercise of synodality is had in the particular Churches. After mentioning the noble institution of the Diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to cooperate with the bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community…


The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Ecclesiastical Regions, Particular Councils and, in a special way, Conferences of Bishops. We need to reflect on how better to bring about, through these bodies, intermediary instances of collegiality, perhaps by integrating and updating certain aspects of the ancient ecclesiastical organization. The hope expressed by the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. We are still on the way, part-way there. In a synodal Church, as I have said, “it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization’”.

The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality within an entirely synodal Church. Two different phrases: “episcopal collegiality” and an “entirely synodal Church”. This level manifests the collegialitas affectiva, which can also become in certain circumstances “effective”, joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in solicitude for the People God.

(Footnotes omitted and emphasis supplied.) It is therefore plain that the Holy Father has a clear vision of a synodal Church, which extends well beyond Paul’s vision for the Synod of Bishops, which was simply a closer union among the bishops of the world, an exchange of information, and a process of finding points of agreement. It is plain, furthermore, that the Holy Father may well think that the turbulence and disagreement of the 2014–2015 Synod was, after a fashion, desirable, insofar as it reflects restlessness (on the part of the progressives) and dynamism.

Thus, no one should be surprised that the Synod has just sort of become an important, legislative assembly without actually receiving that authority from the Holy Father. We would be surprised, in fact, if it were an accident. But it seems to us that once the door is open—and it is open—it will be difficult for future popes to shut it. If the 2014-2015 Synod is so significant, and the next Synod under the Holy Father will be similarly significant, then “John XXIV” or “Paul VII” will be at a serious disadvantage if they try to restore the Synod to something closer to what Paul VI imagined when he created it. And this constitutes, in our view, a very quiet revolution in Church governance.

I can’t help it if I’m lucky

Reports have come out that the Synod of Bishops has sent a “reading guide” out in advance of the release, now only about a day away, of Amoris laetitia, the Holy Father’s post-Synodal exhortation. (We will leave to one side the question of a pastoral exhortation that needs a “reading guide,” which does not bode well for the faithful, for whom, we are told, all this trouble has been taken.)  One point in particular in the Catholic Herald‘s report leapt out at us:

The document was sent to bishops along with summaries of the Pope’s recent Wednesday audiences on the family, and of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, described as an “important source” for Amoris Laetitia.

(Emphasis supplied.) Like we said in our “Preliminary Comments” post: look for the argument that Amoris laetitia is but an incremental development on John Paul’s thought.


Some preliminary comments on “Amoris laetitia”

No, no. No one has leaked the Holy Father’s forthcoming post-Synodal exhortation, Amoris laetitia, to us. And, while dear Father Lombardi could not revoke our Holy See Press Office credentials if only because we don’t have any, we would never in a million years wish to violate the pontifical secret, applied by article 1(1) of the 1974 Instruction Secreta continere(Though being only human, we imagine that we would like very much the feeling for the next week of wouldn’t you like to know that would attend being in the loop on this one. How they manage in the Curia is beyond us.)

However, we do anticipate that we will make some comments on Amoris laetitia when it is finally released later this week. And, to be frank, our expectations for the document will likely color in a significant way our reaction to it. Thus, we think it is only fair that we go on record with those expectations now. Also, there is something very enjoyable about putting one’s predictions out in the open air. (Sometimes, anyway. It is Opening Day for our beloved Cincinnati Reds, and having seen GM Walt Jocketty’s idea of “rebuilding,” we are far too depressed to offer our predictions for the Reds.) At any rate, here’s what we expect to see:

  1. It will be very long and not always hugely gripping.
  2. There will be something for everyone, but, on the whole, the progressives will be much happier than the orthodox. Because no hard and fast rules will be established, conservative Catholics will feel constrained to put a brave face on things. The progressives’ note of triumph will be a little unseemly. Everyone will start to think a little more seriously about next time.
  3. It will authorize, through the forum internum process, communion for bigamists. The appointment of Cardinal Schönborn as one of the relators for the exhortation sealed the deal for us. He was the moderator of the Germanicus group that came up with that compromise, though his ties to Ratzinger undoubtedly make him, well, more palatable to conservatives than Reinhard Cardinal Marx, one of the other ramrods behind the compromise. It seems to us very natural to select Cardinal Schönborn as the relator for the exhortation in order to sell the forum internum theory to the wider world. But there will be some language emphasizing how “narrow” the exception is, and how those who can prove nullity ought to be encouraged to do so.
  4. There may be some language about episcopal conferences establishing norms for the forum internum process, but it would surprise us if the progressives in the Vatican wanted to trust more conservative episcopates with the keys to the gate they’ve strived so mightily to throw open.
  5. Expect to hear even more about the tendentious misquotation of Familiaris consortio that was forced upon everyone last October. Indeed, expect to see endless citations to John Paul II and Benedict XVI during the really important parts. The argument will be made, implicitly, that Amoris laetitia is but an incremental development on John Paul’s thought and Benedict’s thought.
  6. It will probably remove any other restrictions on participation in the Church by bigamists. All of the other restrictions—e.g., being a godparent—that we have heard about over the last eighteen months will be lifted without reservation.
  7. It will have lots of nice things to say about other irregular situations.
  8. People hoping to hear nice things about same-sex couples are going to be disappointed. That project will have to wait a while.
  9. Much ink will be spilled on marital preparation.
  10. Much ink will also be spilled about what a great procedural success the Synod was and how it represents a model of Church governance for the future.

Just some predictions. Some of them we feel fairly strongly about. Some we threw in just so we could get to ten. But, obviously, we would be happy to be proved wrong about many of these predictions.

New developments on the SSPX situation (Updated)

Rorate Caeli reports that the Holy See Press Office has confirmed that the Holy Father received in audience Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior-general of the Society of St. Pius X, at Casa Santa Marta on Friday, April 1.


The SSPX has released a communique covering the meeting. The SSPX communique reads, in full:

Pope Francis received Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, accompanied by the Society’s Second General Assistant, Fr. Alain-Marc Nely, at Domus Sanctae Marthae, at 5 p.m. on Friday, April 1, 2016.

Bishop Fellay did not have an opportunity to meet Pope Francis since the Holy Father’s election in March 2013, other than exchanging very brief salutations at Domus Sanctae Marthae, on December 13, 2013 (see DICI no. 296 of 5-16-2014). However, some priests of the Society were previously received by the Supreme Pontiff, regarding certain administrative difficulties in the Society’s District of Argentina (see DICI no 314 of 4-24-2015).

Pope Francis had wanted a private and informal meeting, without the formality of an official audience. It lasted 40 minutes and took place under a cordial atmosphere. After the meeting, it was decided that the current exchanges would continue. The canonical status of the Society was not directly addressed, Pope Francis and Bishop Fellay having determined that these exchanges ought to continue without haste.

The next morning, Saturday, April 2nd, Bishop Fellay met with Archbishop Guido Pozzo, secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, in keeping with the normal relations of the Society with this commission following the 2009-2011 doctrinal discussions and the visits of several prelates in 2015-2016. (See DICI no. 307 of 12-19-2014 and no. 311 of 2-27-2016)

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlinks in original.)

Originally, it had been reported—at least, we thought it had been reported—that the meeting took place on Low Saturday. We noted that there were several important Curial officials who had been received on Low Saturday. The updated reporting seems to be that the Holy Father met with Bishop Fellay on Friday, April 1. The meeting does not show in the official list of audiences for April 1, though.

While the official list of Saturday’s audiences does not show Bishop Fellay, it does show a very busy morning for the Holy Father: Cardinal Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops; Cardinal Sarah, prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship; and Cardinal Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Religious.