This article was originally published in Voice of the Family.
A new book, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?: An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, will shed much light on allegations that the Extraordinary Synod, held in Rome last October 2014, was subject to manipulation. The book has been written by highly respected Vatican journalist Edward Pentin and carries the endorsement of Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban. Cardinal Napier is one of the fifteen members of the permanent council of cardinals and bishops overseeing the Synod of Bishops, he attended the Extraordinary Synod and was a member of the committee that drafted the final relatio synodi of that Synod.
In this brief review we would like to draw attention to a few of the key examples of the manipulation that is alleged to have taken place at the Extraordinary Synod.
Cardinal Napier told Edward Pentin that a few months before the Extraordinary Synod an official at the Synod Secretariat had come to see him to share serious concerns. The official told Napier that he was “very disturbed” by what he had witnessed and commented that “this thing is being manipulated, it’s being engineered. [They] want a certain result.”
The Synod Secretariat is managed by the General Secretary of the Synod, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri. The organisation of both Synods on the Family has been the responsibility of Cardinal Baldisseri, though the cardinal has stressed the close involvement of Pope Francis at every stage of the process. In an interview given in January 2015 he said:
Pay attention, as this is something one really should know. The pope is the president of the synod of bishops. I am the secretary general, but I don’t have anyone else above me, such as a prefect of a congregation or a president of a council. I don’t have anyone else above me, only the pope. The pope presided over all of the council meetings of the secretariat. He presides. I am the secretary. And so the documents were all seen and approved by the pope, with the approval of his presence. Even the documents during the synod, such as the Relatio ante disceptationem, the Relatio post disceptationem, and the Relatio synodi were seen by him before they were published.
Pentin recounts that some months before the Extraordinary Synod, the Synod Secretariat had contacted the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, known for its fidelity to Catholic moral teaching, to recommend experts to participate in the Synod. The Secretariat had made the same request to certain institutes of the Roman Curia.
None of the experts recommended by these institutes were invited to participate in the Synod. A high-level Vatican source has stated that the opinion of these institutes was sought in order that the Secretariat could ensure that orthodox experts could be excluded from participating in the synod. It is also alleged that an official of the Synod Secretariat was told to go through a list of potential experts and exclude all those who were “conservative” and retain all those who were “progressive”.
The manipulation of the synod came to public attention following the release on 13th October 2014 of the interim relatio post disceptationem. This document, which purported to represent the contributions of the synod fathers, is alleged to have seriously misrepresented the views of the assembly. Cardinal Pell called it “tendentious, skewed” and said that “it didn’t represent accurately the feelings of the synod fathers”. Cardinal Napier alleges that the document contained opinions that were never expressed by any of the synod fathers.
The document caused great controversy because it undermined Catholic teaching on key points of doctrine, including the indissolubility of marriage, cohabitation and homosexual unions. Pentin recounts in some detail an enlightening episode in which Cardinal Baldisseri attempted to ignore Cardinal Napier’s request that “same-sex unions” not be discussed in a section dealing with marriage.
Pentin sheds light on other controversial events that took place during the synod, such as the removal of a book co-authored by, among others, five Cardinals, from the mail boxes of the synod fathers in the synod hall. The book Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, which defends Catholic teaching, was posted to all synod fathers and placed in their mail boxes in the Synod Hall. Cardinal Baldisseri was reportedly “furious” and tried to get the postmaster of the Vatican Post Office fired. In the end the packages were sent back to the post office to be stamped. According to an inside source Baldisseri wanted to hold the books back indefinitely but was informed that this would be illegal. Pentin relates that the books were eventually delivered four days before the end of the Synod, left for two days to fulfill legal requirements, and then removed again. As a result of these tactics it would seem that very few synod fathers received the copies that had been sent to them.
The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? provides a great deal of insight into the theological views of Cardinal Baldisseri. Pentin writes that:
a sense of alarm was experienced among many holders of traditional Church doctrine and practice in May 2014, when, in an interview with Belgian Church newspaper Tertio, Cardinal Baldisseri said it was time to update the Church’s doctrine on marriage—for example, in connection with divorce and the situation of divorced persons and those who are in civil partnerships.
In January Cardinal Baldisseri told a conference organised by Pontifical Council for the Family that “there’s no reason to be scandalized that there is a cardinal or a theologian saying something that’s different from the so-called ‘common doctrine’”. He said further that Kasper’s proposal “should be welcomed as a contribution.” All this, despite the fact that Cardinal Kasper’s proposal directly contradicts the teaching of the Church as expressed by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio in 1981 and in official documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 and 1998.
There is good reason to believe that Cardinal Baldisseri’s theological views have had a very great influence on the synodal texts. One of the most shocking passages in Pentin’s book is an account of Baldisseri’s attempts to alter the content of the pre-synod report. Pentin writes:
Cardinal Erdö had, it seems, drafted the document with the opening line beginning with ‘Jesus Christ is our Master before all others and our only Lord’, and had stated, in an allusion to 2 Timothy, that the faithful owe obedience to Him whether it is convenient or not convenient.
Erdö was put under pressure to remove the line. Erdo told one of Pentin’s sources, a scholar: “Cardinal Baldisseri wants me to change that because he said that ‘it’s negative’ and that I should begin with the ‘Joy of the Gospel’ [Pope Francis’ 2014 apostolic exhortation] and quote Pope Francis. Before Jesus Christ.”
Erdö asked the scholar: ‘Do you think I should quote Pope Francis first?’… ‘You could have knocked me over with a feather’, the scholar told me. ‘Here we are, two days before the opening, there’s the Mass, two days before, and he’s asking me if we should start with Jesus Christ? I said, “Eminence, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the Alpha and the Omega. We start with Jesus Christ.” He left it in. You’ll see it, it’s still the first line.’
The Extraordinary Synod on the Family, under Cardinal Baldisseri’s leadership, produced documents that undermined Catholic teaching on a whole range of issues relating to human sexuality, marriage and the family. The instrumentum laboris of the Ordinary Synod extends the assault on Catholic doctrine to an even wider number of areas. ∎