From the synod (6): Statements on the ‘Letter of the 13’ (updated)

[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome]: As so often in synods, the greatest excitement for journalists comes from leaks and contradictory statements. Although it is a distraction from the main business of the synod, and distorts the true picture of what is happening (as I described in a previous post), the so-called ‘Letter of the 13’ cardinals to Pope Francis, leaked to Sandro Magister and published on his blog yesterday (here), is what they call in the trade a ‘developing story’, and has provoked a lot of commentary. (Yesterday, for example, America Magazine published confirmation that the letter was sent, but had different signatories from the one published by Magister. Cardinals Pell, Müller and Napier have also confirmed that the letter was sent, but dispute the published versions of it.)

This post is designed to bring you up to date with statements made today. We will add to it as further material comes to light.

  1. Today’s statement by Fr Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman

As we are aware, at least four of the Synod Fathers who were included in the list of signatories have denied their involvement (Cardinals Angelo Scola, Andre Vingt-Trois, Mauro Piacenza and Peter Erdo). [The Archbishop of Mexico City has since added his denial — see (2) below].

Cardinal Pell has declared that a letter sent to the Pope was confidential and should have remained as such, and that neither the text published nor the signatories correspond to what was sent to the Pope. [Cardinal Pell statement here, and interviews in Italian here and English here. See also Cardinal Müller remarks here.]

I would add that, in terms of content, the difficulties included in the letter were mentioned on Monday evening in the Synod Hall, as I have previously said, although not covered extensively or in detail.

As we know, the General Secretary and the Pope responded clearly the following morning. Therefore, to provide this text and this list of signatories some days later constitutes a disruption that was not intended by the signatories (at least by the most authoritative). Therefore it would be inappropriate to allow it to have any influence.

That observations can be made regarding the methodology of the Synod is neither new nor surprising. However, once agreed upon, a commitment is made to put it into practice in the best way possible.

This is what is taking place. There is very extensive collaboration in the task of allowing the Synod to make good progress on its path. It may be observed that some of the “signatories” are elected Moderators of the Circuli Minori, and have been working intensively. The overall climate of the Assembly is without doubt positive.

Cardinal Napier has expressly asked me to clarify the comments published in an interview with “Crux”, which do not correspond to his opinion. With regard to the composition of the “Commission of the 10” for the final text, it was incorrectly written that “… Napier said, adding that he would actually challenge ‘Pope Francis’ right to choose that’”. Cardinal Napier has requested that this be corrected, affirming the exact opposite: “… no-one challenges Pope Francis’ right to choose that”. [Crux has responded by publishing a transcript of his remarks — see (3)]

I have no further observations to make.

(2) Statement today by Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico.

Several articles in the press have included my name in a list of signatories in a letter addressed to the Holy Father, Pope Francis. I would like to clarify that I never signed the alleged letter with the attributed content that some mention. At the same time I recognize that the appropriate place of discussion is with other Synod Fathers and under the guidance of the Pope who is our guarantor of unity in the Church and who has my utmost respect and loyalty.

(3) Response appended today by Crux to its original story, in response to the statement by Cardinal Napier via Fr Lombardi (above).

In a version of this story published Monday, Crux quoted Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier as challenging Pope Francis’ right to appoint members of a drafting committee for the synod’s final document. On Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman issued a denial on Napier’s behalf, saying that “no one challenges the pope’s right to choose.”

Here is the full transcript of that section of Napier’s recorded interview, which took place Monday afternoon outside the synod hall. Crux had asked him whether he signed a letter raising concerns about some aspects of the synod process, and whether he knew of other such letters.

“I only know of one that was expressing concerns about some of the things. One of the concerns was, and this I really would share, is the choice of the people that are drawing up the document, challenging Pope Francis’ right to choose them. If we’re going to get a fair expression of what the synod is about, what the Church in Africa really would like to see happening, we wouldn’t like to see the same kind of people on that committee that were there the last time, that caused us the grief that we had.”

Since it is unclear whether the concern Napier said he shared with others was simply the choice of the synod committee members or also the pope’s right to choose them, Crux has removed the quote from the story.

(4) Comments by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York

In an interview with Sirius XM, reported at America magazine, Cardinal Dolan gives important background on the letter.

He said that when he arrived in Rome for the synod, “there were a number of bishops, one of whom was Cardinal George Pell, whom I respect very much, and we were chatting about a couple of concerns that we had.” He added: “George said…why don’t we get together –  we love the Holy Father, we trust him, he’s urged us to be honest with him as possible – why don’t we write [to] him that we’re worried. We’re worried, first of all about the “Instrumentum Laboris” which has a lot of good things, but we’re kind of worried if that’s the only document that we’re going to be talking about at the synod. Secondly, we’re a little worried about the process: there seems to be some confusion. And, thirdly, we’re a little worried if we could have a say in the people who are going to be on the final drafting committee.”

Dolan adds: “Cardinal Pell, in his good shrewd way, said: ‘Am I correct in summing up some of the concerns?’ And some of us, myself included, said ‘that seems good enough to me, if you have a letter to the pope count me in.’ And sure enough I signed it.”

“The letter wasn’t in English, it was in Italian,” said Dolan, and was written “even before the synod began.” On “the day after it went in, the Holy Father, very sensibly, at the beginning of the next day [Oct. 6], he didn’t refer to the letter but he said, hey everybody, I’ve heard from some of you that you’ve got some concerns.” And then “he (the Holy Father) listed the exact concerns that I’ve just mentioned… and he said, ‘let me try to respond to that.’”

“I said, here you go, Holy Father, you told us to be honest and we were. You’ve answered right to these [concerns]. I’m grateful you paid attention. So let’s get on with the work.”

(5) Comments by Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan

In an interview with the French Catholic channel KTOTV, Cardinal Scola says: “I never at all signed that letter”, adding that his brother cardinals had every right to write privately to the Pope, “but I wasn’t among the group”.

(6) Comments by Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, Archbishop of Caracas

Cardinal Urosa told the National Catholic Register it was a “private letter” and “written with great respect, as you can see in the text.” It was sent to the Holy Father “in a spirit of trust and loyalty,” to express our “concern about a few things that we thought should be improved concerning the synod.”

It wasn’t meant to made public, nor did the signatories want to make “any trouble or scandal,” the cardinal said. “That’s not our method. We are men of the Church, we stand by the Holy Father, we chose him, and we don’t want to create any problem at all for the synod.”

Cardinal Urosa said it “wasn’t right” to leak it, but he said “many cardinals” had copies of the letter, and so it would be easy for someone to give it to the public, even though it was confidential.

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