[From Austen Ivereigh in Rome] It is now clearer why Pope Francis unexpectedly intervened in the synod hall on Tuesday.
What was not shared with journalists — but tweeted yesterday by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, one of the Pope’s nominees — was that Francis told the synod not to give into what he called a ‘hermeneutic of conspiracy’: in other words, seeing everything as a plot.
Such a hermeneutic, Spadaro reports Francis as saying, was “sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful”. He asked the synod fathers to use instead the lens of discernment, “which helps us avoid seeing the devil in what are merely our own fears and obsessions”. The hermeneutic of spiritual discernment, he added, was “the only one capable of truly grasping the dynamics of the synod”.
The Pope’s remarks came in response to critiques of the changes made to the format of the synod. Gerard O’Connell reports that Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, complained at the end of the open session on Monday evening that the composition of the 10-man team tasked with redacting the final document was slanted or biased.
According to O’Connell, Pell proposed that it be expanded by other members elected by the synod assembly, because he fears that its current members were not sufficiently robust in holding to traditional church teaching.
In what appears to be a direct response to Pell and others who have been complaining that ‘liberals have stacked the deck’ — Pope Francis (according to Fr Spadaro’s tweets) warned against those who use the ‘defence of the faith’ as an excuse to defend what are merely their own ideas.
Pope Francis has continually stressed that Church doctrines are not up for discussion or at risk in the synod’s deliberations.
It is not clear who else the Pope might have had in mind.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the South African cardinal known for his more conservative positions, says in an interview that the format changes are alleviating those suspicions, describing what he calls “a much more perhaps open-handed approach to the synod”.
The contention that the synod is being ‘muzzled’ is not being borne out by facts. A number of synod fathers are freely blogging each day — the best by far is by the Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, here — while others are speaking to the press either in the daily briefings or in interviews. They can also choose, if they wish, to give their three-minute speeches to the press.
Many of the synod fathers are happily admitting that there are sharp divisions within the synod hall, and a certain jockeying in support of this or that position. Yesterday Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said this was to be expected, and was not a problem.
“I’ve never been at a church meeting where there aren’t groups that get together and lobby for a particular direction – and that’s going on, I assure you,” the archbishop told journalists. “That’s what happens when human beings get together. We shouldn’t be scandalized or surprised by that, as long as it’s done open and honestly and not in a way that tries to win than to arrive at the truth.”
He added: “We’re not here to win anything, we’re here to arrive at the truth that the Lord, through his Holy Spirit, is guiding the church towards,” he said.
Meanwhile, in an interview with John Allen at Crux, Archbishop Coleridge has said the synod is probably two-thirds/one-third against the so-called Kasper proposal for a general pathway back to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried.
However, if the decision were devolved onto local Churches to decide, it would be more like 50/50, he said. The archbishop also reckoned there was a strong — 70/30 — support for “less condemnatory” language about gays and divorcees.
Given the number of times this issue has been raised in the synod, it seems likely that the final document will contain a call for changes in this area.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, meanwhile seems to have toned down his earlier rhetoric hinting that the German Church could go its own way in the matter of remarried divorcees.
“We must try to remain together,” he said. “The Church is the only institution in the world that can reach unanimous agreement. Thank God we have the pope. We bishops do not have to decide. Church unity is not in danger. And once the pope has decided, we will abide by his decision.”