Note: This story is developing as many questions have arisen about the contents of the letter and the names of the cardinals who signed it. Treat it with much care.
First there was the 5 Cardinals Book and the 11 Cardinals Book, and now we have the 13 Cardinals Letter. Via Sandro Magister comes a letter that 13 cardinals sent to Pope Francis on the eve of the Synod, on 5 October. In it, they express their concerns and questions about the revised processes of the Synod.
The cardinals, among them Cardinal Eijk, claim that the Instrumentum laboris is flawed in parts and has an excessive influence on the discussions and the final document (if there is even going to be one). The fact that debate is limited to the small language groups and that there is no voting on propositions or the composition of the drafting committee of the reworked Instrumentum are also points of concern. The cardinals also say that anyone tasked with drafting anything should be elected, not appointed. The new procedures, they say, are not true to the spirit of the Synod and their reason for having been made remains unclear.
Their concern that the deliberations of the Synod on a pastoral topic will become dominated by the theological/doctrinal question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried has in part proven to be unwarranted. Many Synod fathers, not least from the west, have insisted that the Synod is about much more than that question. But as this issue continues to make headlines and dominate the reports and opinion pieces, the letter’s final paragraph remains interesting to read:
“If [the question of Communion for divorced and remarried faithful dominates the deliberations], this will inevitably raise even more fundamental issues about how the Church, going forward, should interpret and apply the Word of God, her doctrines and her disciplines to changes in culture. The collapse of liberal Protestant churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions.”
The letter has been signed by the following cardinals:
- Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna
- Thomas Cardinal Collins, archbishop of Toronto
- Timothy Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York
- Wim Cardinal Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht
- Péter Cardinal Erdö, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and relator general of the Synod
- Gerhard Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, archbishop of Durban and one of the presidents delegate of the Synod
- George Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy
- Mauro Cardinal Piacenza, Major Penitentiary
- Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
- Angelo Cardinal Scola, archbishop of Milan
- Jorge Cardinal Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas
- André Cardinal Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris and one of the presidents delegate of the Synod
Some have chosen to see this letter as an act of opposition to Pope Francis by overly orthodox prelate who don’t much like the Pope anyway, which, in my opinion is overly simplistic. While a number of the thirteen also contributed to the aforementioned 5 an 11 Cardinals Books and are know to be more conservative in theological and doctrinal matters, others (such as Cardinals Dolan, Collins and Vingt-Trois) are at least less vocally so. Their presence on the list of authors may reflect the more universal nature of the concerns.
These concerns over the Instrumentum laboris are hardly limited to these 13, judging by the commentary by, to name but one, Archbishop Mark Coleridge in his delightful blog posts from the Synod. Another prelate, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, hardly a mean old orthodox reactionary, has also said that the Instrumentum is flawed, but that its purpose is to be sacrificed.
The Synod is a venue of discussion, and that is exactly what we’re getting. Not only about the topic at hand, but also about the best ways of running these affairs. This is all the more prudent as rumours have begun to circulate that the Synod of Bishops will become an even more permanent and regular fixture of Church governance.
Edit: four of the alleged signatories of the letter, Cardinals Angelo Scola, André Vingt-Trois, Mauro Piacenza and Wilfrid Napier have now denied signing this letter. It remains to be seen what this means for the reliability of the letter and other cardinals on the list.