Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, has just issued a statement saying there is ‘no possibility’ that the ‘minority’ of Synod Fathers who favour allowing divorced and remarried people to receive Communion will get their way at the chaotic Synod on the Family.
His spokesman said: ‘There is strong agreement in the Synod on most points but obviously there is some disagreement because minority elements want to change the Church’s teachings on the proper dispositions necessary for the reception of communion.
‘Obviously there is no possibility of change on this doctrine.’
The cardinal confirmed the existence (but not the accuracy) of a letter to Pope Francis, leaked today, reportedly signed by himself and very senior cardinals. In the text as published by the controversial conservative journalist Sandro Magister, the cardinals suggest that the synod rules have been altered to take power away from the Synod Fathers and hand it to the commission drafting the final report.
They also allegedly warn Francis that bending the rules on the reception of Holy Communion could lead to the sort of factional collapse that has all but destroyed some Protestant denominations.
But is Magister reliable? Four of the 13 cardinals said to have signed the letter today denied that they did so, though without elaboration and in some cases after a mysterious delay.
Here is what Cardinal Pell’s spokesman says on the matter:
‘A private letter should remain private but it seems that there are errors in both the content and the list of signatories.
‘The Cardinal is aware that concerns remain among many of the Synod Fathers about the composition of the drafting committee of the final relatio and about the process by which it will be presented to the Synod fathers and voted upon.’
Meanwhile, Cardinal Napier of Durban this afternoon confirmed that he signed a letter to the Pope – but also disputes its contents as reported by Magister.
Napier, speaking to Crux, said he signed a letter ‘specifically about the 10-member commission preparing the final document’ – i.e., addressing the conservatives’ concern that the commission, which includes Cardinal Baldisseri and Archbishop Forte, architects of last year’s fiasco, will not accurately reflect the discussions of the Synod Fathers.
The Crux interview shows that Cardinal Napier has grave doubts about this synod. He’s worried about the ‘uncertainty’ surrounding the ‘shaping’ of the document – and, in a devastating off-the-cuff comment, says ‘at this stage, it’s too hard to tell’ whether the final result has already been determined.
In other words, Napier fears that the synod has been rigged – for how else can you describe ‘determining the result’ of a report long before the synod discussions are over?
This has been a day of embarrassing chaos at the Vatican. But, at the end of it, Pope Francis is still facing a crisis. Cardinal Napier and Cardinal Robert Sarah, the two most influential African cardinals, apparently do not trust the workings of the synod. Sarah, who is now Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has not denied signing the Magister letter.
Nor has Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who occupies the even more senior position of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and by no means a hardline conservative like his fellow American Cardinal Raymond Burke, has also failed to deny that he signed it. Instead, he issued a statement today arguing that it is ‘faithful’ Catholics who obey the rules governing sexual behaviour who feel that they have become the minority in the Church.
Pope Francis, having allowed his officials to stack the cards against the conservative majority in the synod, now finds the cards stacked against him. The growing suspicion that the outcome of the proceedings has been predetermined has drawn together a coalition of orthodox Catholics who disagree on questions of liturgy and politics. If Francis ignores their wishes, as he has the power to do so next year when he responds to the synod, a Catholic civil war will begin in earnest.