Secret preparations for upcoming Synod on Family

July 10, 2015
Source: District of the USA

Some details from the two closed-door conferences held in preparation for October's Synod on the Family.

The lead article in the new issue of DICI no. 318, concerns the secretive preparations that have been held for the second Synod on the Family that will be held this October.

DICI's title cleverly contrasts the title of the book on Vatican II, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber (which describes the influence of the liberal German episcopacy during the Council) with Lake Volta in Ghana, Africa, where the African bishops are opposing the German bishops on the Synod's continuing topic of marriage and the family.


Synod on the Family: The Rhine will not flow into Lake Volta

In preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family (October 4-25, 2015), two meetings were held, one in Rome on May 25, the other in Akra, Ghana, from June 8 to 11. They were very different.

The “Day of Reflection” behind closed doors at the Gregorian

This closed-door meeting was reported on May 22 by the Vaticanist of Le Figaro, Jean-Marie Guenois:

The initiative remained very discreet, that is, secret, but it has importance. According to our sources, three episcopates—German, Swiss and French—joined forces to organize behind closed doors, on Monday, May 25, in Rome, on the premises of the Jesuit Gregorian University, a day of studies focusing on the acceptance of divorced-and-remarried and homosexual persons in the Church. Several renowned German theologians will speak at this event to a select public of only 50 persons. The concluding conference will be given by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the German Bishops’ Conference. Together with Cardinal Walter Kasper, this heavyweight prelate—a member of the C9, the council formed by the pope—is actively working for a policy of openness of the Catholic Church on these issues.

Bishop Jean-Luc Brunin, of the Diocese of Le Havre, President of the Council for Family and Society of the Bishops’ Conference of France, will introduce this meeting; the written invitation to it, dated April 27, was signed by the three presidents of the bishops’ conferences—including Archbishop Georges Pontier for France—together with the logos of the three conferences. But curiously, only a handful of French bishops was informed about this initiative. It appears on no official agenda: neither on the websites of the three bishops’ conference, nor on that of the Gregorian University—which finally, with embarrassment, confirmed to Le Figaro that the meeting was being held. Finally, at the Vatican, only a few personages received the invitation.”

On May 26, the day after the meeting, the French newspaper La Croix tried to reassure its readers about this strange discretion:

Held at the Gregorian, the Jesuit University in Rome, the closed-door meeting is defended as a basis for a ‘progressive strategy’ at the approach of another Synod, which promises to be difficult. Its objective was, in advance of this important rendezvous, to determine how to join [articuler] pastoral practice and fidelity with regard to complex marital and familial situations that the Church encounters on the ground: stable second unions, homosexual unions that are likewise stable and faithful, or even fruitful extra-marital unions…. One participant summed it up as follows: ‘The words spoken most often were mercy, welcome, forgiveness, accompaniment, gradualness, divine pedagogy. The words rejected were rules, formalism, rigorism.’”

In spite of everything La Croix has to acknowledge: “We cannot get to the end of this second Synod while repeating what the Church has always said,” as one of the invited priests warned, Fr. Francois-Xavier Amherdt, professor of pastoral theology in Fribourg, who was cited by AFP, which reports that the participants want “things to start moving”.

In the May 26 issue of the National Catholic Register, Vaticanist Edward Pentin notes the presence at that meeting of Fr. Eberhard Schockenhoff, a moral theologian:

Faithful German Catholics” regard him as

the ‘mastermind’ behind much of the challenge to settled Church teachings among the German episcopate and, by implication, at the synod on the family itself. A prominent critic of Humanae Vitae, as well as a strong supporter of homosexual clergy and those pushing for reform in the area of sexual ethics, Fr. Schockenhoff is known to be the leading adviser of the German bishops in the run-up to the synod. In 2010, he gave an interview in which he praised the permanence and solidarity shown in some same-sex relationships as ‘ethically valuable’. He urged that any assessment of homosexual acts ‘must take a back seat’ on the grounds that the faithful are becoming ‘increasingly distant from the Church’s sexual morality’, which appears ‘unrealistic and hostile to them’. The pope and the bishops should ‘take this seriously and not dismiss it as laxity’, he said. Fr. Schockenhoff has also gone on record saying that moral theology must be ‘liberated from the natural law’ and that conscience should be based on the ‘life experience of the faithful’. He has also insisted that the indissolubility of marriage is ‘not seriously called into question’ [sic] by admitting remarried divorcees to Holy Communion….”

At the website ACI Stampa, on May 27, the Italian journalist Andrea Gagliarducci reveals how the conciliabulum [little council] at the Gregorian played out.

The meeting was strictly behind closed doors, even though some journalists were allowed to enter, provided that they report the things said without mentioning anyone by name. And the final observations were made by Cardinal Reinhard Marx, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, and one of those who, more than anyone else, fought at the last Synod for a substantial aggiornamento of the doctrine about divorced-and-remarried persons and of pastoral care of homosexuals, taking as his slogan: ‘the Church’s language is not a language of exclusion.’…

Rather than a search for a strategy for the next Synod, the meeting seems instead to have been an opinion poll to find out how many could agree on positions of total openness in terms of pastoral ministry to the family. A foretaste of what could be the next Synod of Bishops, with a group of individuals ready to act behind the scenes to try to shift public opinion, and to pit it against the conclusions of the assembly, should it happen that they did not respect a certain common mindset….

The general tenor of the discussion was to adapt pastoral practice to the signs of the times, one of the participants told ACI Stampa. But the utmost secrecy was preserved as to the contents of the discussion. Another participant, who did not want his name mentioned, emphasized that ‘unfortunately it is forbidden by the organizers to give interviews on the subject of the conference.’”

Nevertheless the biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier granted a short interview to the French news agency I.Media, in which she said:

Everyone here takes a stance of fidelity to Christ. Each of us thinks that he has performed an act of ecclesial obedience to the Gospel. What strikes me is that we took the risk of novelty. If the Gospel is Christ, we are necessarily drawn into a problem of what is unheard-of, what is new, whereby in order to remain faithful to tradition it is necessary to say things differently. This is about true fidelity to tradition and obviously it is more costly than thinking about tradition as the repetition of one and the same thing.[—No comment.]

In the May 27 issue of the Nuova Bussola, in an article entitled “The Sexual Revolution in the Gregorian Lecture Hall”, Lorenzo Bertocchi writes that during that meeting the talk focused “mainly on homosexual unions. Because the Irish referendum made it so opportune. And, in fact, a very anonymous ‘German priest and theologian’ reportedly said that ‘the question is not a Synod topic, but in any case it is a cultural matter. If there is a very strong relationship between two persons of the same sex, leading to a formal recognition, then the Church is obliged to recognize it too.’ Just don’t call it marriage.

One ‘professor’, on the other hand, allegedly presented a very personal idea of marital fidelity. ‘As life gets longer,’ the only Italian media representative to be admitted reports (La Repubblica, Editor’s note), ‘the frontier of fidelity also shifts. But the Church’s discipline is not immovable, not by far. After a failure, or abandonment, one can commit oneself to a new life with another person. These problems come to us also from persons who are involved in the Magisterium, and not just from the lay faithful.’ (Applause from the hall.)

The question, as everyone knows, revolves around an interpretation of the development of dogma that goes beyond homogeneity and tends toward transformation. A ‘German bishop’ asserted that ‘dogmatic theologians say that Church teaching is fixed. On the contrary, there is a development. And we need a development of sexuality.’ The problem is precisely determining where we want to end up with this ‘development’, as Cardinal Muller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has repeated over and over again. In this regard, the words of Anne-Marie Pelletier to Vatican Insider are significant. The French biblical scholar, who attended the meeting, declared that ‘if, at the end of the Synod, the Church continues to affirm what she has always said, it would be a failure.’

But let us return to the Gregorian lecture hall, where Freud and Fromm are cited at length, among other gurus of the sexual revolution, and some theologians make arguments that are anything but subtle. ‘The absence of sexuality’, one of the speakers said, ‘can be compared to hunger, thirst… (etc., usque ad nauseam, Editor’s note).’

The discussion then turned to the way in which a ‘development’ of dogma can come about, because we cannot lose contact with the people. Basically, everything is summed up in a question posed by a ‘priest and professor’, a dilemma that shook the tables at which the participants were seated. ‘What can we say to young people who no longer find themselves in the Church’s guidelines? How can we implement a practice of eros [The name of the Greek god of love—Cupid’s counterpart—from whence the word erotic is derived—Ed.]? Here, we are confronted with problems that we have to deal with, otherwise people will end up going away.’”

On May 29, on his blog Chiesa, the Italian Vaticanist Sandro Magister posted a commentary on this “very discreet meeting”:

The episcopate of Germany is the most advanced and combative point of this reformist front. Its last official pronouncement—released in multiple languages in early May—was the response to the questionnaire sent out from Rome in view of the next session of the synod. From which it can be gathered that in Germany they are already putting widely into practice that which the magisterium of the Church forbids and the synod has yet to discuss. And this means communion for the divorced and remarried, the admission of second marriages, the approval of homosexual unions.”

The meeting of the African bishops in Ghana

The meeting, organized by the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), had as its theme: “The Family in Africa: What experiences and what contributions for the XIV Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops?” It was not entitled to the same media coverage as the May 25 study day at the Gregorian.

On June 15, on his blog Chiesa, Sandro Magister describes it as follows:

There were 5 cardinals and 45 bishops from as many African countries who met in Accra, the capital of Ghana, from June 8-11. All in the clear light of day, not almost in secret like some of their colleagues from Germany, France, and Switzerland, who had gathered a few days before at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

But while at the Gregorian the objective was changing the Church’s stance on divorce and homosexuality, in Accra the push was in the other direction.

The marching route was indicated from the very first remarks by Guinean cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the congregation for divine worship: ‘not to be afraid of reiterating the teaching of Christ on marriage’; ‘to speak at the synod with clarity and with just one voice, in filial love of the Church’; ‘to protect the family from all the ideologies that want to destroy it, and therefore also from the national and international policies that impede the promotion of positive values’. On this marching route there was complete consensus….

In addition to Sarah, the other African cardinals present were Christian Tumi of Cameroon, John Njue of Kenya, Polycarp Pengo of Tanzania, and Berhaneyesus D. Souraphiel of Ethiopia, the last-mentioned created by Pope Francis at the last consistory….

To respond to the question in the title, on the first day the participants held a discussion on the basis of four thematic introductions, splitting up afterward into working groups, and on the following day on the basis of five more outlines of discussion. One of these [schemas], entitled ‘The expectations of the Synod’, was read to those present by the theologian and anthropologist Edouard Ade, secretary general of the Catholic University of Western Africa, with campuses in Cotonou, Benin and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.”

Here are some excerpts from the report by Fr. Ade that respond directly to the progressive proposals of the European bishops:

  • The illusions of pseudo-openness:

The Synod Fathers have to be perfectly clear about the illusions of pseudo-openness to the world. If we are to believe the media, one country that seems to be taking the lead in opening Catholic doctrine to the requirements of the modern world is Germany. But if we compare the statistics on religious practices that come to us from this country, they reveal a grand illusion: the Protestant communities that already bless homosexual unions and accept divorce, abortion and euthanasia have only 3.5% practicing, as opposed to 10.8% of the Catholics. It is therefore false to say that being more open to the world will increase the number of practicing Catholics. On the contrary, such an opening would dilute Church teaching with the spirit of the world and deprive the Church of the tremendous opportunity that she has to present to young people absolute values, which, for lack of anything better, they will go searching for in extremist groups, jihadist groups, terrorist groups, etc. For, more than we may think, the upcoming generation seeks meaning and lofty spiritual values. It is tired of the consumerist culture imposed on it by globalization, and without saying so it expects to see a Church firmly rooted in Jesus Christ that will have the courage to propose high moral values and to present holiness as a path accessible to all.”

  • The need to apply to the Synod the rules for the discernment of spirits:

The Church meeting in Synod must not pursue her purpose obliquely. This march toward the goal requires straightforward thought and purity of intention, as Baldwin of Forde [a 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury] teaches. Indeed, it often happens that ‘some things may take on the appearance of genuine virtues, or else of vices, and deceive the eyes of the heart. By their own seductive powers they may trouble the sight of our intellect to the point of causing it sometimes to mistake realities that are in fact bad for good ones, and conversely causing it to discern evil where, in fact, there is none. This is one aspect of our misery and ignorance, which we must frequently deplore and greatly fear.’ This is why St. John the Apostle recommends that we test the spirits to see whether they really come from God. Thanks to this sense of discernment, the Synod Fathers must remain vigilant about the strategy of the Enemy of the human race who, like a roaring lion, prowls about, seeking someone to devour. Indeed, he is making his rounds in the Church to find a weak point at which to rush in. We are urged to resist him in faith (cf. 1 Pet 5:8-9).”

  • Spotting artificial oppositions:

One of his main maneuvers (i.e., of the Enemy of the human race) is to get plenty of publicity by artificially creating oppositions: we will hear the media talk a lot about ‘conservatives’ and ‘reformers’, about those who favor an ‘elitist’ doctrine and those who favor ‘relativistic pastoral practice’. Between these artificial oppositions, taken to extremes, it will create intermediate positions, seeking to propose emotionally appealing positions with ‘minimal adjustments’. But in fact, as geometry teaches us, the smallest deviation at the point of departure becomes a large deviation at the point of arrival. Therefore the strategy here will be to find the smallest ‘opening’ that will be able to satisfy all the parties during the Synod. But the hermeneutic of this ‘little concession’—think here about the particular cases for which some individuals whose orthodoxy cannot be doubted are calling for merciful attention—could lead tomorrow to major doctrinal divergences. Perhaps we need to explain to the media that the Synod Fathers are not going to a competition in Rome with the hope of bringing back trophies to their local Churches. There is only one victory to be expected: that of the spirit of the Gospel over the spirit of the world.”

  • Denounce risky pastoral experiments:

Some pastors, without authorization from the Holy See, have already introduced practices contrary to the common discipline and want to see the Synod ratify these practices. Such pastoral attitudes must be denounced with the utmost severity.”

  • Need for great vigilance:

The method utilized by the Prince of this world to try to destabilize the Church is the ‘Trojan horse’ method. And here are the ‘Trojans’ that he might deploy over the course of the Synod assembly:

 

  1. "Inventing a ‘new language’ for non-negotiable truths: this request to find a new language is certainly present in the Relatio Synodi and in all the debates that have been conducted since the conclusion of the Extraordinary Assembly in October 2014. It is true that the new evangelization and the effort to inculturate the faith in the modern world call for a form of communication that speaks to contemporaries, somewhat like the way in which Jesus in his time used parables to make himself understood by his listeners. But as the Gospel shows us, these same parables were not understood by everyone, even by the disciples who lived a common life with Jesus. He had to explain to them in particular the meaning of the parables. Do we have the right to conceal this work of explanation? Is it really the word that upsets our contemporaries or the reality to which the word refers?...
  2. "Talk about values. In the Relatio Synodi there was also a lot of discussion about positive values to be found in ‘divorced-and-remarried persons’ and in ‘homosexual unions’, etc. There is good reason here to follow steadfastly the school of St. Thomas Aquinas and to make a distinction between affirming some ‘good’ in the sinner and affirming some ‘good’ in his sinful situation. Otherwise we would have to say also that polygamy between baptized persons is a value, because that is indeed what we are talking about in the case of those who have ‘separated and reengaged’ (i.e., divorced and ‘remarried’). To press the comparison even further: admitting that there are positive values in these unions that are contrary to the Gospel is to acknowledge also that there is some good in a group of terrorists, in a mafia or any other association of that sort, simply because the people who live in those networks are capable of unselfishness, solidarity, loyalty and many other values that we find in charitable associations.
  3. "The ‘idealization’ of Gospel requirements: this is an expression that often recurs in ongoing discussion about the Christian family and Catholic marriage with its indissolubility, its unicity, its requirements of fidelity and its openness to procreation. These are presented as ‘ideals’. Hidden behind this mode of presentation, in fact, is a great danger, because in this way keeping God’s commandments is presented as a lofty goal that is nevertheless unattainable by the common run of mortals. If that were the case, the Gospel would not be Good News for man but rather a burden that it would be useless to propose to him.
  4. "Ambiguities and equivocal statements: already in the Relatio Synodi but also in the debates that are being conducted today, there is a lot of slippery language in the formulations. Someone starts by saying something doctrinally indisputable and ends up with an unacceptable or ambiguous proposition. Thus we hear: We do not want ‘marriage for everyone’, but we advocate that the Church take into account the ‘lived values’ in other forms of stable, faithful union, etc.

 

Now St. Ignatius [of Loyola] warned us about such ideas: we must examine whether the good beginning leads to a good end, for the Enemy of the human race can craftily turn himself into an Angel of light. He suggests to the faithful soul thoughts that are in conformity with piety and ends up dragging it down into his own perverse ideas. This is why St. Ignatius advises us to know how to recognize the serpent by his tail.”

Comments: The document by Fr. Ade responds very pertinently to the heterodox proposals of Cardinals Walter Kasper and Reinhard Marx. It is to be hoped that as a further step Fr. Ade will apply the same critical discernment to certain conciliar documents which, by the admission of their authors, also contained semantic and doctrinal ambiguities that were destined to be exploited later in favor of an ever-increasing openness to the spirit of the world.

Adapting the title of the book by Fr. Ralph Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows into the Tiber (recent edition: TAN Books, 1991—NB: this was recently republished under the title: The Inside Story of Vatican II: A Firsthand Account of the Council's Inner Workings) one hopes that, being trained in the discernment of spirits and exercising a fair critical sense, the African bishops will prevent the Rhine from flowing into Lake Volta (Ghana) or, more exactly, that they will not allow corrupted doctrine and pastoral practice to pollute these mission countries, which should remind Europe next October of what they received from it, in the days when it was really missionary. For there is only one victory that we can hope for: “the victory of the spirit of the Gospel over the spirit of the world”.

(Sources: Figaro/Croix/NCr/Acistampa/IMedia/Nuova Bussola/chiesa/trad. J. Smits, benoitetmoi, Ch. de Pechpeyrou—DICI no. 318; 7-10-2015)