A new book, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?: An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, will shed much light on allegations that the Extraordinary Synod, held in Rome last October, was subject to manipulation. The book has been written by highly respected Vatican journalist Edward Pentin and carries the endorsement of Wilfrid Fox Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban. Cardinal Napier is one of the fifteen members of the permanent council of cardinals and bishops overseeing the Synod of Bishops, he attended the Extraordinary Synod and was a member of the committee that drafted the final relatio synodi of that Synod.
In this brief review we would like to draw attention to a few of the key examples of the manipulation that is alleged to have taken place at the Extraordinary Synod. We encourage readers to consult the book itself to make themselves aware of the full extent of the concerns raised and of the serious questions that now need to be asked in light of the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family. Voice of the Family has already drawn attention to the instrumentum laboris of that Synod, which, our analysis asserts, “threatens the entire structure of Catholic teaching on marriage, the family and human sexuality.”
Cardinal Napier told Edward Pentin that a few months before the Extraordinary Synod an official at the Synod Secretariat had come to see him to share serious concerns. The official told Napier that he was “very disturbed” by what he had witnessed and commented that “this thing is being manipulated, it’s being engineered. [They] want a certain result.”
The Synod Secretariat is managed by the General Secretary of the Synod, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri (pictured above). The organisation of the both Synods on the Family has been the responsibility of Cardinal Baldisseri, though the cardinal has stressed the close involvement of Pope Francis at every stage of the process. In an interview given in January 2015 he said:
“Pay attention, as this is something one really should know. The pope is the president of the synod of bishops. I am the secretary general, but I don’t have anyone else above me, such as a prefect of a congregation or a president of a council. I don’t have anyone else above me, only the pope. The pope presided over all of the council meetings of the secretariat. He presides. I am the secretary. And so the documents were all seen and approved by the pope, with the approval of his presence. Even the documents during the synod, such as the Relatio ante disceptationem, the Relatio post disceptationem, and the Relatio synodi were seen by him before they were published.”
Cardinal Baldisseri was publicly implicated in the manipulation of the synod on September 20 2014, in accusations made by Vaticanist Marco Tossati in La Stampa, which alleged that a cardinal had been heard explaining how he would manipulate the synod fathers. Pentin’s book identifies that cardinal as Baldisseri.
The manipulation seems already to have been well advanced by this date. Pentin recounts that some months before the Extraordinary Synod the Synod Secretariat had contacted the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, known for its fidelity to Catholic moral teaching, to recommend experts to participate in the Synod. The Secretariat had made the same request to certain institutes of the Roman Curia. In the event none of the experts recommended by these institutes was invited participate in the Synod. A high-level Vatican source has stated that the opinion of these institutes was sought in order that the Secretariat could ensure that orthodox experts could be excluded from participating in the synod. It is also alleged that an official of the Synod Secretariat was told to go through a list of potential experts and exclude all those who were “conservative” and retain all those who were “progressive”.
The manipulation of the synod came to public attention following the release on 13th October 2014 of the interim relatio post disceptationem. This document, which purported to represent the contributions of the synod fathers, is alleged to have seriously misrepresented the views of the assembly. Cardinal Pell called it “tendentious, skewed” and said that “it didn’t represent accurately the feelings of the synod fathers”. Cardinal Napier alleges that the document contained opinions that were never expressed by any of the synod fathers. Pentin writes:
Cardinal Napier remembers a synod father saying he had put his name to the document, but it was not what he had written. “Others asked: How then could this be stated as coming from the synod when the synod hasn’t even discussed it yet?”
Another synod participant added his voice of concern, saying, “there are things said there about the synod saying this, that, and the other, but nobody ever said them. So that’s when it became plain that there was some engineering going on”, the South African cardinal recalled.
The document caused great controversy because it undermined Catholic teaching on key points of doctrine, including the indissolubility of marriage, cohabitation and homosexual unions. The manipulation surrounding the creation of this interim report is discussed at length in the book. More surprising, because previously unreported, is the manipulation involved in the drafting of the final report.
Pentin sheds light on other controversial events that took place during the synod, giving a detailed narrative of events surrounding the removal of a book co-authored by, among others, five Cardinals, from the mail boxes of the synod fathers in the synod hall. Pentin reports that Cardinal Baldisseri said that the sending of the books was not “opportune”. Many readers will ask: how could the mailing of books upholding Catholic teaching on the very point of doctrine under discussion not be considered “opportune”? Only, it would seem, if anything which would derail the previously laid plan for the synod was considered inopportune.
The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? provides a great deal of insight into the theological views of Cardinal Baldisseri. Pentin writes that:
“a sense of alarm was experienced among many holders of traditional Church doctrine and practice in May 2014, when, in an interview with Belgian Church newspaper Tertio, Cardinal Baldisseri said it was time to update the Church’s doctrine on marriage—for example, in connection with divorce and the situation of divorced persons and those who are in civil partnerships. ‘The Church is not timeless, she lives amid the vicissitudes of history, and the Gospel must be known and experienced by people today’, Cardinal Baldisseri said. ‘The message should be in the present, with all respect for the integrity of the one who receives that message. We now have two synods to treat this complex theme of the family, and I believe that these dynamics in two movements will allow a more adequate response to the expectations of the people.'”
In January Cardinal Baldisseri told a conference organised by Pontifical Council for the Family that “there’s no reason to be scandalized that there is a cardinal or a theologian saying something that’s different from the so-called ‘common doctrine'”. “This doesn’t imply a going against” he said, rather “it means reflecting, because dogma has its own evolution; that is a development, not a change.” He added: “Everything that we know today is a mystery, and since we are standing before a mystery and a mystery is not immediately known, we advance in our understanding. We need to keep this in mind. And so [Kasper’s proposal] should be welcomed as a contribution.” These comments were made in despite of the fact that Cardinal Kasper’s proposal directly contradicts the teaching of the Church as expressed most recently by John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio in 1981 and in official documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994 and 1998.
There is good reason to believe that Cardinal Baldisseri’s theological views have had a very great influence on the synodal texts. One of the most shocking passages in Pentin’s book is an account of Baldisseri’s attempts to alter the content of the pre-synod report, by placing pressure on Cardinal Erdö. These revelations alone would be enough to make the book one of the most important contributions in the lead-up to the next Synod.
Voice of the Family has drawn attention to the “many problematic texts on the subject of the natural law” in the instrumentum laboris of the Extraordinary Synod and the omission of any reference to natural law in the relatio synodi of that Synod. It would seem, in the light of information presented by Pentin in the book, that this may be another example of Cardinal Baldisseri’s damaging influence.
The Extraordinary Synod on the Family, under Cardinal Baldisseri’s leadership, produced documents that undermined Catholic teaching on a whole range of issues relating to human sexuality, marriage and the family. The instrumentum laboris of the Ordinary Synod extends the assault on Catholic doctrine to an even wider number of areas. The Synod Secretariat’s grave failures have real implications for real families, struggling as they are in a society ever more hostile to authentic moral principles and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Catholics at all levels of the Church should be extremely concerned both by Cardinal Baldisseri’s theological opinions and by the well-grounded accusations of manipulation contained in this book. It is difficult to see how Catholics can have any confidence in the synodal process while he remains General Secretary of the Synod.