Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, published by Ignatius Press. Follow him on Twitter @edwardpentin
Reports have emerged that a seven-page dossier, obtained by the German newspaper Die Zeit, is circulating around the curia in which senior Vatican officials have voiced discontent with the recent change in Church law on annulments, and an absence of consultation over the matter.
On Tuesday, the Pope made sweeping reforms to make the process of obtaining a declaration of nullity simpler, quicker and cheaper.
According to Die Zeit, the officials juridically “picked apart” the Pope’s motu proprio (papal decree) on annulment reform, accuse the Holy Father of giving up an important dogma, and assert that he has introduced de facto “Catholic divorce”.
Further concerns mentioned in the document are that, despite the gravity of the issue, no dicasteries, including apparently the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as bishops conferences, were consulted about the decision — a claim the Register has had confirmed by numerous sources. The dossier says usual legislative channels have been "undermined" as "none of the planned steps of a legislative procedure have been followed."
Critics say this goes against the Pope's calls for synodality and collegiality, and resembles an ecclesialized "Führerprinzip", ruling from the top down, by decree and without any consultation or any checks.
Instead, the papal commission that drafted the motu proprio had been ordered to keep silent throughout the drafting process, probably to avoid the reforms being thwarted by the CDF and others in the curia. But the report also alleges that even the commission did not see the final draft, and that an Italian cardinal along with two others "fiercely" tried to prevent the motu proprio being published before the synod but without success.
The Register has learned via other sources that this decision and others are effectively isolating the CDF and that the Pope is steadily making their work superfluous.
The report also voices concern that the motu proprio will lead to a flood of annulments and that from now on, couples would be able to simply exit their Catholic marriage without a problem.
“A number of monsignors who are officially in charge of directing the affairs of the Church at large, are beside themselves" and feel obligated to "speak up", according to Die Zeit. They are also concerned about the "extremely vague" language used in the motu proprio, especially the reasons for a speedy trial, such as “lack of faith” or other motives that are not clearly defined.
Although the need to streamline the annulments process gained a two-thirds consensus at last year’s synod, the report also points out that synod fathers loudly protested against the idea of a speedy process for determining the nullity of a marriage under the supervision of the local bishop. Now it is Church law, even before the synod could discuss it.
We hope to look into these claims in more detail in the near future.
Meanwhile, in a fresh interview, Cardinal Walter Kasper has returned to pushing forward his proposal for readmitting Catholics to Holy Communion, saying he is “confident” that a “broad consensus” can be found.
He also said in the Sept. 11 interview with Vatican Insider that it’s “necessary to wisely build” such a consensus over the proposal.
The cardinal’s comments come a few days after many felt Pope Francis’ annulment reform upended the Kasper proposal by offering a compromise to both sides.
Kasper’s remarks, however, show his determination to reassert his proposal which consists of allowing civilly remarried divorcees receive Holy Communion after a penitential period. It also proposes that readmittance can take place after “an honest judgment of the person concerned about his own personal situation” and support from the sacramental confessor. The process would be overseen by the local bishop.
Widely supported by the German hierarchy, the proposal has been firmly rejected by prominent theologians and Church leaders as a serious abuse of the sacraments of the Eucharist, marriage and penance. It also failed to reach a two-thirds majority at the previous synod in October, although the Pope insisted it remain in the list of propositions to be discussed for the forthcoming synod next month.
Cardinal Kasper’s comments come as tensions rise ahead of the Ordinary Synod on the Family in October. Yesterday, it emerged that 50 concerned theologians have appealed to Pope Francis to uphold the teachings of Humanae Vitae (Bl. Paul VI’s encyclical banning contraception) and Veritatis Splendor (Pope St. John Paul II’s 1993 encyclical underlining the Church’s moral teaching).
The signatories, who include Jesuit Father Kevin Flannery, professor of moral philosophy professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University, and philosophy Professor Robert Spaemann, a close ally of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, argue that a specific paragraph in the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) for the synod is gravely flawed, effectively emptying Humanae Vitae of its central teaching.
Update 12 Sept: Some additions to the text and improvements to the translation have since been inserted in this post.