Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. dismissed concerns that the Synod of Bishops is being manipulated with the goal of promoting changes in Church discipline that now bars civilly-divorced-and-remarried Catholics from receiving the Eucharist. He also saw little need for anxiety that the discussions about altering pastoral practices could undermine Church teaching on marriage and related matters.
In an Oct. 18 interview with America magazine, Cardinal Wuerl expressed puzzlement at the anxiety expressed by some Church leaders, as well as the more specific allegations asserting that the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops may have been "rigged."
"My read of the synod, apart from what other people are saying about it, is that what we have is a very real effort on the part of the Holy Father and of the synod structure to allow the bishops to come together and to speak very openly and very clearly about whatever they think needs to be said. And that should take place in the synod hall.
"Then the process – which is an improvement, at the request of the bishops, on what has been taking place over the years – the process of the synod is to allow the smaller groups much more time because that’s where the real debate takes place. And out of that comes the reflection on this report (‘relatio’ working document) by all of these bishops in the 13 small (language) groups.
"I don’t see that as being manipulated in any way. I don’t see how you can manipulate all of those groups and all of the people leading them; all of the 13 moderators and the 13 rapporteurs (‘relators’) of the groups were elected."
Cardinal Wuerl presented the writing committee of the synod as “a great step forward in terms of a widening participation of the bishops. There were not writing committees in the past, the general rapporteur (general relator) and the special secretary did all that (and both were always appointed by the pope). At the last synod in 2014, however, the Holy Father said this is not working very well because after the first interim report there was this great outcry that it wasn’t done well, so he enlarged it. And he has enlarged the writing committee even more for this synod.”
So why are some Synod Fathers worried? In an Oct. 15 column in The Wall Street Journal, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia summarized the primary focus of concern:
“The more some synod fathers claim that no doctrinal change is sought on matters of divorce and remarriage—only a change in 'discipline'—the more other synod fathers worry. And for good reason. Practice inevitably shapes belief.”
In his latest column for his flock, Archbishop Chaput spelled out his concerns in more detail:
"We need to pray that the synod will address these issues prudently, remembering two things: Truth without love is bitter and can drive the wounded away; and "love" without truth isn't love at all, but a comfortable form of lying.
"There can be no real mercy, since mercy is an expression of love, without first grounding it in the truth about God's will for humanity. His will includes marriage and the family. And the source for understanding his truth is God's own Word and the Church his Son founded not the mass media, and not even confused voices that should know better.
But as Cardinal Wuerl sees it, some bishops think “we shouldn’t be discussing any of this anyway. They were the ones at the last synod that were giving interviews, and denouncing and claiming there were intrigues and manipulation.”
Asked to explain the motives of those who have raised questions about the synodal process, Cardinal Wuerl suggested that some “just don’t like this pope. I wonder if that isn’t part of it.”
"Pope Francis is calling for a church that, to my mind, is much more in contact with the Gospel, with the living out of the Gospel. Not just the articulation of the Gospel, the voicing of the Gospel, the proclaiming of the Gospel, but the personal living of it, and that seems to be what is the most attractive part of this pope, why so many people find him inviting, who so many people follow him, why so many people are coming back to the practice of the faith. And for reasons known only to them, there are some who find this somewhat threatening."
He was asked to predict how the Synod will likely address “three controversial questions: whether the divorced and remarried can be allowed to Communion, what approach the Church will take to homosexuality and homosexuals, and how the Church looks at cohabitation and cohabiting couples.”
In response, he said it was not yet clear whether the ongoing dialogue on these issues—or perhaps even some kind of concrete resolution—“will be clearly reflected in the synod’s final document I can’t say, because one never knows what type of momentum building up under this proclamation that this is a rigged event, that this is being manipulated. But, in the long run, I think the voice of the Church’s openness to people in difficulty, and the Church’s caring embrace of people who are having difficulty in living up to the fullness of the Gospel will win out, it just may not make it into the final document of this synod.”