Is the Synod Secretariat Stacking the Deck Again?

The Vatican today announced that the vice president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for the Study of Marriage and the Family will be a consulter to the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops.

Professor José Granados' appointment, alongside eleven other consulters, means he will be taking part in the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in October. This is significant because at last October’s synod no faculty member from the John Paul II Institute was represented (although some previous institute presidents did attend, including its founding president, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra).

The synod was criticized for ignoring John Paul II’s teachings on marriage and the family, particularly his 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio. 

Today's appointment will therefore be welcomed, but could it also be an effort to appease critics? It’s easy to be skeptical and perhaps see conspiracy when there is none. But given what happened last year, it’s perhaps not unwise to view these developments with some suspicion.

For instance, news of Professor Granados' appointment was published on Saturday, with his name listed at the bottom. Was this to avoid drawing too much attention? Possibly.

But more substantially, when one examines the theological backgrounds of the 11 other appointees, a case could be made that the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops is stacking the deck in favor of certain positions.

For example, Salesian Father Aimable Musoni, professor of systematic ecclesiology and ecumenism at the Pontifical Salesian University, wrote a book in 2007 entitled Identità e storicità nella Chiesa. Father Musoni’s director for the book was Cardinal Walter Kasper, who also wrote its preface.

Professor Maurizio Gronchi’s “progressive” leanings are well known. A consulter at the last synod who teaches dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, he penned a long article for L’Osservatore Romano in December 2013 that aimed to rehabilitate the thinking of the French Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. 

Although de Chardin’s writings have become more accepted in recent years, the Vatican has never lifted a 1962 monitum (reprimand) which deemed his works “replete with ambiguities, or rather with serious errors, which offend Catholic doctrine”.

Another appointee, Professor Michele Giulio Masciarelli, is a professor or fundamental theology at the Abruzzese-Molisano Institute of Fundamental Theology in the archdiocese of Chieti-Vasto. Although his theological leanings are not immediately clear, he belongs to the same archdiocese headed by Archbishop Bruno Forte, a key figure behind the last synod’s controversial interim report. Professor Masciarelli and Archbishop Forte have taken part in several book presentations together.

Jesuit Professor Georges Ruyssen, a canon law expert at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and also a consulter at last year’s synod, once floated the idea of Eucharistic sharing between a Catholic and a member of a Reformed denomination within a mixed marriage.

Professor Giuseppe Bonfrate, who teaches theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, gave this interview around the time of last year’s synod in which he speaks of a “need of feeling with the faith, which puts the imagination and emotion in play. You have to start with this,” he said. “Everything, then, in the Christian experience, is proclaimed and celebrated by having a graduality, introducing a path that remains open until the end.”

Also a consulter for this year’s synod is Professor François-Xavier Dumortier, rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University who gave this interview to the National Catholic Reporter in August 2013.

None of this is meant as a criticism of these professors, but rather to show that their views and leanings do seem to indicate a bias in a certain direction, and therefore one favored by the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. If so, is this not contrary to the Holy Father’s wish for a free, open – and one imagines fair – debate?

A final observation: for a synod that will largely focus on moral issues, consulters who are experts in moral theology or moral philosophy are, so far at least, strangely absent. 

Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.

Supreme Court, JPII Institute (Aug. 10)

The Supreme Court may take up a significant religious freedom question next term on whether a city or state can require religious adoption services to place children with same-sex couples despite their faith-based objections. This week on Register Radio we talk to Register Senior Editor Joan Frawley Desmond about foster care, religious liberty and the courts. We also discuss with Joan the ongoing crisis at the John Paul II Institute in Rome — is the Catholic identity of the iconic school in danger?