Ignatius Press and Its High-Profile Authors Still Inform Synod Debate

As the ordinary synod gets under way, a fresh batch of Ignatius titles are poised to inform the debate inside and outside the proceedings at the Vatican.

(photo: L'Osservatore Romano; below, Ignatius Press)

SAN FRANCISCO — In October 2014, on the eve of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family at the Vatican, Ignatius Press organized a fast-track printing job for a new title, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church.

The book featured essays by Cardinal Raymond Burke and four other cardinals who defend Church discipline that bars divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics from receiving Communion.

In order to get the book out in time for the start of the 2014 synod, the publishing house printed hundreds of copies in Rome and then sent them to the mailboxes of synod participants.

But Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the synod, claimed the books had arrived “irregularly” and ordered their removal. Few of the intended recipients received a copy in time.

Leaked to the press, Cardinal Baldisseri’s action sparked headlines and raised questions about whether the extraordinary synod, the first in a two-step process, would be as transparent and collegial as Pope Francis had promised.

Now, as the ordinary synod commences just a year later, a fresh batch of Ignatius titles are poised to inform the debate inside and outside the proceedings at the Vatican.

“The Ignatius Press books have been indispensable in creating the open conversation for which Pope Francis called in convening the two synods on the family,” George Weigel told the Register in an email message from Rome. “Their impact will be felt not only throughout the synod, but long afterwards.”

The new titles run the gamut, starting with God or Nothing, a book-length interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation Into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, an e-book by Edward Pentin, the Register’s Rome correspondent, examines claims that the 2014 synod was manipulated to favor changes in pastoral policies for Catholics with same-sex attraction or those who are divorced and civilly remarried.

“Pentin’s is probably the first breaking news e-book we have published,” Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius Press, told the Register.

Some of the publisher’s authors probe arguments calling for a relaxation of Church practices that affirm the indissolubility of marriage, and others present the biblical and historical foundations of Catholic teaching on marriage.

One of the most original works is Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction by moral theologian Janet Smith and Father Paul Check, who leads Courage, an international apostolate that serves Catholics with same-sex attraction who seek to follow Church teaching.


Elevating the Voice of Africa

Another volume is Christ’s New Homeland — Africa: Contribution to the Synod on the Family by African Pastors. Here, leading Catholic voices from the continent deal with a number of topics that will occupy the synod, including a whole section devoted to “Pastoral Care for Families That Are Hurting.”

The publication of two books by African cardinals and bishops marks a turning point for the Church in Africa. As influential German-speaking cardinals, bishops and theologians publicly endorse proposals to change pastoral practices that have secured the integrity of Church teaching on marriage, Church leaders in Africa have moved quickly to uphold orthodoxy.

“No one, not even the pope, can set pastoral ministry in opposition to doctrine,” Cardinal Sarah states in God or Nothing, which tackles an array of topics, including marriage, the family and evangelization.

“Cardinal Robert Sarah’s God or Nothing is the talk of the town — Rome — at the moment,” Weigel said.

Robert Royal, the editor of The Catholic Thing website and a commentator for EWTN at the synod, also singled out Cardinal Sarah’s book.

“Virtually everyone I know has been very impressed with it, so much so that many are already thinking he’s a prominent papabile at the next conclave,” Royal told the Register.


Tackling Tough Topics

Meanwhile, the publication of Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction reflects Ignatius Press’ readiness to present a sensitive examination of a topic that has occupied an outsized portion of media coverage of the synod.

Indeed, the synod fathers were reminded that the push to change Catholic teaching on homosexual relations is also coming from within the Church, when a priest who worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith announced on the eve of the synod that he was a homosexual, had a partner and wanted the Church to embrace his choices.

The Vatican press office quickly issued a response that rebuked the priest and made clear he would not be able to remain in his position.

The priest’s “coming out” coincided with an international conference that addressed the pastoral needs of men and women with same-sex attraction at the Pontifical Thomas Aquinas University in Rome. Headlined by Father Check of Courage, the conference also marked the publication of the book he co-authored with Janet Smith and the trove of fresh research it offers to Catholic leaders, pastors and individuals struggling with sexual-orientation issues.

“We thought it was important to put the spotlight on this right now,” Smith told the Register.

“Courage has been working on this for 30 years. We know a great deal more than we did, but many voices aren’t being heard, and many bishops don’t know what we know,” explained Smith.

The book looks at the lives of Courage members who are “chaste, celibate Catholics,” said Smith. “We show that the techniques of Courage have worked to help people achieve a fulfilling, happy life and develop good approaches based on sound information.”

They also discuss pastoral challenges posed by “two lesbians who want their child baptized or two men who want their child to go to a Catholic school.”

Sending a Clear Message

Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, the well-connected founder of Ignatius Press, noted that all of the authors of synod-related books brought their ideas and manuscripts to the San Francisco publisher — another indication that the synodal process has stirred concerns and anxiety in some quarters of the Church.

“When Pope Francis, wittingly or not, gave Cardinal Walter Kasper a platform in 2014, all of a sudden the synod took on a whole new coloration, and people became worried and wondered what would happen,” Father Fessio told the Register, in a reference to Cardinal Kasper’s address at a February 2014 consistory on the family.

During that widely cited speech, Cardinal Kasper, the retired president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, suggested that some divorced-and-remarried Catholics could be admitted to “the sacrament of penance and then of Communion.”

Months later, the German cardinal provoked another slew of headlines after he suggested that African Church leaders, many of whom oppose changes to Church discipline on marriage, should not impose their views on the Church in Europe. He later offered a qualified apology, but the remark underscored the dueling positions and experiences that have overshadowed the synod’s debate on marriage.

God or Nothing, Cardinal Sarah’s contribution to the debate, offers a fresh perspective from a continent that generates a vast number of converts and priestly and religious vocations, even as Catholic churches in Cardinal Kasper’s homeland are shuttered and marriage rates decline.

Father Fessio underscored the value of God or Nothing when he noted that 3,000 copies had been purchased by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Holy See’s

representative to the United States, to be given to seminarians during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.

The primary value of books like God or Nothing or Remaining in the Truth of Christ, said Mark Brumley, lies in the clarity of the authors’ message.

“We were surprised by the impact of Cardinal Burke’s book, but it showed the need for clarity,” said Brumley.

He expressed frustration with aspects of the synod process that he believes have sown confusion and created a need for books that provide clear teaching on the faith and spell out the danger of changing Church discipline on marriage.

Cardinal Kasper, he noted, had expressed surprise that the media focused solely on the part of his address at the 2014 consistory that dealt with divorced-and-remarried Catholics.

“But, of course, the media will focus in on that because it is controversial and because it … rejects the idea that marriage is indissoluble,” argued Brumley.

Likewise, he challenged the claims of those who seek to change Catholic teaching on homosexual relations by asserting that the Church’s previous catechetical approach was a failure.

“We do not need a new language to present Church teaching; we already have the teaching of St. Pope John Paul II,” which has not been adequately adopted by Catholic schools and parishes, he contended.

Brumley pointed to the recent protests against Catholic teaching on homosexual relations at local Catholic high schools in San Francisco and asked, “Are we really supposed to think these high schools have joyfully presented Church teaching as enriched by the theology of John Paul?

“That is nonsense. We have been doing the opposite, and our lay leaders haven’t been given this teaching.”


Affirming Church Teaching

For now, Brumley has fixed his attention to the 2015 synod and the disputes and discussions that will signal the direction of the proceedings.

Thus far, those who feared the influence of Cardinal Kasper have been cheered by Pope Francis’s strong homily during the opening Mass for the synod at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“To a rhetorical question — probably asked as a trap to make him unpopular with the crowd, which practiced divorce as an established and inviolable fact — Jesus responds in a straightforward and unexpected way,” the Pope told the synod fathers.

“He brings everything back to the beginning, to the beginning of creation, to teach us that God blesses human love, that it is he who joins the hearts of two people who love one another, he who joins them in unity and indissolubility.”

It was a propitious start to a gathering of Church leaders that has raised so many hopes and sown so much anxiety. But those who fear the synod could mark a new period of divisive pastoral experimentation in Germany and elsewhere are still worried about the outcome.

"[W]hat we’ve come to this week isn’t really an endpoint or a climax: It’s a doorway, with far more uncertainty, disputation and civil war waiting for Catholics on the other side," suggested New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in an Oct. 5 post.

 In just three weeks, the synod will be over. But Ignatius Press andits authors believe their books will still offer value, no matter the synod’s direction or message to the Church.

Janet Smith, for one, predicts Ignatius’ contribution will give “heft” to Church teachings that are affirmed by the synod fathers and provide needed clarity if the news from Rome looks “wobbly.”

“Let’s say everything happens the way I would like it to — with the synod providing a huge affirmation of orthodox positions and no ambiguity — an enormous amount of education still must take place to explain why the Church came out so strongly on this,” Smith predicted.

“If it comes out more wobbly — and people ask, ‘Is that right?’ — we can say, ‘Here is a book you should read.’”

Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.