ROME — Despite an online petition calling on prelates “faithful to Christ’s teaching” to abandon the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family, due to perceptions of a “pre-determined outcome that is anything but orthodox,” one of the summit’s most outspoken conservatives says “there’s no ground for anyone to walk out on anything.”
Australian Cardinal George Pell, who heads the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, told Crux on Friday that by the midway point of the Oct. 4-25 synod, concerns about stacking the deck circulating in some quarters have “substantially been addressed.”
The online petition calling for a walkout, which can be found at change.org, has garnered roughly 2,300 signatures in two days.
It asks any bishop alarmed by the prospect of progressive changes to Church doctrine to “do his sacred duty and publicly retire from any further participation in the synod before its conclusion,” and suggests that Pope Francis is responsible for promoting “confusion and scandal.”
Pell was among roughly a dozen cardinals who signed a letter to Francis at the beginning of the synod raising doubts about the process, but he says reassurances have been given by Vatican officials that the final result “will faithfully present the views of the synod.”
Among other things, Pell said that Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod secretary, has stated from the floor of the synod hall that voting on a final document will take place “paragraph by paragraph,” providing a clear sense of where the bishops stand on individual issues.
He also said that members of a drafting committee for the final document have vowed to be true to the content of the synod’s discussions, rather than using the text to promote their own views.
“That’s all we want, for whatever the synod says, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, to be represented,” Pell said.
“That’s in the long-term interest of everyone, because no matter how it might turn out, people want to feel that the bishops got to that situation fairly,” he said.
Asked if he feels the synod now has a level playing field, Pell said it’s “level enough.”
Overall, Pell said he believes the synod is making solid progress.
“I think a lot of good work has been done on the first two parts of the document,” he said, referring to a working text that’s the basis for synod discussions. “I think there’s generally a good atmosphere in the synod.”
Uncertainty surrounds cardinals’ letter voicing doubts about the synod
Pell also said that he believes the information flow this time is an improvement on the October 2104 edition of the Synod of Bishops, when there were charges by conservatives that Vatican briefings presented a selective vision that generally favored progressive positions.
“Both sides of the story are getting out this time, I think,” he said.
“In terms of the [synod participants] who are briefing the media, I think they’re getting a mix of left, right, and center …. it’s better than it was the last time, anyway,” Pell said.
Pell said that he believes the final report must deal with sensitive issues, such as proposals to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, even if there’s no clear consensus among the bishops.
“I don’t think we’ll be in that position,” he said, suggesting that opposition to those proposals represents a strong majority in the synod.
“But even if it actually is 50/50 on some significant point, I think the Catholic world has to know that,” Pell said.
Vatican briefers repeatedly have told reporters that a decision on whether to release the synod’s final document is up to the pope. Pell said he believes it should be released, among other things because it’s destined to leak out anyway.
“I think no matter what happens, it will be public,” he said.
By John L. Allen Jr.