Pope Francis reportedly responded to the letter by underlining support for procedures
Thirteen cardinals wrote to Pope Francis at the start of the family synod expressing concerns about new procedures, it has emerged.
Three of the cardinals who signed the letter, published in full by Sandro Magister, have prominent roles in the synod. Cardinal Péter Erdõ is its relator general, and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier and Cardinal André Vingt-Trois are president delegates.
Other signatories included Vatican officials Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Cardinal George Pell.
In the letter, the cardinals expressed concern that “a synod designed to address a vital pastoral matter – reinforcing the dignity of marriage and family – may become dominated by the theological/doctrinal issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.”
The letter continued: “The collapse of liberal Protestant churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions.”
The cardinals also asked the Pope to “consider a number of concerns we have heard from other synod fathers, and which we share” and criticised the synod’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document.
“While the synod’s preparatory document, the Instrumentum Laboris, has admirable elements, it also has sections that would benefit from substantial reflection and reworking,” the letter said.
“The new procedures guiding the synod seem to guarantee it excessive influence on the synod’s deliberations and on the final synodal document. As it stands, and given the concerns we have already heard from many of the fathers about its various problematic sections, the Instrumentum cannot adequately serve as a guiding text or the foundation of a final document.”
The letter was reportedly delivered to Pope Francis on October 5, the first day of the synod. After addressing participants at the synod’s opening session, the Pontiff then made a second surprise speech at the start of the following day’s deliberations.
Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi told reporters that the Pope affirmed that “Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched or put into question.”
The Pope reportedly added: “We should not let ourselves be conditioned by or to reduce the horizons of our work as if the only problem were that of Communion for the divorced and remarried or not.”
According to the cardinals, “the new synodal procedures will be seen in some quarters as lacking openness and genuine collegiality” and the letter also complained about changes to synod procedures, which they said “discouraged open debate”.
“In the past, the process of offering propositions and voting on them served the valuable purpose of taking the measure of the synod fathers’ minds. The absence of propositions and their related discussions and voting seems to discourage open debate and to confine discussion to small groups; thus it seems urgent to us that the crafting of propositions to be voted on by the entire synod should be restored. Voting on a final document comes too late in the process for a full review and serious adjustment of the text,” the letter said.
The letter also claimed that “the lack of input by the synod fathers in the composition of the drafting committee has created considerable unease” and pointed out that members of the committee “have been appointed, not elected, without consultation.”
“In turn, these things have created a concern that the new procedures are not true to the traditional spirit and purpose of a synod,” the letter added.
“It is unclear why these procedural changes are necessary. A number of fathers feel the new process seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.