Pope Francis is urging the bishops gathered for the Vatican Synod on the Family not to give in to “conspiracy” theories, after 13 cardinals and bishops expressed their concern that the assembly is being manipulated in a progressive direction.
The thirteen prelates presented two complaints, first that the moderators of the circuli minores, or small language-based discussion groups, had been appointed by the Secretariat so that they would steer the debate, and second, that members of the commission in charge of drafting the concluding document had not been not elected.
The drafting committee itself has been described by at least one Synod father as “appallingly Eurocentric,” and has come under fire as well for the progressive bent of the majority of its members.
The fears of manipulation follow on a number of such theories concerning last fall’s extraordinary synod on the family, notably a book by Vatican journalist Edward Pentin titled The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? Hypotheses of intrigue swirl in particular around the figure of the General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, named to the post by Pope Francis in 2013 and thought to be a proponent of a certain loosening of Church discipline regarding marriage.
On Tuesday, Baldisseri declared that the moderators of the small groups had indeed been elected by the Synod Fathers themselves, and were not imposed from above.
Baldisseri also said that it had been Pope Francis who expanded the drafting committee for the final synod text from the usual three or four people to ten, in order to include one Synod Father from each continent.
During last year’s synod, in fact, the Pope added South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, one of the most vocal critics of the progressive tone of an interim text, to the drafting committee. At the time, Napier said that the interim summary “is not what we’re saying at all” and added that the message “is not a true message” and did not capture “the feeling of the whole synod.”
After Baldisseri’s statement, Francis gave a surprise address on Tuesday morning, complaining of a “hermeneutics of conspiracy” that he said was “sociologically weak and spiritually unhelpful.” Francis’ words were met with general applause from the assembly.
The Pope’s statement was not mentioned at the Vatican press briefing that day, but was revealed later in a Twitter message by Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J, a synod father appointed personally by the Pope.
— Antonio Spadaro SJ (@antoniospadaro) October 6, 2015
In his address, the Pope also added that the only official documents of the 2014 Synod are his two addresses and the concluding report, and reassured the group that “Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched,” and that “it has been preserved in its integrity.”
At Wednesday’s press briefing, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput noted that the Pope had told the bishops to avoid thinking of each other as conspiring against one another but to work for unity among the bishops.
“At the same time,” he said, “I’ve never been at a church meeting where there aren’t groups that get together and lobby for a particular direction.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome