By Davis Quinlan
On Wednesday, October 14, 2015, the press briefing for the Synod on the Family hosted Cdl. Philippe Ouédraogo from Burkina Faso, Cdl. Vincent Nichols from the United Kingdom, and Cdl. Salazar Gomez from Colombia. The briefing was slightly eclipsed by remarks made by Pope Francis at the Wednesday General Audience in which the Holy Father apologized for non-specific scandals in Rome. The lack of specifics caught twittering journalists off guard: Which scandal specifically was the Holy Father referring to? Was he referring to Msgr. Charamsa's very public outing of his homosexual double life? Was he referring to the letter of grievance from cardinals at the Synod expressing their mistrust that the Synod was being controlled by a non-elected group? Which scandal was the Holy Father referring to? It would seem that the Pope's admission reveals that the great curial reforms so much desired by the last conclave have not materialized.
Cardinal Nichols received an important question from Vatican journalist Edward Pentin. Pentin asked how Cdl. Godfried Danneels could be invited to the Synod on the Family, when in his home country of Belgium it had been revealed that he had participated in a very public cover-up for a bishop who had sexually molested his own nephew. Nichols appealed to a position of "no comment." Pentin's question was important, and the non-response was also even more important. Nichols revealed that the carefully managed message of the Synod will proceed without any unfortunate questions, no one will go off script. Even if the embarrassing reality of scandal is present, there will be no deviation.
But Nichols made a referrence to the Jubilee of Mercy with a rather ominous suggestion. He stated that the Pope has established the Jubilee of Mercy as the context for his reflections on the Synod on the Family. While one cannot be certain that Nichols knows intimately the mind of Pope Francis, the fact that he placed this suggestion before the press is indeed troubling. What does he know about the Pope's reflections on the Synod? Will there be something more than an Apostolic Exhortation at the end? Will the Jubilee of Mercy be saddled with an unfortunate misstep of pastoral tolerance?
The case can be made that the brass ring of the Ordinary Synod on the Family is the universalization of the notorious Canadian Winnipeg Statement. This was Canada's deliberate dissent of pastoral tolerance at the time of the issuing of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Meeting in Winnipeg, Canada in July 1968, the bishops of Canada consisted of the first bishops' conference to issue a letter of "assent" to Humanae Vitae. Subsequently, nearly every bishops' conference in the world followed the infamous path laid by the Canadian bishops. But the assent was not actual assent, but rather a cleverly crafted dissent from the magisterial authority of the papacy. Monsignor Vincent Foy, a priest of the archdiocese of Toronto, who has spent the entirety of his priesthood lobbying for the revocation and condemnation of the Winnipeg Statement, carefully showed that paragraph 26 is the ultimate betrayal of Catholics in Canada. The infamous paragraph reads:
Counselors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother. In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely, but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience. (emphasis added)
The appeal to the primacy of conscience without any clarification or instruction on conscience was deliberate. No one is infallible and an impartial judge of himself. By itself, a person's conscience is not an arbiter of the moral actions that it suggests. One's conscience is the interpreter of an inner and higher standard.
Doctor Robert Moynihan, who usually sends a sunny little email from his experiences in Rome, sent on Monday of this week a strikingly somber message. On October 12, 2015, the Moynihan Report opened with the word "Apostasy." Moynihan's concern comes directly from an up-and-coming Italian Vaticanista, Andrea Gagliarducci, and his Monday Vatican column. Quoting Gagliarducci, Moynihan revealed that the final say for the document from the Synod is being prepared by a restricted group of 10 representatives chosen by the Holy Father. This non-elected group is the cause of the letter of discontent by a group of cardinals. They realize that bishops won't have a chance to express themselves publicly on specific points and instead be forced into a straight up-or-down vote on a sprawling document that could be open to multiple interpretations.
That is exactly how the Winnipeg Statement was created. Bishops who opposed the language of paragraph 26 were unable to obtain a significant majority to remove it. The document, with the worst paragraph in Canadian history, was foisted on religion text books, marriage preparation manuals, and instructions for priestly formation. Nothing did more to destroy Catholic vitality and life than the Winnipeg Statement's dissent from Humanae Vitae.
Gagliarducci speculates that the "adapters" (another word for progressives) of the selected 10 writers will provide a document that will address (a) the primacy of conscience and (b) the issue of devolving authority worldwide. The goal of the document will be to provide space for the innovative doctrine. A moral space will be provided by appealing to the individual conscience. Thus, divorced and remarried couples or homosexuals will be treated in the internal forum, and told that they need only appeal to their individual conscince. A geographical space will be offered, out of the central control of the Pope and the Holy See.
Today in the presser, Cdl. Nichols used a very interesting term describing the local Church's need for a "critical distance" from the local culture. He inadvertently may have revealed a key line from the playbook of the inner workings of the "adapters" — a "critical distance" could very well mean a space for innovation from doctrine and authority.
That is exactly what happened in Canada, and that "critical distance" has destroyed the Catholic Church there.