Cardinals Backtrack on Letter to Pope

by Christine Niles  •  •  October 12, 2015   

Several cardinals are now denying they signed an open letter to the Holy Father criticizing the Synod

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Update, 1:20 pm. EST: Vatican journalist Edward Pentin is reporting that Cdl. George Pell's spokesman has issued a statement in response to the letter to the Pope signed by various cardinals critical of the synodal process. The statement clarifies that the letter was intended to be private, and that "there are errors in both the content and the list." There are also reports that Cdl. Wilfrid Napier, a signatory, claims he did sign a draft letter, but the one made public is not the same document he signed. And Cdl. Donald Wuerl, one of the Pope's Gang of Nine, is saying he was unaware the letter was being circulated and was never asked to sign it.

The full text of Cdl. Pell's statement reads:

A spokesperson for Cardinal Pell said that there is strong agreement in the Synod on most points but obviously there is some disagreement because minority elements want to change the Church's teachings on the proper dispositions necessary for the reception of Communion.

Obviously there is no possibility of change on this doctrine.

A private letter should remain private but it seems that there are errors in both the content and the list of signatories.

The Cardinal is aware that concerns remain among many of the Synod Fathers about the composition of the drafting committee of the final relatio and about the process by which it will be presented to the Synod fathers and voted upon.


ROME, October 12, 2015 ( - At least three cardinals are now denying they've signed a strongly worded letter to Pope Francis critical of the synodal process. According to the latest reports, Cardinal Peter Erdő, relator general for the Synod, who issued an opening address last Monday defending Catholic orthodoxy, is denying he ever signed the letter. Paris archbishop André Vingt-Trois and Milan's Cdl. Angelo Scola also deny they ever added their signatures. Additionally, Cdl. Mauro Piacenza's name — one of the signatories — is missing from Sandro Magister's list, leading to speculation that Piacenza has also backed away from acknowledging any part in this public plea to the Holy Father.

The updated list of signatories includes:

  • Cdl. Gerhard L. Müller (Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith)- Cdl. Carlo Caffarra (Bologna, Italy)
  • Cdl. George Pell (Prefect, Secretariat for the Economy)
  • Cdl. Robert Sarah (Prefect, Congregation for Divine worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments)
  • Cdl. Thomas C. Collins (Toronto, Canada)
  • Cdl. Timothy M. Dolan (New York)
  • Cdl. Willem J. Eijk (Utrecht, Holland)
  • Cdl. Wilfrid Fox Napier (Durban, South Africa)
  • Cdl. Jorge L. Urosa Savino (Caracas, Venezuela)

Notable, too, are the names not among the signatories, including American prelates like Cdl. Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and Cdl. Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas.

The letter sharply criticizes the lack of transparency and consultation at the Synod, going so far as to express concerns about a possible agenda. "A number of Fathers feel the new process seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions."

The cardinals also criticize the lack of "openness and genuine collegiality," arguing that "anyone drafting anything at the level of the small circles should be elected, not appointed."

The letter ends with an ominous warning about the potential collapse of the Church if the Synod is not cautious in its discussions of issues like Communion to the divorced and remarried, which could "raise even more fundamental issues about how the Church, going forward, should interpret and apply the Word of God, Her doctrines and Her disciplines to changes in culture."

According to reports, Pope Francis rejected the letter's suggestions.

The full text of the letter follows.

Your Holiness,

As the Synod on the Family begins, and with a desire to see it fruitfully serve the Church and your ministry, we respectfully ask you to consider a number of concerns we have heard from other synod fathers, and which we share.

While the Synods preparatory document, the Instrumentum Laboris, has admirable elements, it also has sections that would benefit from substantial reflection and reworking. 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 new synodal procedures will be seen in some quarters as lacking openness and genuine collegiality. 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.

Additionally, the lack of input by the Synod Fathers in the composition of the drafting committee has created considerable unease. Members have been appointed, not elected, without consultation. Likewise, anyone drafting anything at the level of the small circles should be elected, not appointed.

In turn, these things have created a concern that the new procedures are not true to the traditional spirit and purpose of a synod. 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.

Finally and perhaps most urgently, various Fathers have 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. If so, this will inevitably raise even more fundamental issues about how the Church, going forward, should interpret and apply the Word of God, Her doctrines and Her disciplines to changes in culture. 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.

Your Holiness, we offer these thoughts in a spirit of fidelity, and we thank you for considering them.

Faithfully yours in Jesus Christ.

Stay tuned as the story develops.


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