VATICAN CITY Pope Francis’ divisive meeting on family issues took another controversial twist Monday with revelations that several conservative cardinals wrote to the pontiff expressing serious concerns about “predetermined results” coming out of the meeting ‚Äî only to have doubts arise over both the content of their letter and the cardinals responsible.
Veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister published the letter Monday morning on his L’Espresso blog and listed 13 cardinals who purportedly signed it. He said one of the 13, the Vatican’s Australian financial manager, Cardinal George Pell, hand-delivered it to Francis on Oct. 5 at the start of the three-week meeting on crafting better pastoral care for Catholic families.
The letter, written in English, complained that the meeting lacked openness, that the drafting committee for the final document was appointed by the pope, not elected by the synod’s 270 members, and that the overall process “seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.”
By Monday afternoon, at least four of the 13 purported signatories said they had never signed such a letter. Pell’s spokesman seemed to confirm he was behind the initiative by saying the letter was private and was supposed to stay private.
The statement said there were “errors” in both the content and the number of signatories reported by Magister, suggesting that Pell indeed had been responsible but that the version that Magister published wasn’t the final one or the one that other cardinals had agreed to.
Pell has been at the forefront of the conservative resistance to attempts by liberals at the synod to find wiggle room in the church’s ban on giving Communion to Catholics remarried outside the church. Catholic teaching holds that without an annulment, these Catholics are committing adultery and cannot receive the sacraments.
Pell had raised concerns on the eve of the synod about a host of issues covered in the letter, including the Communion ban and the potential for a “skewed” final report based on who was named to the drafting committee. In the end, the committee was appointed by Francis, not elected as Pell had wanted.
Francis appeared to address the concerns in the letter on the second day of the synod by delivering an impromptu speech, which the Vatican has yet to make public. According to a summary provided by the Vatican spokesman, Francis assured the bishops that Catholic teaching on marriage hadn’t been touched, that the synod was not only dealing with the Communion issue and that the working groups offering amendments to the drafting committee were of “essential importance.”
However, in a quote reported by a synod participant and subsequently confirmed by the Vatican, Francis also warned bishops against falling into a “conspiracy” mindset ‚Äî suggesting that he found the level of alarm in Pell’s letter a bit over the top.
The divisiveness in the synod also found its way into the Vatican press office: Spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi confirmed Monday that he had withdrawn the credentials of a conservative priest, the Rev. Nicholas Gregoris, for what Lombardi called “deplorable behaviour.”
According to the conservative LifeSite Catholic news agency, Gregoris had questioned Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher after an Oct. 6 news conference about his comments that there were differences of opinion on whether the Communion issue is one of doctrine ‚Äî meaning it cannot be changed ‚Äî or discipline, which can be changed.
Lombardi said in a statement that Gregoris’ behaviour toward Durocher had violated the ethical code of the Vatican press office. LifeSite quoted Gregoris as acknowledging that he was agitated when he confronted Durocher but saying that “speaking passionately” is not a crime.
Magister the journalist who broke the story on the Pell letter had his credentials revoked by the Vatican press office over the summer after he published the pope’s environment encyclical online before the official release date.