Circus and ring master

New Zealand particpants will be sending posts from the Synod on Marriage and the Family in Rome this month.
Here is a post from Bishop Charles Drennan.

I said I would comment on the (in) famous letter to Francis signed by 14, or was it, Cardinals.
This sideshow certainly took many people’s eye off the main act. Sandro Magister, an Italian vaticanista not widely associated with love or respect for Francis, leaked the letter. Clearly he wanted the sideshow to move centre stage and tip over the ring master. A far from edifying scramble for disassociation from the letter immediately occurred among some of the (alleged?) signees. Whatever, the rumpus lasted just a day.
What message did the letter convey? Five things:

  • a dissatisfaction with the quality of the Instrumentum Laboris – the draft working document (I don’t think anyone thought it was a prize winner);
  • a dissatisfaction with the final drafting committee which had been appointed not elected (a somewhat curious cry for democracy);
  • a dissatisfaction that the final report or document would not be voted on (well, it was, paragraph by paragraph, and in fact this had always been the intention of the Synod office. For the record, every paragraph was voted favourably i.e. approved, with the “least” approved still surpassing a placet (accept vote) of over two thirds of all voters present);
  • a fear that discussion around communion for the divorced and remarried would eclipse discussion on the primary synodal focus of the dignity, beauty and mission of marriage and family life (it didn’t);
  • and a fear that the whole Synod was cooked. Predetermined results was the term they used (as though the Holy Spirit was either on strike, on holiday, or that all other synod participants were deaf to the Spirit’s voice – no small claim).
  • So what do you think? Much ado about nothing? Court intrigue? Fear of loss of influence? My group is better than yours?

I felt depressed for 24 hours because, as so many commented, the letter seemed to undermine the communal spirit present among us. Of course at times the going was tough – as one Archbishop in my group said, this Synod is not just mentally draining it is emotionally draining too. Any discussion on family life with all its variations draws not just on the head but the heart too.

This was never going to be a Synod of “answers”. If it had been, it would have been an utter failure. Clarity however there is: encouragement, guidelines, reaffirmed teaching, understanding, recognition of complexities, recognition of weaknesses in us all, determination, enthusiasm, appreciation double-folded of the beauty of marriage and family life in the midst not of an abstract ideal but ordinary daily struggles and achievements.

But back to the letter. One thing is for sure. This Pope, though he favours the title Bishop of Rome, is far from shy in exercising his petrine ministry. We Bishops are cum Petro and sub Petro. With and under Peter.

Francis had the last word not just on the letter but the entire Synod itself. See next blog.

Bishop Charles Drennan is Bishop of Palmerston North.