The Devil in the Details

At Saturday’s press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the main spokesman at the Vatican Press Office, made what has to be one of the most surprising admissions to date at the 2015 Synod. Asked about the procedures by which the various modi (modifications) to the Working Document would be handled, he replied, “If I understand the process right. . . .”

It’s no small thing when the Vatican’s own spokesman confesses, even with a bit of self-deprecating humor as Lombardi did, that he’s not quite sure himself that he understands how the whole thing is being conducted.

Questions have been multiplying about the seeming chaos of the new parliamentary rules intended to guide the Synod’s proceedings. Some see the disorder as planned and sinister – a way to rig the whole process and to force changes through undetected loopholes. Others – including several reliable sources directly involved in the day-to-day proceedings – are inclined to believe it’s more a matter of sheer incompetence. A combination of the two, of course, should not be excluded. But the preponderance of the evidence seems to point, mostly, in the direction of more than ordinary human bumbling.

Questions about procedure may not seem all that sexy compared with the usual controversies about gays and Communion for the divorced. Other subjects have been raised that I, for one, think have not received nearly enough attention in the secular or religious press. For example, the Francophone elements in the Synod have, several times, said that the bishops themselves should do an “examination of conscience” about the ways in which they have failed to convey Catholic doctrine to their people.

Such unusual and possibly fruitful topics may emerge more fully as time passes. But the way things are done will also play a large role in what the Church ultimately gets from this Synod. Fr. Lombardi made his profession of uncertainty about two things that will loom large in creating the final document – oh, and by the way, he said he wasn’t certain whether there would even be a final document, though the President of the Synod, Cardinal Baldisseri, said there would be, only at the beginning of last week.

The first question has to do with how modifications are being handled. Are they approved by a simple majority in the small language groups now making recommendations? He called it an “absolute majority,” but Fr. Lombardi seemed to think that they were. So then, what happens when those are forwarded to the drafting committee – a sensitive point because debates in the circuli minores are known to all those who take part (it was very good that their summary reports were released publicly). And individual bishops are being allowed to release their own interventions. By contrast, no one but the ten members of the drafting committee (whose composition, as we’ve reported here, has raised eyebrows) knows how the hundreds of suggestions – many no doubt contradict others – will be represented in the draft text.

Fr. Federico Lombardi
Fr. Federico Lombardi

A couple of very reliable sources inside the Synod have confirmed that, so far, the handling of all those discrete points has been “not too bad.” (A caveat: these early adjustments are general recastings of the framework – e.g., putting more emphasis of Jesus Christ and Scripture, and reducing the sophomoric sociology and anthropology that were front-loaded in the Working Document. The more contentious subjects and pastoral decisions are yet to come.)

But then what? Last year it took a two-thirds majority to “pass” any given paragraph in the final document. Will that be the same this year, and what about the controverted paragraphs about Communion for the divorced and remarried and about how to treat homosexuals? They were “included” (but by recording that they failed to receive sufficient votes) in last year’s document, the one the Holy Father took the extraordinary step last Tuesday of announcing to the whole Synod was among three official documents that should guide them.

Lombardi’s answer seemed to be yes – and no. The two-thirds majority rule seems still in effect, but he doesn’t know about the paragraphs placed in limbo, or quite know how the final text will be crafted. So like the rest of us, he will have to wait and see what is included, and not, at the end of the whole process.

One thing is certain amidst these multiple uncertainties: whatever else happens, the bishops will need a fair amount of time to read and react to the final draft. It’s been misreported in several places that they will only be given the text the very morning they are supposed to vote on it. That’s not so. They’ll have it two days earlier – still not a long time – even if the Synod stays on track.

There are many reasons it may not. For example, it’s long been the plan that each of the three weeks of the Synod would be devoted to one of the three parts of the Working Document. That seemed only reasonable and orderly. But during the debates in the small circles the past week – in other words, before the first week had even come to an end – some of the Synod Fathers asked to be allowed to discuss questions from the crucial third week, the week when practical decisions about pastoral matters were supposed to be made. There were so many questions to deal with and so many comments that the Synod Fathers wished to make that there wouldn’t have been enough time to discuss them thoroughly in the one week that would have remained had they stuck to the original plan..

It’s difficult to say what this may mean. Are the bishops so divided that they fear even three weeks does not suffice for them to come to some conclusions together, or was the Instrumentum laboris so badly flawed that they are essentially now engaged in trying to rewrite it?

So as we begin Week Two, Week One does not seem to have been entirely concluded, Week Three is already with us, the main Vatican spokesman isn’t sure how, let alone what, is transpiring. But be of good cheer, such problems are nothing new and at times in the past have been much worse. As Hilaire Belloc once put it in a different context, rather tartly, the Church is “an institution [we are] bound to hold divine – but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

  • ben200513

    Mr. Royal, a big thanks for the article. All right then, let us wait and see, what else? I am pleasantly surprised (Maybe I shouldn’t?) with the French side bringing out the issue of how to transmit the faith.

  • Chris in Maryland

    I am praying JP2’s “Luminous Mysteries” that our faithful Bishops will make Christ and his Holy Family manifest. Arise O Lord, let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before your face…

    • Faithful Catholic

      Chris in Maryland, I couldn’t agree more. I pray for the same thing. St. John Paul II, St. Thomas More, and St. John Fisher, pray for us.

  • James

    A much appreciated review of events, and obviously honest. Thank you for that. But I
    will urge all who are providing important analysis from a perspective faithful to the Magisterium, desist in concluding analysis with the proverbial “… it could be worse…”, however it is phrased, whoever is sited. Honestly, could it be much worse? We’ve been saying that for fifty years – yes, I suppose I’ve just reasoned myself into a corner. It could be worse, and all it does is get worse, and I see no reason to think it won’t do so for the remainder of at least this pontificate. And beyond…? We are on a course we seem unable or unwilling to break.

    • I second this request. We know that the Church has gone through similar crises in the past, but that’s no reason to downplay or dismiss the dangers of the current situation. And yes, how, exactly, could things be worse than having a Vicar of Christ as the all-but-certain ringleader of an organized movement to nullify Catholic teaching?

  • DeaconEdPeitler

    This should no longer be referred to as the Synod on the Family but the st. Gallen Mafia synod. We suspect who the godfather of the mafia is. Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that such corruption existed in the hierarchy. If anyone is looking for the reason why the clergy scandal went unreported for so many years, just look at some in the hierarchy. We can begin with Daneels.

    • SD

      The fact he was invited, along with other heterodox prelates, is a sign of serious problems. Combine the troubling appointments with mass incompetence and you have what we have today. It is shameful.

      • DeaconEdPeitler

        Yes. It seems that some bishops get canned by this Pope when they are unresponsive to allegations of clergy sexual abuse and others. ..well, they get invited out of retirement to lend a certain something to Synods. I wonder how the victims feel about this.

        • samton909

          Guess what is the difference between those two groups?

    • mrstones4u

      Deacon you are spot on! You, me and them are here to serve and as men to protect, some of them are not doing either and I email a list of Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops. There are good ones and two Cardinals were of the thirteen that fashioned a letter to the Pope, questioning the process.

    • Alwaysright

      It was reported that Daneels “once said same-sex “marriage” was a “positive development,” although he has sought to distinguish such a union from the Church’s understanding of marriage.” This is such a liberal tactic – slippery slope and confusion, I pray most Cardinals stay strong and don’t fall for this.

    • MSDOTT

      I agree. Among many other things associated with this Synod, the homosexual aspect is extremely worrying. Fr. George David Byers in his blog “Arise! Let us be going!” has pointed out something that I have not seen mentioned anywhere – in the Catholic “blogshpere” – that is children will be dangerously harmed if Instrumentum Laboris #130 is approved. IL #130 is one of the ones which did NOT get the 2/3 vote, but which Pope Francis personally intervened to make sure it was included in the document.

      Here is an excerpt from Fr. Byers’ blog which refers to IL #130:

      “Here’s the deal: children being in this situation is a grave injustice. It is in view of this injustice being ignored (nevertheless – non di meno) so as to have these children receive the same-sex couple over them with respect and sensitivity that these children are necessarily being asked to praise the fact of a same-sex couple over them. This is an even graver injustice. This is an inescapable conclusion.

      5. As it is, this injustice against children isn’t so much being ignored as it is being accentuated: “Nevertheless”… as in “We just don’t care about the children.” Rough language? Rough reality. That reality is not merciful. Is it merciful to embarrass the Holy Father with this paragraph? It’s on the fast track to make it though to the final relatio once again. No, it is not merciful. As we prepare for the Year of Mercy and Missionaries of Mercy, it is incumbent upon all of us to insist on true mercy. Let’s start with mercy for the children.”

      As one commenter to the above post said: ” I fear that millstones would be awaiting many, including myself, for failure of trying to prevent such scandal.”

      Mr. Royal, it is extremely difficult to be of “good cheer” when if things go according to what Pope Francis has ACTIVELY allowed, and IF the Church sanctions in any way, shape, or form, ‘same sex unions’ , vulnerable children in same sex unions will be seriously harmed, with the connivance of the Church.

  • grump

    This clearly has the makings of a new reality show: “The Real Cardinals of the Vatican.”

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    Procedure is, indeed, critical to goals. For me, it’s that old saying about “means” and “ends,” but, with a twist: Do the ends justify the means or do the means justify the ends? Either way, muddy procedures are often, indeed, usually, a method of reaching questionable ends via shoddy means. And, when you end up with “shoddy,” whatever you’re doing falls apart quickly.

    • mrstones4u

      Garbage in garbage out

  • “The devil is in the details.” Yes, that’s certainly true in this case. For what it’s worth, though, everyone seems to forget that the original comment by architect Mies van der Rohe was not, “The devil is in the details,” but rather “God is in the details.”

    • Dave Fladlien

      I didn’t know this. Nor did I know who originated it. It makes a lot more sense and has a lot more meaning as “God is in the details.” Thanks for pointing it out.

      • papagoat

        It depends on the details

        • Dave Fladlien

          Good point. I tend to see God in events, much like the authors of the Old Testament, who seemingly looked back on history and saw God’s action in things, even ones where it wasn’t all that apparent, or where it seemed like that was impossible due to the evil involved. “God permits evil only when He intends to bring good from it”, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in one of his books. You’re right though, everything has to be discerned, and if I implied otherwise, then I apologize for the mis-statement.

    • StatusQrow

      I’ve heard both quotes, over the decades—though it seems the devil is now mentioned a hundred-fold more often. First time I heard “devil” I wondered if I had misheard it, originally; then assumed both were authentic, depending on the context. Thanks for the van der Rohe reference for God; I await a source reference for the devil.

  • Savonarola1

    This sort of disorganization, or procedural chaos, is quite consistent with the report from Father Lombardi of some weeks back where he acknowledged that from day to day he had little idea of the Pope’s future schedule or what His Holiness had been doing on the day before.
    Leadership has to come from the top — it’s not fobbed off onto others.

  • Romulus

    The Calvinball synod.

  • Dave Fladlien

    The constant lack of clarity in the workings and even the output of the those in authority is truly appalling. But the fact remains that, at least in my opinion, the Church must reaffirm its basic teaching about the morality of homosexuality and about the permanence of marriage, but also seriously re-examine its treatment of those who — for whatever reason — are in those situations. To my mind, the treatment we have had for ages does not of necessity follow from the teaching, and I don’t think it should. I think there are many in the Church who don’t think it should, either.

    We need this Synod, no matter how pathetic its organization and structure.

    • Frank

      How exactly would you suggest the Church change its treatment of people who are, for whatever reason, living in an objective and open state of scandal, at least, and most likely also mortal sin? What “treatment we have had for ages” does not “of necessity follow from the teaching?” The Church is supposed to be in the business of helping to save souls. To me, that means helping people find their way out of a gravely sinful situation, which cannot be done without repentance and reconciliation. Certainly that must be done with charity and genuine concern–that’s what loving one’s neighbor means. But the alternative would seem to be letting the sinner go merrily down the road to Hell. Is there another alternative I’m missing here?

  • edith wohldmann

    It seems that many Synod Fathers are so focused on present problems. Should they not equally or more be worried about the future and the continuance, preservation and strengthening of the Catholic Teaching for future generations? Jesus I trust in you!

  • ron a.

    Remember the prelates who seem to be in control are the spiritual (using the term VERY loosely) children of those who gave us the “spirit of Vatican ll”. I believe “incompetence” is a cover; they are structuring the works of the Synod the same way their predecessors structured the texts of V2, allowing them to pursue their nefarious (and worldly) ends. Act ll, on a lesser scale—but, considering the times, just as dangerous and harmful.

  • Rag130

    I think we should pray that the Holy Spirit guide the Bishops and the outcome of this Synod. We must have some faith that these are holy men and not just a bunch of political world leaders with social agendas.

    • Diane

      I would feel more comfortable if there were not so many pro-homosexual and possibly, active homosexual Bishops and Cardinals running the Synod.

      • samton909

        Why in the world would the Pope invite someone as questionable as Daneels?

    • Deoacveritatimyfaithsustainsm

      Prayer is good BUT showing our disapproval of these Apostates is also necessary.

      Open your eyes we have apostates running the show.

      Many of this Bishops are not holy they are liberal and want to destroy Church teaching.

  • mrstones4u

    This is all a management decision and when one views this from the ground up it doesn’t appear as if Spiritual discernment was involved. At the Diocese level, the January or February fact finding session was held at one of the most liberal Parishes in the Tucson Diocese. When I asked the DRE (Director of Religious Education) what she thought, She was livid, She said there were so many there that did not know their faith so they did not know what the Church teaches. She is well versed in Theology and Catholic Doctrine. So the result was ALL of the info in the “Fact Finding mission” was skewed with was not good but sent up the chain. (Garbage in Garbage out) Either we are teaching what is said in the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church OR we are lying to ourselves and others. How is that serving God? Then you have our Pope who decided to add additional members to the Synod 80% of those he picked were pro gay Marriage etc. Again I ask if what we are doing, does not align itself with Our Catechism or the Bible how can it be of God?

  • kathleen

    Fr. Rosica who is handling the English translation for the press at this Synod, and presumably picked by the Pope to do this, tweeted “there is a need to meet people where they are”. Cardinal Napier tweeted back – “meet people where they are sounds nice, but is that what Jesus did? Didn’t he call them away from where they were?” Good words from Cardinal Napier – very clear, and to the point. Fr. Rosica, from what I have read recently is calling for new language to describe serious sins. So the Catechism of the Catholic Church needs to be revised to conform to the world we are living in??? Is that where Father Rosica is coming from, and others who think as he does? I read on Church Militant today that Michael Voris after last year’s Synod had a conversation with Fr. Rosica regarding mortal sin and Hell.
    Michael mentioned to Fr. Rosica that people should know if they die in mortal sin, that they go to Hell. Fr. Rosica’s reply: ” Michael, the Church doesn’t teach that anymore.” I hope Michael has that remark on tape; if it’s correct, the Church is in serious danger. Let’s pray that when this Synod is over that the Holy Father will come out with a very clear statement, reaffirming the Church’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and homosexuality. No ambiguity. We all know what Jesus said about those who are neither hot or cold.

    • DeaconEdPeitler

      Someone ought to remind Rosica that he is NOT a bishop.

      Also, I have a theory about people who are oh so eager to dismiss the reality of mortal sin and eternal separation from God.

    • samton909

      Rosica also seems unnaturally interested in discussing the homosexual issues. He also tweeted about them.,in an odd way if you ask me, as if he were a cheerleader for that particular subject.

      • Rosemary58

        I wonder why.

    • Manfred

      Thank you, Kathleen: Still looking for a statement from the Pope? You already have it. See the Synod of 2014 and the present Synod. If the Pope were Catholic, there would have been no need of a Synod. He is a politician making a mockery of the papacy. I hope you don’t have children in “catholic schools”..

  • StatusQrow

    I hate to be obvious—though not overmuch—but it’s beginning to sound like Obamacare, and so much else inflicted by our president: you gotta pass it to know what’s in it. Pray, pray, pray.

    • givelifeachance2

      Another point of similarity – “who am I to judge” and “that’s above my paygrade”. Hmmm….

  • StatusQrow

    Belloc and Boccaccio are, in this, kindred spirits.

  • thomistica

    Insufficient attention is being paid to reports of the symposium, held on the eve of the synod at the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, discussed by lifesitenews. This conferences raises many questions pertinent to assessing whether the conclusion of the synod (now Vatican III?) was pre-ordained, or whether the Pope’s designs –all along!–were for the synod to address larger issues of “reform” (the theme of the symposium!) that go way beyond questions about the family.

    Notably, what funding sources brought all those people in and paid for this symposium? All those travel expenses and lodging. A press release said there were four such sources. Isn’t the laity entitled to know?

    • Mary Myers

      The funding for this synod most likely came from George Soros or someone like him.

  • kcthomas

    My question is whether the Synod was called to determine the right or wrong of the Catholic teachings on marriage,adultery,homosexual acts etc. Rosica seems eager to relax all rules about sex. Am I correct?

    • Rosemary58

      The Synod was supposedly called to explore ways to address the failure of Catholic family life. That this failure is the result of the bishops’ failure to shepherd their people is, apparently, not up for discussion.

      Can we have a Synod that addresses solely the malaise of bishops? Would that not better serve the laity? Why is the spotlight on us, when it should be on the very persons who enabled the dissolution of the Catholic family?

    • Diane

      The homosexual priests, Cardinals and Bishops want to make it about themselves and how to change the teachings of the Church with regards to same-sex sin. They want to force their immoral agenda on all of us. This was not supposed to be the center of the Synod. I think the purpose was to make Catholic families holier and closer to Jesus. We need to understand that there are families who have difficulties with divorce and homosexuality, but we are not to condone these sins we are to help them become closer to Jesus and give up immoral behavior. The clergy must start preaching against all sin and not just be the church of nice. This is how we have come to this evil place in our Church and it needs to go back to morality and less acceptance of sin.

  • Rosemary58

    I thank God for the humility of the “Francophone elements” who admit the failure of bishops to convey the faith to their people.

    Perhaps the best outcome of this Synod will be knowing how many bishops are frauds who should man-up and resign.

  • Giordano_Bruno

    The dialectic shouldn’t be “understanding” versus “damnation,” but rather a well articulated argument about “why it is important for our culture to strive to be a moral one!” People are desperate for a logical argument from their leaders about creating a moral society, and all they get is pablum!

    Unless it’s about climate change of course! Then the argument is abundantly clear — if not laughable!

  • Frank

    Thank you for that reply. I see your point, and appreciate that you are trying to come up with a real solution. That said, I don’t know how something like you’ve suggested would be administered to include reception of the Eucharist by persons living in “second marriages” or other non-sacramental situations without confession and a firm purpose to refrain from marital relations unless and until the first (real) marriage is declared invalid. It would still put their souls at risk. Of course, with the “streamlining” Pope Francis has decreed to the tribunal process, it may not be that tough to get a first marriage declared invalid any more, but that’s another whole story.
    In any event, we ought to be making a concerted effort to reach these people and work with them charitably, and remind them that even if they can’t worthily receive the Eucharist, they are still welcome to participate in many Church ministries and, of course, attend Mass. In addition, I help teach a “Catholics Returning Home” class at my parish as well as RCIA, and I’m amazed at how many people think they cannot receive Holy Communion just because they are divorced, even if they have not “remarried.” There is a lot of re-education that needs to be done.