Francis has steadily prepared the Church for change. It’s foolish to ignore the signs

The synod on the family is over. The Church now awaits what Pope Francis will decide. Those who argued at the synod for maintaining the traditional discipline on admission to the sacraments for the civilly divorced and remarried must be ready for the Holy Father to decide differently.

He has steadily prepared the Church for just that. It would be foolish to ignore the signs.

After much back and forth, the synod decided to follow almost exactly what Pope Francis said in his general audience of August 5, during which he strongly suggested that he did not agree with the tradition taught by St John Paul in Familiaris Consortio (1981) and confirmed by Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis (2007).

He did not explicitly contradict it, and neither did the synod. But he quoted the relevant texts without affirming their definitive conclusion and the synod did the same.

Does silence on John Paul’s formulation token assent? Or does it mean that the traditional teaching is being left aside?

A commentary last week by Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, gave a clear answer. Civiltà always carries a certain authority, as the Jesuit periodical is reviewed by the Holy See secretariat of state before publication.

Fr Spadaro is more authoritative still, as both a close confidant and mouthpiece of Pope Francis. It is inconceivable that he would write something contrary to what the Holy Father desired. In his analysis of the synod, his answer is emphatic.

“The [synod’s final report] proceeds on this path of discernment of individual cases without putting any limits on integration, as appeared in the past. … The conclusion is that the Church realises that one can no longer speak of an abstract category of persons and close off the practice of integration within a rule that is entirely general and valid in every case.

It is not said how far the process of integration can go, but neither are any more precise and insurmountable limitations set up.”

The “limits of the past” are that of Familiaris Consortio, which was certainly “precise”. It no longer holds. And how far will the integration go?

Fr Spadaro quotes Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna to explicitly include Holy Communion for those living in invalid marriages.

Pope Francis gave another interview to the notorious Eugenio Scalfari last week, who reported that the Holy Father had told him that all those divorced and remarried who ask will be admitted to Holy Communion.

The Holy See Press Office issued the customary statement about the unreliability of Scalfari, who reconstructs his papal conversations from a fertile memory, but what Scalfari wrote in a few lines is basically what Fr Spadaro wrote in 20 pages: living in a conjugal union outside of marriage will either no longer be considered necessarily sinful, or being in a state of serious sin will no longer be an obstacle to receiving Holy Communion.

If Scalfari and Fr Spadaro were presenting conflicting views, it would be advisable to follow Fr Spadaro as to the Holy Father’s thought. But if they agree, there is no room for doubt.

Those close to the Holy Father did not wait until the synod was over to give strong indications of what outcome the Holy Father preferred. During the synod the Holy See Press Office circulated an interview conducted by Gerald O’Connell of America magazine with Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

O’Connell has been covering the Vatican for some 30 years, but his relevance is now at its zenith, given that he is married to Elisabetta Piqué, Papa Bergoglio’s favourite Argentine journalist, to whom he has granted special access.

If O’Connell’s name appears on something sent out by the Holy See Press Office, it can be reliably taken as the official line from the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

The message of the Cardinal Wuerl, himself a man of great precision and careful in speech, was uncharacteristically blunt about those who were concerned that the synod would try to change the traditional practice. They found it all “somewhat threatening”, perhaps because “they just don’t like this pope”.

Hours after the conclusion of the synod, O’Connell, a reliable English-language conduit for those close to the Pope, wrote a commentary which identified by name Cardinals Pell, Ouellet, Sarah and Müller as those within the curia “rowing in a different direction” to the Pope, and to whom the Pope’s final address characterised as having “closed hearts”.

The Church waits now for Rome to speak. The voices closest to the Bishop of Rome are already speaking, increasingly confident that when the time comes, Rome will not say what she said before.

Fr Raymond J de Souza is a priest of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Ontario, and editor-in-chief of Convivium magazine

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (13/11/15)

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