In May this year the Holy Father made some remarks which I found enormously difficult.
"A synod without freedom is not a synod. It is a conference. The synod, instead, is a protected space in which the Holy Spirit can work. And for this reason the persons must be free. This is why I will not allow the things that each one says to be published with name and surname. No, it should not be known who has said it. I have no problem with revealing what has been said, but not who has said it, in such a way that one may feel free to say what one wishes."
Happily, when the final briefing on synodal procedure was given on the Friday before last, it was made clear that each Father would have the right to communicate with the media at his own discretion and on his own responsibility. I trust this means that each Father will speak with parrhesia, not only about his own 'interventions', but also, if he judges it necessary, about what his colleagues have said. It is the duty of a bishop, not only to preach the truth, but to refute and rebuke error.
In order to explain, stage by stage, why I think this embodies a doctrinal point of very considerable importance, let me (1) remind you of a key sentence in the Decrees of the First Vatican Council; "Neque enim Petri successoribus Spiritus Sanctus promissus est, ut eo revelante novam doctrinam patefacerent, sed ut, eo assistente, traditam per Apostolos revelationem seu fidei depositum sancte custodirent et fideliter exponerent." [The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in order that, by his revelation, they might disclose new teaching, but so that, by his assistance, they might devoutly guard the revelation handed down through the Apostles, the Deposit of Faith, and might faithfully set it forth.]
(2) If such restrictions surround the Pope, surely they apply also to bishops. I do not see, having been a papalist all my adult life, how an individual bishop (or even a group of them) can be said to have more power than the Bishop of Rome to "reveal new teaching". I do not believe that Bishop von Bloggs, at this autumn's synod, can claim the revelation, or assistance, of the Holy Spirit, for anything other than the faithful and careful preservation and exposition of the Revelation given once for all to the Apostles and handed down through them and through their successors. The Pope can't, so why should Bishop von Bloggs claim such a power? Who does he think he is?
(3) Bishops may be clever men. They are entitled to be clever men. They are entitled to show their cleverness off to their private chums. But when they speak qua bishops, they have no entitlement to do anything other than to uphold the Deposit of Faith. If they claim the revelation or assistance of the Holy Spirit to advocate what is contrary to the traditam per Apostolos revelationem seu fidei depositum, they blaspheme. And against the Holy Spirit. The frightening Apostolic injunction dokimazete ta pneumata (I John 4:1) applies to them as much as to each one of us: perhaps, more so. The Holy Spirit is not present at the Synod as a sort of osmosis or miasma or ectoplasm floating around and influencing, in a mysterious and imperceptible way, the feelings of the bishops, but in the heart and mouth of the Bishop who can stand up and say "That is not the teaching which I have received from the Apostles", and of the Bishop who can say "Scripture and Holy Tradition teach this".
(4) Why, someone may ask, should they not be entitled to express their views privately and anonymously? Because a bishop acting qua bishop is not a private person. His authority is no greater than yours is or mine, unless he is speaking as a Bishop. And the synod members will have gone to Rome, expenses paid, not qua clever chaps, not qua individuals, at all, but qua bishops. The bishop teaches as the Successor of the Apostles; he teaches qua the Bishop of his See. What he says, he should say as the inheritor of the Apostolic teaching handed down since the foundation of his See, in his own Particular Church. His teaching should be recognisable as the teaching, not of Bishop von Bloggs as an individual, but of the succession of Bishops preceding him in his See. It ought to be publicly recognisable to his own clerics and laics as the teaching, not of von Bloggs only, but of the series episcoporum of the Particular Church which is both his and theirs. This was the crucial point made in the second century by S Irenaeus: the doctrine handed down in Catholic bishoprics all over the world is guaranteed as authentic because it has been asserted by bishop following bishop from the Apostles onwards, openly and in public.
(5) The Holy Father has frequently urged Parrhesia upon his venerable brethren in the Episcopate, and the same word had a prominent place in Cardinal Baldisseri's briefing last Friday. In my humble opinion based upon my own reading, this word means speaking out boldly and courageously without any fear of even the mightiest. It has never occurred to me that it might mean expressing, anonymously behind closed doors, views which, outside the "protected space", one would be afraid to be known to have uttered.
It is thoroughly disgraceful if it is true that a Polish Archbishop was made, a day or two ago, to take off his blog his accounts of what other Fathers had said. Disgraceful ... Stalinist ... cuiuscumque auctoritate hoc factum sit, in quacumque dignitate constituti.
A bishop is not a distinguished individual; he is episcopus in et cum Ecclesia sua. Episcopacy is not a personal fashion accessory. I can think of few things more disgracefully clericalist, more ecclesiologically corrupt, than bishops meeting privately "in a protected space" in which they believe themselves free to stitch together something which might not be according to the traditam per Apostolos revelationem seu fidei depositum; and to do this without any element of the discipline and responsibility which comes from it being publicly known what each has said. Have their diocesan priests, deacons, and layfolk no rights whatsoever? Is Episcopacy simply a matter of lording it over the flock of Christ (I Peter 5:3) without oneself being answerable to the plebs sancta Dei? I am reminded of what an English poet called Kipling once said to an English Press Baron called Beaverbrook: "Power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages". I pray that at least the English bishops at the synod will behave like (and I borrow here a phrase Newman used about his own greatly loved bishop Ullathorne) 'straightforward Englishmen' as well as like Catholic bishops, and publish openly outside the aula whatever they have said privately within it; and comment freely upon what other Fathers have said.
On June 25, 1529, an earlier generation of English bishops, in an exercise of what we might nowadays call Collegiality, was gathered together in court, and a document was read out indicating the adherence of each of them to Henry Tudor's fairly novel conviction that his marriage to Queen Catharine was null and void. All was going so well ... but then the Primate Archbishop Warham reached and read out the name of the Bishop of Rochester. The learned, saintly, and austere figure of John Fisher stood up and testified "That is not my hand or seal".
Warham had, one might suspect, forged the adherence of Fisher in a kindly gesture designed to let him off the hook without too much violence to his conscience. But Collegiality or no Collegiality, King Henry or no King Henry, S John Fisher knew his duty qua bishop. "That is not my hand or seal". Ultimately, he was to die because of his open and public witness (seven or eight books of it) to what the tradita per Apostolos revelatio seu fidei depositum taught (and still teaches today) about the Indissolubility of Marriage.
He was prepared, with very great parrhesia, to put his name to that teaching, and to do so in public.