12 October 2015


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.


Anonymous said...

There is a useful technique for getting what one wants politically: to ensure that one's position can be presented as the moderate, compromise position. To achieve this, it helps if there is a group arguing for something much more extreme (as against the status quo) so that the conservative types can feel that the compromise position is some kind of victory over the radicals.

One wonders if a secret Synod would allow a worldly faction to push much more aggressively for abandonment of Christ's teaching, without fear of being held to book: thus creating a situation where compromise on the Church's discipline can be presented to conservatives as a middle way that resists some of the more radical proposals.

GOR said...

It used to be that any cleric would be loath to utter anything – from the pulpit or in the public square - that would in any way cast doubt on any part of Catholic Doctrine. Even if he had some personal doubts, or was weak in the Faith, he would avoid tainting the belief of his audience with his weakness.

In short, he would be afraid of giving scandal, mindful of Our Lord’s stark condemnation of scandal givers. Even if he thought some doctrine was a ‘hard saying’ and difficult to grasp or adhere to for many people, he would fear to call it into question, lest consciences be misled.

That was why the public dissent of the late 60’s was so shocking. Never before in our lifetime was such scandal-giving dissent witnessed on such a scale and in so many high ecclesiastical places. It was a turning point and a license to continue it for many. We continue to reap the evil fruits of that time, having the “itching ears” St. Paul referred to and chasing after teachers who “will not endure sound doctrine”.

ChrisB said...

I give thanks to our Father that their are priests and Bishops that can teach as you are teaching me Father Hunwicke. I know that this is a perilous time for the barque of Peter - and I am afraid of the height of the waves - but Jesus Christ is in the boat - and so it shall sail through the storm. As any sailor will tell us, a ship is not made for safe harbors...it is made to sail the sea...come what may.

So now is a test of the faithful...who must stand for the Truth. God give us the grace to do honor to Jesus by how we sail through this storm.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father, Kudos. Such courageousness will bring down upon you graces that will far outweigh any scorn the worldly bishops amy try and heap up against you

Anonymous said...

It's not just that Pope Francis and/or some of the bishops seem to feel it is their right and their role to push the boundaries of Church doctrine beyond what has been received and defined, but he seems to imply in many of his interventions that he thinks it is the role of the Holy Spirit to do the same. But didn't Jesus say "He will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16:14)? Either he thinks that the Son of God is willing to contradict Himself now, or he is confusing The Holy Spirit with "the spirit of the times".

He seems to regard doctrine itself as a sort of straitjacket that needs challenging and the Magisterium as just a bunch of killjoys who frustrate and resist "The Spirit", so you have to shut it all out and meet behind closed doors if you want to say what you "really" think and change the Church's teachings by stealth. But that's not just shutting out the Congregation for the Doctrine of The Faith, it's shutting out all of us who are trying to be "the faithful", and it's trying to shut out Jesus and His Holy Spirit too! (Although that will be found impossible in fact). He still thinks he's a South American outsider trying to bring about some kind of revolution but is being held back by the institutional Church. It feels terrible saying it, but I'm afraid this man just does not "get" what it means to be the Pope! I pray, pray, pray that he will wake up and be the Pope we need.

John Vasc said...

That story of Saint John Fisher denying that he had signed or sealed what he was alleged to have subscribed to also suggests a further danger to "revealing what has been said, but not who has said it" - it might be alleged that something had been generally said and agreed that nobody had actually said at all, except for the person 'reporting' it.
If I'm not mistaken there was exactly such a case of misreporting in the midterm report of the previous synodal session.

Unknown said...

It's funny that when I read that same passage, I interpreted it in a very different way.

I just saw it as Pope Francis wanting to protect individual bishops from the infamy of having said dumb things - a face saving measure. And also from being identified in public as (inextricably) belonging to this or that 'political' party. Thus the "protected space in which the Holy Spirit works" would allow them to be brought over to the truth (presented by other bishops) more easily.

And, indeed, I think that it has nothing to do with doctrine at all but with the 'pastoral approaches' which he seems so keen about. (And I don't mean 'pastoral approaches' as the liberal synonym for 'de facto change of doctrine.') Reading good conservatives associated with the JP II Institute like Fr. Jose Granados Garcia, Prof. Stephen Kampowski there is some totally orthodox and interesting theologizing going on about how to deal with remarried divorcees which doesn't in any way involve heterodoxy - just to take that one issue.

I understand your concerns - and he may have a little too much faith in the extent to which we can be assured the Holy Spirit works regarding pastoral matters, especially in Synods. Nonetheless, I just see him as wanting the bishops to be free to work out ideas, on pastoral matters, and come to accord more easily without publicly calcifying into hardened public positions, like politicians.

Unknown said...

It's funny that when I read that same passage, I interpreted it in a very different way.

I just saw it as Pope Francis wanting to protect individual bishops from the infamy of having said dumb things - a face saving measure. And also from being identified in public as (inextricably) belonging to this or that 'political' party. Thus the "protected space in which the Holy Spirit works" would allow them to be brought over to the truth (presented by other bishops) more easily.

And, indeed, I think that it has nothing to do with doctrine at all but with the 'pastoral approaches' which he seems so keen about. (And I don't mean 'pastoral approaches' as the liberal synonym for 'de facto change of doctrine.') Reading good conservatives associated with the JP II Institute like Fr. Jose Granados Garcia, Prof. Stephen Kampowski there is some totally orthodox and interesting theologizing going on about how to deal with remarried divorcees which doesn't in any way involve heterodoxy - just to take that one issue.

I understand your concerns - and he may have a little too much faith in the extent to which we can be assured the Holy Spirit works regarding pastoral matters, especially in Synods. Nonetheless, I just see him as wanting the bishops to be free to work out ideas, on pastoral matters, and come to accord more easily without publicly calcifying into hardened public positions, like politicians.

Woody said...

Thank you once again for these enlightening comments, Father. God continue to bless you.

Gil Garza said...

The Holy Father has said so many controversial things that he never actually said. The text to which you refer in your post is published by CNS (Aciprensa). The published CNS version takes many liberties with the interview that go far beyond editing a spoken conversation for a written format.

The version of the interview as broadcasted and published by Televisa News does not include the passage about anonymous Synodal voting. See: https://youtu.be/sxh5QDDyJOA?t=13m46s and http://noticieros.televisa.com/mexico/1503/papa-francisco-dos-anos-trono-san-pedro/

I conclude that the Holy Father never actually said anything about Synodal voting. The CNS editors, however, published what they wished he had said.

Reader said...

But I suspect that there has never been an ecumenical council of the world's bishops in which the sort of backroom horsetrading and secret or semi-secret negotiations have not occurred. There were factions at Vatican I, and the pope's men outmaneuvered them. Of course, much of the novelty of Vatican II is owing to the sort of behavior condemned in this post, according to de Matthei's _The Second Vatican Council_ which I happen to be reading at the moment. In other words, is there a touch of unrealism regarding human nature in Father's argument? Is he holding bishops to a sort of unnaturally high standard for mere men? He is right to condemn what is happening, for sure, and especially to wonder about the pope's apparent approval of it, above all. But should we be shocked?

Jacobi said...


This matter has been defined, many times since my youth in the 50s, and is actually quite simple.

The Pope, alone, or with some or all bishops, has no authority to proclaim new doctrine. He/they can only state what is already established in Scripture, Revelation Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church. On the two occasions when the Vicar of Christ has made Infallible statements, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, these definitions came from within the above and simply confirmed what was already Infallibly accepted.

Now examples. The coming Synod cannot change the established teaching on adultery or sodomy. They are grievous mortal sins, denying a state of Grace therefore ,Holy Communion may not be received without further mortal sin.

If one or a group of bishops try after the Synod to allow this and any laity comply, then bishops and laity are in as state of heresy and they are no longer Catholic.

Now I could have explained that after my my RE exam back in the 50s, which I deliberately failed by the way, and was publicly dressed down by the Rector at prize giving, who understood clearly, - I was in rebellion then - and nothing has or could have changed since.

All quite simple really.

Deacon Augustine said...

Our Lord had some choice things to say about those who preferred darkness and to work in the darkness rather than come out into the light.

If any bishop is ashamed to be accredited with his own words, then I think that is a fairly sure sign that they have not been inspired by the Holy Ghost. I don't know why the Pope thinks that the Holy Ghost can work better behind the shield of anonymity - in the darkness. Perhaps he is not really concerned about the Holy Ghost's inspiration at all and just wants everybody else to have the "freedom" to say something that "might sound heretical."

John Vasc said...

@Gil Garza - Not so! The remarks in question are indeed omitted from the Televisa Noticieros - they were apparently cut out and not broadcast in Mexico. But the Holy Father evidently did say and record them, as the Vatican Radio gives them in its recording and interview transcript - see
Vatican Radio points out that it was they (Vatican Radio) who recorded the Holy Father's interview with the journalist from which Televisa extracted their shortened version for transmission. The Televisa version is 41'26", while the complete Vatican Radio recording is 1 hour 24' 22". Q.E.D.
The Holy Father's remarks are on the audio recording at 1h 16' 15":
"Usted me preguntó que yo di libertad. Un Sínodo, sin libertad, no es Sínodo. Es una conferencia, en cambio el Sínodo es un espacio protegido, en el cual pueda trabajar el Espíritu Santo. Y para eso las personas tienen que ser libres. Por eso yo me opongo a que sean publicadas las cosas que dice cada uno con nombre y apellido. No. Que no se sepa que lo dijo él. Que se sepa lo que se dijo, no tengo problema. Pero no quién lo dijo. De manera que se sienta libre para decir lo que quiere."

The previous two paragraphs in the transcript seem to me almost equally remarkable:
" ¿cómo integrar en la vida de la Iglesia las familias, las replay, no? es decir las de segunda unión que a veces resultan fenómenos…" - And yet, says Pope Francis, mafiosi killers are allowed to be godfathers at baptism because they've been married in church. (If unrepentant? Really? And if so, is that a justification for someone else to breach a different commandment?)
We really need the whole Radio Vatican interview translated into English.

Ferrara said...

Father Hunwicke has laid bare the alarming essence of the matter: the Pope demands anonymity for the participants in the Secret Synod precisely so that they can feel free to depart from the deposit of the Faith. There can be no other reasonable explanation.

In fact, there can be no other reasonable explanation for the utterly predictable debacle of the Synod itself. Its movers and shakers have stated publicly form the outset that they are NOT going to Rome merely to repeat what the Church has always said. That is, they are gathering under the cloak of anonymity to see if they can find a way to depart from what the Church has always said.

So the Synod becomes a completely unnecessary pitched battle between the defenders of traditional teaching and praxis and those who seek to undermine traditional teaching and practice, and the faithful clergy and laity are reduced to petitioning the Pope to protect the Church from the Pope's own Synod.

This is the process Francis knowingly unleashed and has aided and abetted with his Rule of Anonymity. The question must be asked: What manner of Pope is this?

bleusmon said...


Cardinals Kasper & Marx *(and their ilk) are dodging a priori the accusation that they will change doctrine. They have repeatedly denied they will do so, but assure us that changing practice is what they have in mind, specifying the changes they will employ will be "pastoral" in nature rather than doctrinal in focus.

You don't have to be particularly bright to read their plan between the lines. We've already seen what happens to what Catholics believe and how their behavior when we change liturgical practice; i.e. Holy Communion distributed in the hand , standing, by unconsecrated hands.

Here in the states only 30% of the 77 million Catholics remaining in the Church (more or less) actually believe in the True Presence. Worse, consider that 57 million Catholics have left the Church in the U.S., and ask yourself if all those Catholics could have left if they, too, had believed in the True Presence.

At the October synod these fools intend to turn the Church inside out - not by tampering with doctrine, but by changing what Catholics believe by altering praxis.

We've seen this movie before.

Our Lady of Good Success-pray for us. said...

"The synod, instead, is a protected space in which the Holy Spirit can work..." Does make you wonder what sort of work the above 'protected space' imagines its 'Holy Spirit' doing? Possibly not this sort of work: jn.16.8 And when He (the Holy Spirit) is come, He will convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment.

Belfry Bat said...

"I have spoken openly to the world: I have always taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither all the Jews resort; and in secret I have spoken nothing."

Jacobi said...


K&M, and there ilk, have to remember that "pastoral" is but a word. If under the guise of this word, which can mean anything, they permit a practice to develop which is mortally sinful, then they too are implicit in such sin and indeed must be judged,(objectively I hasten to add), also guilty of mortal sin

If deliberately so, they are in a position of heresy, and therefore in heretical schism form the Catholic Church.

But let's not panic, as Cpl. Jones would say, we must remember that there will be a solid core of Catholics remaining in Germany and the Germanic areas, just as there was after the last Reformation.

Banshee said...

Actually, the old canon law should have forbidden mafiosi from being godfathers, because anybody who was a "criminal" whether convicted or not was forbidden to be one. The new law just says a godparent has to be living a life that goes along with Baptism, but obviously that would cut out mafiosi also.

However, Italian priests back in March were asking for an explicit "no organized crime figures as godparents" decree from the Vatican, because apparently a lot of priests don't like to say no to a gangster. They want the Pope to say it for them.

So the Pope is apparently talking about the fact that some Italian priests say it's okay to have married mafiosi as godfathers, not about what the actual canon law says. It's a current events remark.

Anonymous said...

Following up the remarks by Timothy Graham above, it is a technique well known to property developers, politcal spin doctors and the like, to "leak" outrageous demands or plans ("we are going to cut benefits by £10 billion....; we have applied for planning permission to put 100 houses...." and then, once the furore has died down, to come out with a much-revised [downward] number, in the expectation that the punters will heave a sigh of relief and say, "Oh well, only £5 billion cuts, only 50 houses. Could be worse."

Anyone tempted to fall for this one, in any connection, should be reminded that only the first two steps receive any publicity. The third step is quietly to reinstate the first, outrageous, plan, once the protestors have all packed up and gone home.

Liam Ronan said...

I believe Bergolio operates on the 'Thumper Rabbit' (Walt Disney's Bambi) principle:

"If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

Anonymous said...

It seems as though the Holy Spirit doesn't so much need 'protecting' from those of us who are waiting and praying outside this ring-fenced synodal 'space', but from some of those who are inside it!

Stephen said...

Good to learn of St. John Fisher. Reminds one of St. Mark of Ephesus, does it not? (Ah, but there's that one little wrinkle...)

Jacobi said...

It has all become very complicated. That is why we must have what are called “markers”.

Doctrine cannot be changed.

Pastoral practise (whatever that is ?) cannot counter doctrine.

Those, objectively speaking, in mortal sin cannot receive Holy Communion.

Anyone who allows or advocates that they may, is allowing or advocating what is contrary to Catholic doctrine and is thereby guilty of heresy.

Cherub said...

This is another extraordinarily helpful contribution from Father Hunwicke. I want to refer only to the opening sentence of the Pope Francis quote: "A synod without freedom is not a synod. It is a conference." This a really odd thing to say. The word "freedom" has many senses, and it appears to be used here in the political sense of freedom of speech." And that is precisely what a conference is. A conference is a place where academics and others "confer", share their latest insights, share the fruits of their most recent research, and call into question previous positions. A Synod of Bishops is something quite different. It is a meeting (ςυνοδοσ) of bishops to conduct specifically Church business. That may and should include opportunity for theological clarifications to make even clearer the teaching of the Church as it has always been from the time of Christ and the apostles, not to reinvent the faith. The kind of freedom for which the Pope seems to call is precisely the kind of freedom which has led the Synod into the theological mess in which it finds itself.

Evangeline said...

Thank you for the reminder that the Doctrine of Faith should be recognizable to each layperson. Once we are properly catechized, the truth should fall lightly on our ears, and it is understood as the truth. In a contrary way, what is novel and a departure, should also be detected when heard.
This is a critical point and makes it much easier to respond to said heresies. When we hear novelties, we must all be turned into John Fisher, and identify the novelty immediately.
We, the laity, have a part to play, and may have a very big part to play. I hope it does not come to it, but it might.

Mary Kay said...

I realize my understanding is very earthly, but point 4, above, puts it so clearly, that the bishops are being paid (it is their business!) to do what the Church mandates for them to do! My company would abruptly cease signing a paycheck for me if I said, in so many words, 'I will not serve'! Thank you for your clarity. It is much appreciated.
Mrs. M Jones

Deacon Augustine said...

Stephen, Mark of Ephesus saved the Catholic Church from entering into communion with an heretical body despite the willingness of our bishops to do so. The Latins were quite ready to enter into union with the Greeks despite the Greeks' heretical doctrine and "pastoral strategy" with respect to marriage i.e. bigamy/polygamy/polyandry and adultery. Thanks to Mark of Ephesus the Catholic Church has been spared the worst of the punishments which God has permitted to befall the Greeks.

The Council of Florence is testimony to the power of the Holy Ghost to keep the Church on the hard and narrow path, even when the majority of her hierarchy are deluded.

Victoria said...

To Dissenting Priests

"It is your duty to fix the lines (of doctrine) clearly in your minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession. This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priests but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defense of those opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing in your ministry after you have come to hold them. We always knew that a man who makes his living as a paid agent of the Conservative Party may honestly change his views and honestly become a Communist. What we deny is that he can honestly continue to be a Conservative agent and to receive money from one party while he supports the policy of the other."

--from Christian Apologetics by C.S. Lewis, Easter 1945.
(Reprinted in God in the Dock pp. 89-90)