As many of our readers know, Cardinal Nichols of Westminster isn’t always the most honest, tasteful, or concise member of the College of Cardinals, and recently many of his priests have offered him a vote of no confidence by publishing a letter in which they demand that the next Synod in Rome remain firm on doctrine. (You can read about the letter and his Eminence’s response thereto here.) Such a response is not surprising insofar as the Holy Father has now opened the floodgates for public debate and thereby granted conservatives and traditionalists license to imitate their liberal brethren by publicly airing their minds. Happily, it happens that Cardinal Nichols has now himself learnt a lesson from the priests of his diocese who were bold enough to sign the letter and has in fact changed his tone. In October last year, Nichols published a pastoral letter in which he speaks of the Synod approvingly and with relish. (It may be read here.) Now it seems his Eminence has learnt something of the preconciliar art of concision, precision, and brevity, and publicly changed his mind by publishing a revision, which may be read below.
The full, revised text of Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ Pastoral Letter is as follows:
To all our brethren and spiritual subjects in Christ, both laics and clerks:
During this season of Lent wherein our holy Mother the Church ever exhorts her children unto increased vigilance, prayer, and penance, our grief and sadness compel us to make known unto you, dear brethren, the machinations of the recent Extraordinary Synod of Bishops held in Rome on the theme of the tribulations afflicted upon the family in these foul days of ours. Although fain would we have abstained from such a conventicle of many who have fallen from the sweetness of truth, duty bade us stay and offer unto God the sacrifices of a heart contrite and pierced by the infidelity of so many of our fellow churchmen.
As you have heard or read, many of the Synod fathers were intent upon changing the teaching of the Church (which God forbid!) on marriage and family life. Such, alas, is the case. Superficially, the enemies of truth discussed questions of ‘pastoral care’ that the Church with maternal solicitude ever owes to repentant sinners. Such was all for the good. The primal error afflicting nearly all, however, was the intentionally willed ambiguity whereby almost none distinguished between the repentant and the unrepentant. Whereas the Church must always offer care for the sick of soul, that she might cure the spiritually infirm all the more, from time to time she must rebuke the proud and prod the unrepentant to turn and believe. The universal call to repentance was, we must report, sadly lacking from the Synod Fathers, especially those from Germany. Such widespread lack of faith, is especially disheartening as we consider the ever increasing number of listless souls for whom Christ died, yet who know him not; or who know him, yet love him not.
You may also have heard that the Holy Father was disappointed at the Synod’s outcome. At present, we are not altogether sure what the Supreme Pontiff’s attitude towards the Synod proceedings were or whether he was satisfied with its work. We were, however, taken aback at his refusal or at least unwillingness to reveal his own mind as to what precisely he would have done.
At Synod’s end, Pope Francis spoke at length about his joy, satisfaction, and frustration with its work. He told the assembled Fathers to take to heart how Divine Providence had touched the Synod through its proceedings, and to see how we may have been tempted to reject the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The Synod, he insisted, must needs be a spiritual journey, not a debating chamber. Yet debating is so often all we did. Our “journey” was nothing but a facile glance and glib perusal at some of the trials afflicting the family in the contemporary world. With the desultoriness of chimpanzees, certain speakers moved from topics like concubinage, polygamy, and whoring, to fornication, adultery, and even the sin against nature, with seemingly little cognizance that for sins such as these, innumerable sinners fail to attain salvation. The vagueness of the proceedings and the sins it refused to name was, at times, intolerable.
In the course of the proceedings, the Synod Fathers contributed to the veritable deluge of mindless dribble that passes these days for so-called ‘magisterial’ texts, which seek to appease all by saying little. By the end, it seems, the German revisionists and their allies had hit their mark and drafted the 'Synod Report' on which the Synod Fathers voted, paragraph by paragraph. Quite simply, the votes indicate the gap between the many who have rejected the faith once delivered and those who have remained firm. Unfortunately, this Report now constitutes the matrix from which will emerge the next Synod to be held this October on the predictably ambiguous theme of 'The Vocation and Mission of the Family Today'.
At the end of the Synod, in his closing address, Pope Francis said this: 'Dear brothers and sisters, now we still have one year to mature, with true spiritual discernment, the proposed ideas and find concrete solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families......May the Lord accompany us and guide us in this journey for the glory of His Name.'
That, apparently, is what our loyalty to the Supreme Pontiff requires of us in this present moment. It is our earnest hope, in the meanwhile, to exhort you, faithful souls, during this Lenten season to join your hearts and minds to our Crucified Lord, stretched and nailed, rejected, dying, and alone, who is offered in every Mass and ever present in the Blessed Sacrament, that he avert from us the full measure of the Father’s wrath stirred up by the willful impenitence of wretched and degenerate men who prefer the path of perdition to peace.
With our Apostolic Benediction, we remain
X Cardinal Vincent NicholsArchbishop of Westminster