Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini and Pope Francis, a way to "complete" Vatican II.
(Rome) “Synodality” is a keyword of Pope Francis' pontificate. At first, even inveterate Vaticanists thought it was a lapse when the new pope used this hitherto unknown word. Even the Vatican press office believed he meant “collegiality,” a term not found in any document of Vatican II but which became a progressive code word in the post-Conciliar period. However, Francis stuck to his neologism. Only after a delay did the Catholic world begin to realize that the Argentine Pope was referring to far-reaching changes intended to give the Church a “new face”.
Katholisches.info wrote in November 2018: "From Martini's collegiality to Bergoglio's synodality". In fact, there is an inner connection. The two terms are in line, the latter, however, as a further development of the former.
From Martini's collegiality to Bergoglio's synodality
Collegiality was a key word of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (1927-2012), Archbishop of Milan from 1979 to 2002, President of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences and a Jesuit like Bergoglio. For almost 20 years, Martini was the spiritus rector of the secret group of Sankt Gallen, an association of the highest progressive churchmen to sabotage the pontificate of John Paul II and install a successor they liked. The extended arm of this group became active in 2013 as Team Bergoglio. Next August 31st marks the tenth anniversary of Martini's death. It was he who vigorously called for the immediate resignation of Benedict XVI. behind closed doors in June 2012. A few months later when Martini had died in the meantime, the German Pope, actually and surprisingly did exactly that.
In the 2005 conclave, Martini himself had hopes for the papal throne, but had to recognize his hopelessness for this cause. He then brought Cardinal Bergoglio into play to at least prevent the election of Benedict XVI.
Martini and Bergoglio, although both members of the Society of Jesus, did not really see each other, mainly for personal reasons. Martini came from a completely different social environment and was intellectually superior to the Argentine - and was himself convinced of it. However, both had one thing in common: They had been protégés of the same man, Jesuit General Pedro Arrupe, who led the order from 1965 to 1981/83 and revolutionized it to his detriment.
Martini was the declared opponent of two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The cardinal already saw himself in the antechamber to the papal throne, which is why, in a coquettish play on words, he did not describe himself as anti-pope, but as ante-pope. The allusion was explicit nonetheless. Although Martini did not make it to the papacy in 2005, his self-assessment proved to be true, albeit in a slightly different sense: he became the ante-pope, the one who preceded the pope of his election. A few months after his death, this wish was granted in the 2013 conclave. Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops, headlined three days ago, May 17, that Martini "anticipated Pope Francis". In fact, it was Martini who was the first to say that God was "not Catholic." On this point, too, in his first, spectacular interview with Eugenio Scalfari for La Repubblica in autumn 2013, Francis was already following a predetermined path.
Synodality is taking shape
In the fall of 2014, “synodality” began to take shape with the first Family Synod taking place. It quickly became apparent that the wind had turned. The rules of the Synod have been changed. The Pope emphasized “free speech”. But that was only a sham for the public. In reality, what only few noticed, the synod was trimmed down to the last detail by the papal direction for a specific result. Opposing opinions were obstructed and hidden from the outside world.
Was that the "synodality" Francis meant? Just an optical illusion, but in reality a well-crafted instrument of power to enforce his line? Observers of Church events tried to understand. But Francis is rooted in leftist thinking because of his formation through people and ideas. It is therefore about structural changes.
On September 18, 2018, the Vatican published the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio signed by Francis three days earlier. A document of almost explosive scope, which, however, received little attention and has not yet been applied. So far, the synod of bishops introduced in 1965 by Pope Paul VI. was only advisory in character. Since Episcopalis Communio, they can also have magisterial authority. Pope Francis stated in article 18 of the new constitution regarding the final report of the synod:
"If expressly approved by the Pope, the final document is part of the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter."
“Should the Pope give the synodal assembly decision-making authority in accordance with can. 343 of the Code of Canon Law, the final document, once ratified and promulgated by him, is part of the ordinary magisterium of the successor of Peter.”
The approach is reminiscent of the EU as revealed by then EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker:
“We decide something, then put it out there and wait a while to see what happens. If there is no big shouting and no riots because most people do not understand what has been decided, then we will continue - step by step until there is no turning back."
An advisory body became (if necessary) a decision-making body. At the same time, Pope Francis stressed suspiciously often that he didn't want to change anything, just initiate processes - albeit irreversible ones if possible.
In this sense, Episcopalis Communio became a legal norm in reserve, for the right moment. It can be applied at any time.
The next step
Meanwhile, on March 19, 2022, the next step was taken with the Apostolic Constitution, Praedicare Evangelium. In the course of the reorganization of the Roman Curia and the associated redistribution of responsibilities, two words have been omitted. A little thing that is easy to overlook at first glance – a supposed little thing. This constitution, with which the curial reform was implemented, which Francis had declared to be one of the main concerns of his pontificate and which had been demanded for years and decades, above all by progressive Church circles, ultimately went down almost “modestly” on the stage. But the devil is known to be in the details. Who likes to read laws and rules of procedure? In addition, this central constitution for the reorganization of the Roman Curia is only available in Italian to this day.
The change? Instead of the "synod of bishops", as it was called in the Italian documents, Praedicare Evaelium only speaks of "synod". This opened the way to an undefined, broader understanding of the synod, which is completely foreign to the Orthodox Church and has hitherto been in the Catholic Church. With exceptions. In the German-speaking world, experiments were carried out in the 1970s in the sense of a Protestant synod understanding, above all the Würzburg Synod 1971-1975, which were then stopped by John Paul II. With the "Synodal Path", the German Bishops' Conference is making another attempt, with the expected catastrophic consequences.
The difference? Not only do bishops meet and are entitled to vote, but also lay people. The Protestant understanding of "assembly" is carried over to the leadership level of the Church.
This coincides with another, no less drastic innovation by Praedicare Evangelium. Authority no longer derives from the consecration of a bishop, but from the missio canonica, the ecclesiastical commission. This is a double axis shift, down and sideways. Every priest, every theology professor and every religion teacher is equipped with one. Everyone can also lead the highest curia office and everyone can participate in synods and be entitled to vote.
Both changes show the intention of reorganizing the hierarchical constitution of the Church in the sense of Protestant and democratic elements. However, this affects the nature of the Church. According to the zeitgeist, everything has to be inclusive.
The "Synodal Church"
If the Church is "synodal" - Francis repeatedly spoke of a "synodal church" - then this implies that the synod is the central element of that church. Initially, some thought that Francis wanted to weaken the papacy in favor of a collegial governing body of bishops like the Holy Synod known to the Orthodox Church. However, Francis thinks far beyond that.
In papal circles, synodality was already defined as a state of "permanent synod". The power of governance would pass to a permanent synod, which would be a kind of inclusive parliament, using Episcopalis Communio. This idea of a "permanent synod" also goes back to Cardinal Martini, to which Cardinal Michael Czerny, also a Jesuit and close confidante of Pope Francis, referred with satisfaction on Monday in Milan. The occasion was the presentation of Martini's collected works, which are published by the Bompiani publishing house of the foundation named after Martini.
In April 2019, Francis was supported by the Council of Cardinals he created to introduce “synodality” at all levels and admit women to all positions of leadership. This practice of gender equality hides the fact that the question is not about women or men, but about clerics or lay people and about bishops or non-bishops. The noticeable suppression of the sacrament of Holy Orders and the ministry of Peter under Francis shines through. The latter seems paradoxical, since Francis' rule is more authoritarian than any of his immediate predecessors.
Francis goes the way there by convening ordinary and extraordinary synods, double synods, preliminary synods, recommending state synods and also multi-year synods, such as the bishops’ synod on synodality, the so-called “synod synod”, which lasts until 2023.
The synod as a workshop for experiments
It is known that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, prior to his election as Pope, was displeased with Roman interventions, corrections, additions and deletions in synodal documents. Some suspect that he therefore resorted to the unusual means of having all paragraphs of the working paper published, including those that did not win a two-thirds majority. All were published at his behest, along with the respective voting results. An approach that was not without criticism, as some recognized the promotion of a polarization that contradicts the synod principle of community and unity practiced up to now.
The polarization was exacerbated by Francis with the convening of the Amazon Synod, which took place in October 2019, and the circumstances in which it came about and its one-sided, little-confidence-inspiring preparation. Overall, at no point was the Amazon Synod geared toward consensus, but rather a largely one-sided event by a particular segment of the Church. The accusation was therefore voiced early on that the synod was not intended to solve problems at all, but to promote a certain progressive agenda.
Francis pulled the handbrake at the last moment. How this came about is not entirely clear. The fact is that Cardinal Robert Sarah, together with Benedict XVI. published a plea for celibacy and the priesthood, to the great annoyance of Santa Marta. After Francis had nurtured expectations in the above-mentioned circles for years to abolish celibacy for priests and to open the priesthood to lay people, especially women, a bitter disappointment followed for them. Approval for his pontificate has continued to decline since then.
It became clear to everyone that synodality is actually not a synonym for collegiality, that Pope Francis rather regards synodality as a workshop for experiments, even at the expense of collegiality. In doing so, he pays close attention to sounding out how far he can go without exposing himself to great resistance and even more serious accusations of heterodoxy. Francis acts deliberately and strategically.
However, his person is to be distinguished from the structural changes that he undertook through the two constitutions Epicopalis Communio and Praedicare Evangelium. A successor could see things differently and apply the possibilities opened up by Francis more radically. The conditions for this were created by the Argentine Pope.
Synod final report without vote and German special way
Speaking of a two-thirds majority: So far, in the case of synods of bishops, which are a product of the Second Vatican Council and take place every three years, that is only forwarded to the pope for his post-synodal letter that can be based on the approval of at least two-thirds of the synod fathers, has been the rule. The completely different practice of Francis is not without consequences. Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops since 2020, demanded that the final document of the Synod of Bishops should come about according to new rules, i.e. without a final vote. All paragraphs should be sent to the bishops' conferences, whose amendments will be obtained and only then published.
Cardinal Grech was previously Bishop of Gozo (Malta) and a particularly ardent supporter of Pope Francis. He made a name for himself in Santa Marta in 2016 with the implementation of the controversial post-synodal document Amoris Laetitia.
And as on other points, Francis' pontificate means support for the German "Sonderweg" [German Special Way]. It is no coincidence that two of the four cardinals of the so-called Bergoglio team, which organized his election to the papacy, came from the Federal Republic of Germany. It appears that there was agreement among them on the essential points in the run-up to the conclave. In all steps taken by the majority of the German Bishops' Conference in the direction of their "revolution", they use doors that Francis previously opened, whether to the homosexual agenda, intercommunion or "synodality".
That is exactly what Francis wants. He initiates and expects others to pass the ball on. But he wants to keep control of the game, which is a trait of his character. In this respect, things do not always run smoothly between him and the German progressives, who have a firm stranglehold on the Church in the German-speaking world.
The “synodal path” in Germany, like the state synods in Ireland and Australia, go back to Francis. In Italy, the pope even loudly called for a synod in March 2019 because he was dissatisfied with developments.
He opened Pandora's box and initiated a "trial" with unforeseeable consequences because each of these Bergoglian synods represents a potential threat to the unity of the Church, the German one in particular.
And as always, Francis is holding back, hardly appears to the outside world and does not interfere. This is based on a Hegelian principle.
The same path leads from Martini's collegiality to Bergoglio's synodality. It is about the "completion" of the Second Vatican Council, as implemented by the Jesuits in the spirit of Pedro Arrupe.
Cardinal Michael Czerny SJ put it this way on May 16:
“Cardinal Martini was a prophet. His visions foreshadowed avenues in the Church.”
It is Pope Francis who is walking these paths. Martini, Czerny, "did what the Council demanded of him".
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org