Edward Pentin himself, who is rapidly becoming the most trusted voice on the Vatican in the English language, is the consummate English gentleman with a full measure of that nation’s characteristic reserve and would never dream of saying such a thing. His book carefully lays out all the evidence, however, including direct quotes from many Synod bishops that leave the reader to come to the obvious conclusion. And it obliges the reader inevitably to look ahead and wonder what could possibly be coming for us in October.
What can we expect at the upcoming Synod Part II? Pentin quotes Sandro Magister, writing at the time on the release of the extraordinary document, the mid-term relatio, with its “startling change of paradigm on the issue of homosexuality.”
This, Magister wrote, “would not have been possible without a series of skillfully calculated steps on the part of those who had and have control of the procedures.”
Pentin’s revealing book comes at a time of perhaps the greatest pitch of confusion the Church has seen since the late 1960s; the news from Rome is starting to resemble a fire hose from which the sensible reader will hesitate to drink. The same week as the book was released, Pope Francis’ announced his changes to the annulment laws that have been denounced already in early reports by some canonists as being unworkable, and others are already calling an assault on the Church’s marriage teachings.
Add all these items together to the reports that the Synod organisers have nixed publication of the any of the proceedings, and the reader may easily conclude that the Synod, set to begin just three weeks from this writing, is going to trigger a firestorm in the Catholic Church that will rival that of the Protestant revolution, or even the Arian crisis of 17 centuries ago. As Fr. Brian Harrison has memorably warned, “a massive, looming threat that bids fair to pierce, penetrate and rend in twain Peter’s barque.”
It seems clear that for Francis and his followers, the two Synods on the Family are intended as a mop-up operation to finish the work of Vatican II, as Cardinal Kasper has all but said in his many interviews promoting his agenda. It is certainly no secret there have been people in the Church’s so-called “progressive” wing who have been waiting patiently all through the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, that long pause, to finally bring about the logical conclusion of their work at the Council. Indeed, some have unofficially dubbed the Francis Synods, “Vatican 2.5”.
In an interview with Raymond Arroyo, Pentin said that the question mark at the end of the book’s title was important, because he wanted the readers to look at the evidence and decide for themselves, “was this rigged, was there manipulation going on? Was there an agenda being pushed?”
Pentin said that his investigations revealed that the leading players were only seven or eight people, “and they came from the top.” These included Synod General Secretary Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and “the Synod secretariat.”
“Those seven or eight people were keen to see a certain result. They wanted to see their agenda pushed through,” he said.
I attended the Synod of 2014 in a journalistic capacity, and listened at the press conferences as prelates close to the pope all but announced their intentions to so radically alter Catholic “pastoral practice” that doctrine would be rendered an irrelevant – and ultimately forgotten – archaism. During that memorable time, I had many conversations with Edward Pentin and other journalists who were unanimous in their expressions of astonishment at the brazen manner the Synod administrators were acting.
If nothing else was clear in all the uproar, what did come through was that these men – Cardinal Baldisseri, Cardinal Marx, Cardinal Kasper, Archbishop Bruno Forte – felt no need to hide or camouflage their intentions or actions. They were obviously completely confident that they were empowered to do or say anything they wanted.
Those who followed the ‘14 Synod’s sometimes astonishing antics will not hear much in the book that is not familiar. Certainly most of what Pentin relates was the subject of nearly frantic gossip and speculation throughout the world of Vatican-watchers at the time. As I was reading, I was reminded of the constant expressions of triumph from the many anti-Catholic mainstream journalists, including those with positions in the nominally Catholic press as the predetermined outcome of the Synod became clear. These were people who understood perfectly well what was happening as we watched. This was the end game they had been waiting decades for.
There are a few standout moments: the time Hungarian Cardinal Petr Erdo, the Synod’s general relator, backpedalled away from what was ostensibly his own interim relatio. That was the bombshell mid-term report that included the exhortation for Catholics to “accept and value” the homosexual orientation, and asserted that, notwithstanding the “moral problems” of “homosexual unions… it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”
“Critics pointed out that there was no reference to Catholic doctrine that sexual relations between people of the same sex are “intrinsically disordered”, that the acts are gravely sinful (or sinful at all), or that homosexual orientation was “objectively disordered,” Pentin writes. “Asked about the relevant paragraph during an October 13 press briefing on the report, he handed the floor to [Archbishop Bruno] Forte, saying: ‘He who wrote the text must know what it is talking about.’”
The release of the notorious mid-term relatio was not the first indication, but remains the peak of the uproar that made it impossible to continue to maintain that the Synod was proceeding normally.
The release of that document directly to the media, strikingly before any of the bishops had seen it and containing material they said they had never discussed, was one of the most obvious indications that all was not on the up and up.
Pentin quotes Cardinal Charles Napier, a member of the Synod’s permanent council, giving one of the early hints that the Synod fathers felt they were being manipulated. Napier said that once a perception had been created in the media that the Church was about to alter its teaching on homosexuality, “there’s no way of retrieving” it.
“So it seems reasonable to conclude that whoever was behind the release of the document to the media most likely knew the impact it would have and effectively sent it over the heads of the synod fathers in addition, it seemed at the time, to that of the pope,” Pentin continues.
And those who would still question Pope Francis’ involvement or approval of the goings-on, can take the word of Cardinal Baldisseri, his hand-picked Synod front man who, asked in an interview whether the pope had read and approved the mid-term document confirmed both. The General Secretary of the Synod added, “This point is important not only because of his authority, but also it puts the Secretary General at ease.”
In the New York Times this weekend, Ross Douthat suggested that the pope’s annulment decree was a way of clearing the ‘15 Synod’s slate of that option, suggested in the ’14 Synod as the only legitimately Catholic solution to the “problem” of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. But that raises another even more disturbing question. Given the nature of the suggestions on the mid-term relatio last year, particularly about the legitimacy of homosexual relations, and if the only canonically and doctrinally legitimate option is off the table, what, exactly, are we going to be seeing discussed in three weeks’ time?
Of course, reading this book, the answer becomes obvious. Pentin told Arroyo that his investigations lead him to believe that the Synod was and is being used as a Trojan Horse, to push “validating same-sex unions within the Church, changing the Church’s views on human sexuality, the Church’s doctrine,” through the changing of “pastoral practice.”
Perhaps more to the point for journalists and the general public, another question has come forward: will we ever really know what they discuss? Italian Vaticanist Andrea Gagliarducci wrote a week ago that, having failed to “win over” a comfortable majority of the Synod’s bishops, the revolutionaries are simply changing the rules to make them an irrelevant factor.
“Some well-informed people,” Gagliarducci writes, “say that the 2015 Synod will be completely different from any other.”
“First of all, a midterm report will not be released. Last year, the midterm report was completely revised by some of the Pope’s closest collaborators prior to its release, and the report resulted in many controversies…But its release united the followers of the Church’s doctrine, who stood up against the Synod’s drift. They ultimately achieved an acceptable compromise for the Synod’s Final Report, which was filled with biblical references that had been lacking in the midterm report.”
Last year, bishops and Catholic activists who were growing increasingly alarmed and frustrated by the virtual blockading of dissenting (that is, doctrinally orthodox) voices and the lockdown at the official press conferences, rejected the suggestion that the only possible solution would be to hold separate press conferences. Presumably no one at that point wanted to be seen, as Cardinal Kasper suggested, as being involved in a “conservative” plot opposing the pope. But events having so accelerated in the intervening year, it might be the only option left to those who want to defend the Faith this year.
Gagliarducci continues, “Avoiding the release of a midterm report would mean eliminating any possibility of discussion. The plan is for the Synod to carry out discussions mostly in ‘small groups’ (circuli minores) without a general discussion. In the end, the reports of the small groups would be put in the Pope’s hands, and the Pope would then give a final address. No final report or post-synodal apostolic exhortation is foreseen at the moment.”
Perhaps the most important take-away in Pentin’s book is that the people who are running the Synod show have no interest in preserving, defending or promoting the Catholic religion, and no qualms whatever about brazenly lying about it to the public and the bishops. From the events related in the book, and from the ongoing barrage of activities of Pope Francis and his subordinates since October 2014, it is clear where we are headed.
At each critical stage of the revolution since Vatican II there have been authors who have produced books meticulously chronicling exactly who did what, when and why, and I would argue that Pentin’s is the next in that line, following the tradition of Ralph Witgen’s “The Rhine Flows into the Tiber.” The Rigging of a Vatican Synod, thus far released by Ignatius press only in an electronic version to read on your Kindle or laptop, must necessarily take its place in the canon of those works that must be read in order to understand fully what is being done to the Church and by whom right now.