Now returned to Rome, Cardinal Pell spoke to the Catholic Herald’s podcast Merely Catholic during Holy Week in order to explain what lay behind the publication of the “Fraternal Open Letter of Correction” addressed to the German bishops in response to their preparation for the Synodal Way.
To hear his own voice, you simply need to subscribe to the podcast which you can find here. During this conversation he made his views clear that the way in which some of the Catholic communities in Europe had tried to accommodate themselves to a secularised understanding of humanity and human desire had led directly to their numerical collapse.
And that was why he, and a number of cardinals, archbishops and bishops around the world had issued this open letter to the German bishops.
The letter has seven serious criticisms of the way in which the German Church is approaching its engagement with the Synodal Way.
The first may be the most serious; it’s a charge that there is no evidence that the bishops are paying attention to the Holy Spirit and the Gospel itself. The other charges explain why:
The preparatory documents have ignored the wisdom and the values of the Church accrued over the years, and just as if they were a secular organisation have taken their lead and their proprieties from contemporary sociology and politics; particularly in the area of gender issues.
One of the characteristics of secular culture is to encourage people to make choices that suit their sense of what their tastes and preferences are. The Christian understanding of freedom is very different; it’s not autonomy, it’s the opportunity to choose what is right.
And there is a sense that the whole enterprise is being pursued with a grim determination that lacks what Pope Francis in particular has identified as a joy that always accompanies the Gospel.
Another cause of concern is the way in which the whole programme seems to have been created by committees, heavy on bureaucracy and light on inspiration.
Further, the dominant value embedded in the documents is the pursuit of “power”. Many theologians see the central struggle that defines Christianity as being a spiritual integrity rooted in compassion, vulnerability and humility that sets out to expose the love and pursuit of power for what it is, a form of diabolic self-sufficiency.
Lastly, synodality is an important aspect of the Church’s life, since it stands for taking counsel with each other while travelling in the same direction following Jesus on the Way. But ironically, this expression of a synodal pathway which prefers secular values to Christian ones, exudes grimness rather than joy, prefers sociology to theology, and power to vulnerable love, may so discourage other members of the Church that they mistrust the process and avoid it.
Implicit in his commentary on the letter is his anticipation of the role Pope Francis will play. There are of course three ways of responding to the role the pope has played. The authors of the “dubia” exercised their right to ask for clarification and are yet to receive it.
Archbishop Vigano presented a direct challenge to the public priorities of this papacy but without any obvious traction.
Cardinal Pell has chosen the third way, which is to offer what he described as “encouragement” to the Pope to fulfil his apostolic role in the present cultural and theological crisis.
Cardinal Pell was forthright in his belief, not only in the Petrine office, but also in his assurance that the Holy Father will respond to the German response to the synodal way in a way that keeps faith with the teaching of the Catholic church down the ages across cultures and centuries. He is confident that this “encouragement” will have the effect of reminding the pope, should he need reminding, that the vast majority of Catholics are looking to him to articulate and embody the faith in the face of the challenges from a secularised sub-Christian and sometimes anti-Christian culture.
When he was asked if he had a message of hope to encourage faithful Catholics who find themselves pressurised on all sides, as someone who had been unjustly incarcerated and experienced the threat of desolation in prison, he replied forthrightly.
He wanted to remind the faithful that the teachings of Christ “work”.
He continued, “Our strength is in fidelity to the teachings of Christ and the Church. I believed that justice and love would prevail. I believed in redemptive suffering. We have an enormous advantage over the secularists when we approach suffering. They cannot escape it either, but they have no explanation for it. And nothing good for them can come from it…. Forgiveness is liberating.”
Easter is a time for allowing the resurrection to renew our hope. But as Cardinal Pell pointed out so energetically, our hope is renewed not only in the promise of heaven, but also in the triumph of Christ within His Church in times of adversity. His interview was an inspirational rallying cry to the faithful not to lose hope, but to cling firmly to the teaching of Christ and the apostles, to the Magisterium of the Church, and to the witness of the Holy Spirit down the ages. As so often, we find that a voice refined by suffering carries a spiritual and existential authenticity providing an impact beyond the ordinary, meeting the needs of the moment.
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