— Rome — The Preacher of the Papal Household had a stark warning for senior Churchmen on Good Friday: to avoid fomenting division. He called them to careful examination of their behavior and their designs, which may frequently stem from ideological commitment rather than evangelical élan.
“If there is a special charism or gift that the Catholic Church is called to cultivate for all the Christian Churches,” said Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap., in a homily delivered in the presence of Pope Francis on Good Friday in St. Peter’s Basilica, “it is precisely unity.” The Preacher of the Papal Household — who began his tenure more than four decades ago — told pastors they “need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’.”
“Pastors,” he said, “need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience,” in these regards.
Cardinal Cantalamessa said that the most polarizing divisions “stem from political options that grow into ideologies” and come to take “priority over religious and ecclesial considerations,” before “leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.”
“Fomenting division,” Cardinal Cantalamessa said, “is the work par excellence of the one whose name is diabolos — that is the divider.”
The warning from the Preacher of the Papal Household comes at a moment of crisis in the Church, with senior Vatican officials and Pope Francis himself deeply concerned over the direction of a so-called “synodal way” in Germany. Pope Francis took the extraordinary step nearly two years ago, of writing directly to the country’s faithful in the summer of 2019 to urge serene discernment with the communion of the whole Church.
Pope Francis broached the subject of division later in 2019, in connection with a book by La Croix‘s Vaticanologist, Nicolas Senèze, Comment L’Amérique veut changer de Pape. “This is a bomb,” Pope Francis told the journalist, who had presented him with a copy of the book the day it was released. Later, he admitted he had commented on the book without reading it. “Traveling to Maputo, one of you gave me that book in French on how the Americans want to change the Pope,” he said. “I knew about that book, but I had not read it.”
A few days later, Pope Francis spoke openly of the possibility of schism. “I am not afraid of schisms, I pray that there will be none, because what is at stake is people’s spiritual health,” Pope Francis said in response to a question about possible schism in the US Church.
“Let there be dialogue, let there be correction if there is an error, but the schismatic path is not Christian,” Pope Francis went on to say in the answer during the in-flight presser en route to Rome from Madagascar. “A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine,” he said. “It is an ideology, perhaps correct, but that engages doctrine and detaches it.”
Since then, there has been a good deal of back-and-forth between Rome and Germany, regarding the Synodal Way.
Last year, German dissatisfaction with the way a document from the Congregation for Clergy addressed matters of Church discipline and governance prompted another testy exchange.
More recently, there has been widespread dissent from a recent CDF response to a dubium saying the Church lacks power to bless same-sex unions. A great many German priests and several bishops have expressed dissatisfaction with the statement, as have hundreds of theologians.
The dissent not limited to Germany.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna — a member of the CDF — has said blessing couples is “something to think about carefully,” and called the CDF’s handling of the matter “a communication error.”
Meanwhile, the Church is planning an Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for 2022, to discuss what “synodality” means.