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Group of cardinals expresses concern over new synod rules in letter to Pope

Pope Francis arrives for the afternoon session of the synod on Saturday (AP)

A group of cardinals wrote to Pope Francis at the start of the family synod expressing concerns about new procedures, it has been reported.

The letter, published in full by Sandro Magister, is said to have been signed by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, a president delegate to the synod, and Vatican officials Cardinal Gerhard Müller and Cardinal George Pell, among others.

Despite Sando Magister initially listing them as signatories, Cardinal Péter Erdõ, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza and Cardinal Angelo Scola have denied they signed the letter.

According to the report, in the letter, the cardinals expressed concern that “a synod designed to address a vital pastoral matter – reinforcing the dignity of marriage and family – may become dominated by the theological/doctrinal issue of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.”

However, Crux has reported that an unnamed source, “a senior participant in the synod”, has said that “the content of the letter as described by Magister was incorrect, as was the list of signatories”.

In an interview with Crux, Cardinal Napier confirmed that he had signed a letter but that it was different to the text published by Sandro Magister and that the letter he signed specifically concerned the issue of the 10 member commission who are preparing the final report on the synod.

Cardinal Napier reportedly told Crux that he is concerned about the choice of people who are writing the final document. He said: “If we’re going to get a fair expression of what the synod is about, [such as] what the Church in Africa really would like to see happening,” then different people should be chosen to draft the final report.

He added: “We wouldn’t like to see the same kind of people on that committee who were there the last time, who caused us the grief that we had,” in a reference to a controversial mid-term report published last year during the extraordinary synod.

However, on Tuesday Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told a press conference that Cardinal Napier has said he never told Crux he would challenge Pope Francis’s right to choose the members of the synod’s drafting committee.

Meanwhile a spokesman for Cardinal George Pell said that the letter to the Pope was private and “should remain private” and that there were “errors in both the content and the list of signatories” in the original report.

But the spokesman also said: “The cardinal is aware that concerns remain among many of the Synod Fathers about the composition of the drafting committee of the final relatio and about the process by which it will be presented to the Synod fathers and voted upon.”

He also added that there is “some disagreement because minority elements want to change the Church’s teachings on the proper dispositions necessary for the reception of Communion. Obviously there is no possibility of change on this doctrine.”

According to Sando Magister, the letter warned that “the collapse of liberal Protestant churches in the modern era, accelerated by their abandonment of key elements of Christian belief and practice in the name of pastoral adaptation, warrants great caution in our own synodal discussions.”

The cardinals also are said to have asked the Pope to “consider a number of concerns we have heard from other synod fathers, and which we share” and criticised the synod’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document.

“While the synod’s preparatory document, the Instrumentum Laboris, has admirable elements, it also has sections that would benefit from substantial reflection and reworking,” the letter reportedly said.

“The new procedures guiding the synod seem to guarantee it excessive influence on the synod’s deliberations and on the final synodal document. As it stands, and given the concerns we have already heard from many of the fathers about its various problematic sections, the Instrumentum cannot adequately serve as a guiding text or the foundation of a final document.”

The letter, Sando Magister said, was delivered to Pope Francis on October 5, the first day of the synod. After addressing participants at the synod’s opening session, the Pontiff then made a second surprise speech at the start of the following day’s deliberations.

Fr Lombardi told reporters that the Pope affirmed that “Catholic doctrine on marriage has not been touched or put into question.”

The Pope reportedly added: “We should not let ourselves be conditioned by or to reduce the horizons of our work as if the only problem were that of Communion for the divorced and remarried or not.”

Fr Lombardi declined to confirm the existence of the letter at a press conference today, saying: “If it was a document addressed to the Pope, it’s up to him to say ‘I’ve received it or not.’”