Rumblings of discontent have accompanied the Papal document Episcopalis Communio, which effectively reconstituted the Synod of Bishops. Once again senior figures have complained about ‘manipulation’ and have secured a modest retreat by the Secretariat.
What commentators have been slow to analyse is the ultimate aim and intention of the recent changes. Though the details are complex, the aim is simple. It is clear that the Synod is intended to facilitate a modest revision of Catholic sexual ethics.
Thus far the synodical route to liberal reform has not proved to be plain sailing. Amoris Laetitia, the Papal outcome of the last synod, famously resulted in the dubia, to which Francis was obliged to respond (as any absolute monarch would) with silent disdain. The new synod rules are designed to eliminate this eventuality. The final document of the Youth Synod – drafted by a group dominated by Francis’s nominees, produced well in advance, and given only a cursory inspection by the Synod fathers – will receive the Papal imprimatur and thus instantly become part of the ordinary magisterium.
Objections to the document, from whatever exalted source, can easily be deflected. These, it will be said, are not the views of Francis alone, but the voice of the Church in Synod assembled. ‘The Dictator Pope’ will have achieved his own ends by a semblance of spurious democracy.
This political manoeuvre (aka low cunning) avoids both confrontation and disputation. Of course, the changes proposed will seem minor at first sight. The Francis approach to revolution is Fabian – gradual and incremental. But they will be real and enduring.
Episcopalis Communio does far more than it says on the tin!