A gathering of world Roman Catholic bishops was thrown into confusion this week with the leak of a letter from conservative cardinals to Pope Francis bitterly complaining that the meeting was stacked against them.
It was published by the same Italian journalist whose press credentials were stripped by the Holy See last June after he ran a leaked copy of the pope’s major encyclical on the environment.
The gathering, or synod, of more than 300 bishops, delegates and observers, including some married couples, is discussing how the Church can confront challenges facing the modern family.
The bishops are debating ways to defend the traditional family and make life-long marriage more appealing to young people, and at the same time reach out to disaffected Catholics such as homosexuals, co-habiting couples and the divorced.
L’Espresso newsweekly, which published the English-language letter in full, said 13 cardinals signed the letter and one of them, the Vatican’s Australian financial manager, Cardinal George Pell, hand-delivered it to Francis on October 5 at the start of the three-week meeting on crafting better pastoral care for Catholic families.
It complained that the synod’s working paper needed “reflection and reworking” and was inadequate as the basis for a final position paper the pope may use to write his own document.
The published letter also complained that a change in which small group discussions have greater influence than speeches to the assembly “seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.”
By Monday afternoon, at least four of the 13 purported signatories said they had never signed such a letter. Pell’s spokesman seemed to confirm he was behind the initiative by saying the letter was private and was supposed to stay private.
Since his election in 2013, Francis has given hope to progressives who want him to forge ahead with his vision of a more inclusive Church that concentrates on mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rigid rules they see as antiquated.