It’s distressing that the bishops would even have to resort to sending such a letter to the pope, but at least some of them are speaking up. The text of the letter sent from thirteen cardinals to Pope Francis is below:
As the Synod on the Family begins, and with a desire to see it fruitfully serve the Church and your ministry, we respectfully ask you to consider a number of concerns we have heard from other synod fathers, and which we share.
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 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 new synodal procedures will be seen in some quarters as lacking openness and genuine collegiality. In the past, the process of offering propositions and voting on them served the valuable purpose of taking the measure of the synod fathers’ minds. The absence of propositions and their related discussions and voting seems to discourage open debate and to confine discussion to small groups; thus it seems urgent to us that the crafting of propositions to be voted on by the entire synod should be restored. Voting on a final document comes too late in the process for a full review and serious adjustment of the text.
Additionally, the lack of input by the synod fathers in the composition of the drafting committee has created considerable unease. Members have been appointed, not elected, without consultation. Likewise, anyone drafting anything at the level of the small circles should be elected, not appointed.
In turn, these things have created a concern that the new procedures are not true to the traditional spirit and purpose of a synod. It is unclear why these procedural changes are necessary. A number of fathers feel the new process seems designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.
Finally and perhaps most urgently, various fathers have 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. If so, this will inevitably raise even more fundamental issues about how the Church, going forward, should interpret and apply the Word of God, her doctrines and her disciplines to changes in culture. 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.
Your Holiness, we offer these thoughts in a spirit of fidelity, and we thank you for considering them.
Faithfully yours in Jesus Christ.