The publication of the letter from thirteen cardinals to Pope Francis on October 11 by the Italian expert on Vatican affairs, Sandro Magister, continued to be at the center of discussion in Rome today, with various declarations from cardinals and much speculation as to the motive why it was leaked a whole week after the event.
At a Vatican press briefing on the synod, the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi S.J., denounced the publication of the letter as “an act of disturbance.” At the same time he insisted that “the overall climate at the synod is without doubt positive.”
Today too, Cardinal Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, would neither confirm nor deny that he had signed the letter, when asked by Corriere della Sera, the Italian daily. Instead, the German cardinal said “the scandal is the making public of a private letter to the Pope.” He alleged that “this is a new Vatileaks!” Interestingly, Muller did not question the contents of the letter in this interview, but he insisted that “the intention of the one who wanted the publication of this letter is to sow discord, to create tensions.”
When it was put to him that the Pope on October 6 had urged the synod fathers “not to give in to the hermeneutic of conspiracy”, Muller said he thinks the Pope “was speaking of those who sustain that there is an opposition against the Pope in the Roman Curia. Those who say and write that there are wolves, that Francis is surrounded by wolves." Then, he added, " It’s an offensive and criminal expression. I am not a wolf against the Pope.”
Lombardi, in his statement, said “the difficulties included in the letter (of the 13 cardinals) were mentioned on Monday evening (Oct.5) in the Synod Hall.” In actual fact, Cardinal Pell raised them then during the hour of “free discussion” that same evening. The Vatican spokesman recalled that “the following morning” (Oct.6), the General Secretary of the synod – Cardinal Baldisseri, and the Pope “responded clearly.” And while it is “neither new nor surprising” that “observations” can be made regarding the methodology of the synod, he insisted that “once (the methodology is) agreed upon, a commitment is made to put it into practice in the best way possible.”
Given this situation, Father Lombardi charged that “to provide this text (the letter) and this list of signatories some days later constitutes a disruption that was not intended by the signatories (at least by the most authoritative ones). Therefore it would be inappropriate to allow it to have any influence. “ And "this is what is taking place - he said - there is very extensive collaboration in the task of allowing the Synod to make good progress on its path” and “some of the ‘signatories’ have been elected Moderators” of the language groups “and have been working intensively.” This was a reference to Cardinals Collins, Pell and Sarah who signed the letter to the Pope, and were elected moderators of their groups before the news broke.
The Vatican spokesman told the press that “at least four” of the cardinals on Magister’s list have denied their involvement: Cardinals Erdo, Piacenza, Vingt-Trois and Scola.
He reported that Cardinal Pell declared that “a letter to the Pope was confidential and should have remained such” and said that “neither the text published nor the signatories correspond to what was sent to the Pope.”
In actual fact, Pell confirmed that he was one of those who signed the letter. South Africa’s Cardinal Napier did likewise, but claimed the version he signed was different to what Sandro Magister had published. Cardinal Rivera, whose name is on my list issued a statement (in Spanish and English) saying, “I would like to clarify that I never signed the alleged letter with the attributed content that some mention.” Does this constitute a total denial, or is it a denial in relation to the text of the letter published in some quarters?
Lombardi also told the press that Cardinal Napier had asked him “to clarify the comments published in an interview with 'Crux', which do not correspond to his opinion." He said that "with regard to the composition of the “Commission of the 10” for the final text” the cardinal stated that “it was incorrectly written that “Napier said he would actually challenge Pope Francis’ right to choose that (commission).” The South African cardinal requested that this be corrected to affirm the exact opposite: “No-one challenges Pope Francis’ right to choose that (commission).”
Father Lombardi, who has shown remarkable patience and calm throughout these turbulent days, ended with these words: “I have no further observations to make.”
As this eventful day ends, many are wondering what to expect next. It's obvious to everyone that since many questions remain unanswered about the letter of the thirteen cardinals, the issue is unlike to be closed here.
As for the synod process: the 13 language groups concluded their discussion on Part II of the working document today and will present their reports to the plenary assembly on Wednesday morning, October 14. Those reports will also be released to the press.
At this point the synod moves to the third and final part of the working document, the one where the hot button issues are, the part everyone has been waiting to discuss.