Synod Diary: Pope Francis’ response to the ‘dubia cardinals’ tells us a lot about the synod
This morning, I recorded an episode of “Inside the Vatican” at 6 a.m. New Orleans time. With the Synod on Synodality starting up, it was the only time that our veteran Vatican correspondent Gerry O’Connell and I could connect. The rest of his Roman afternoon was filled with interviews and a presentation by Cardinal Raymond Burke, one of the cardinals who signed a new list of “dubia” that were published yesterday, questioning whether Pope Francis affirms traditional church teachings on women’s ordination and gay marriage.
The pope, in his typical pastoral fashion, rebuffed the five retired cardinals’ insistence on “yes or no” answers, responding in “yes, and” paragraph-length answers that left the door open for pastoral discernment on blessing couples, so long as those blessings are not confused with marriage, and for study on women’s ordination, even though he re-affirmed the church’s prohibition on it.
This “yes, and” message is reflective of the synod as a whole. It’s the message Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., has been delivering the last three days to the synod participants as they prayerfully prepare for the synod. “If we are truly on the way to the Kingdom,” he said on Sunday, “does it really matter whether you align yourselves with so-called traditionalists or progressives? Even the differences between Dominicans and Jesuits pall into insignificance!... The greatest gifts will come from those with whom we disagree if we dare to listen to them.”
It is telling, to me, that the new “dubia cardinals” (some of whom were also involved in the 2016 “dubia”) chose to release questions they first posed in July, then reformulated in August, on Monday, while the synod participants were on retreat hearing a talk from Father Radcliffe about moving from an “I” to a “we” over the course of the synod. These cardinals remained resolute in their “I,” in their insistence that things be done their way. One friend, reacting to the story, told me she was scandalized by the cardinals. “They are disrespecting the Holy Spirit!”
I will join my colleagues in Rome next week, because I cannot be away from my almost 9-month-old son for a whole month. But listening to Father Radcliffe’s talks as I did my laundry and played with my baby this weekend, I was struck by how down-to-earth the priest’s message was. Every spiritual insight was illustrated by an anecdote from his own life and travels—some funny, some deeply tragic, ranging from visiting a triplegic child in Rwanda to celebrating the Eucharist in Ukraine on a red plastic children’s plate to sitting next to a screaming baby on a plane and realizing that parents and teachers have a “marvelous priestly ministry” as “ministers of hope.”
And throughout these talks appeared, again and again, children. Children harmed by the sins of adults, by wars, by clerical abuse. Children whose very existence is a sign of their parents’ radical hope. Children whose future experience of the church—whether as a spiritual home or a hurdle—depends on what we do now, and whether we are able to come together, from “I” to “we,” for their sake.