Monday, January 30, 2023

CW Investigates : Operation Laonia (3)

This investigation continues, and will continue for some time yet, so here are some more little bits to keep you all going....for now.

1. Why, Bishop Monahan, have you not yet applied for the laicisation for the civilly criminally convicted wanker, Jerry Carey?

2. What are you doing about the continuing public allegations that continue to be made about not only your priests, but also the laity of the diocese of Killaloe? Do you and the diocese still believe the allegations, as has been publicly stated and published? Are you aware that many of the allegations you are publicly stated to have believed, are now the subject  of an ongoing criminal investigation, no doubt with potential civil cases down the line?

3. Why have you not replied - even to acknowledge receipt - to the text message of a priest who seems to have disappeared from the Diocesan website without even knowing about it? Why not reply Fintan? Is it because you know you have messed up and won't fess up?

4. Why did you rush to Ennis Garda Station and make a false allegation against a member of the clergy? Is it not true that you got your knuckles rapped by An Garda Síochána for doing such? 

5. Why, Bishop Fintan, do you think that you can do as you wish with the lives of others, and not (yet) face the consequences of your ill-advised (in)actions?

6. Why, Bishop Monahan, are you happy to expose the Diocese of Killaloe to upcoming, potential financially devastating, lawsuits?

Let us assure you all, none of what is stated above is untrue, and indeed, it is regrettably true.

It begs the question, and this is addressed directly to the Charge d'Affairs in the Nunciature in Ireland and also to Vatican Bureaucrats : what does it take for you to carry out an Apostolic Visitation to the Diocese of Killaloe?

Would you like ALL the REAL evidence?

Nothing fake or forged here, we assure you.

We sincerely look forward to your reply!!

Staff report ‘toxic atmosphere’ and ‘clash of cultures’ at Spiritan-run secondary school in south Dublin

 Templeogue College (@TempleogueCSSp) / Twitter

Nearly all staff at a Spiritan-run secondary school in south Dublin have described the workplace atmosphere as “toxic” in a mediator’s report.

Templeogue College, an all-boys secondary school, has been at the centre of grievances aired at the Workplace Relations Commission, while last month two dozen teachers raised concerns about a “non-inclusive culture” regarding LGBT issues and the taking down of a Pride flag in the school canteen.

A mediator’s report, circulated to staff and management last week, states that for many the turnover of staff is indicative of a “toxic” culture, and for others was a sign of “clash of cultures” between leadership and core staff.

It states: “Many feel fearful of who to be associated with – who to talk to and who not ... it is hard for many to stay apart from ‘taking sides’.”

The report notes that for a “good number it cannot be underestimated how traumatic they experience their working environment and how it impacts their personal lives,” while “a number are actively considering leaving as the only way to protect themselves from the impact”.

The report also highlights the extent to which these issues have affected school life.

“So many feel that the focus on the students is being lost – that is where we could be at out best,” it notes.

The report says that for a number of staff, there is “great gratitude to the principal for her leadership, support, educational direction and energy”, while the “mutual support within groups of staff for each other is highly prized”.

However, there is a “strong sense” among some that issues are “intractable”.

On foot of interviews with 58 staff, the report said respondents found the atmosphere is “toxic to some degree” and “for many, very toxic”.

While it says many “appreciate the concerns as they understand them of individual staff members and those of the management and really want these concerns to be worked through”, it notes that for many issues have been personally and professionally “damaging” and “destructive”.

A recent controversy over the handling of a Pride flag raised “deep value conflict concerns” and words like “bullying, victimisation, gaslighting” have been used on all sides.

“Staff meetings are fraught – many afraid to raise issues for fear of backlash from one side or another,” it notes, and references “the personal and professional impact of grievance processes and their impact of the College’s reputation.”

“Many earnestly wish this facilitation process occurred much earlier given how embedded issues and positions have become,” it states. “So many talked of the ‘knot in the stomach’ each day arriving – avoiding staffroom, avoiding specific people.”

The report says that many on all sides believe that there is a “great future for the College, for the students, for the staff,” but have “very different narratives about where the College is now, and how it can achieve its potential.”

The mediator’s report includes a number of recommendations, including the creation of a “charter for shared future” and facilitated sessions to deal with challenging issues.

In light of the Pride flag controversy, it says there is an “urgent” need to clearly articulate the values and approach of the school with the Spiritans, board and school community.

The school did not respond to a request for comment, while a representative for the Spiritan Education Trust said it was happy to support the school board of management with the facilitation process.

The appointment of a mediator to the school was recommended by the Spiritan Education Trust. It followed a letter from some staff who voiced concern about a proliferation of grievances, legal proceedings and media attention over issues at the school.

Pope Francis’s remarks to AP about Rupnik are confusing and contradictory


A papal interview made real waves in the news this week, for the first time in a good while and for very good reason.

The really big piece of news from the AP interview was the pope’s claim he knew nothing about either Fr. Marko I. Rupnik, SJ’s alleged predations, or about the way Vatican justice handled the celebrity artist-priest’s case.

More broadly, the responses Pope Francis gave to the AP’s questions regarding l’Affaire Rupnik suggest a confused state in Francis’s thinking when it comes to the crisis of abuse and coverup in the Church, especially insofar as vulnerable adult victims are concerned.

“With the abused vulnerable adult,” Pope Francis told the AP, “it is the same as if he were a minor, practically.” Only, Francis said he has very different approaches to cases, according to the victims the cases involve. “I do not tolerate the statute of limitations when there is a minor involved,” he said.

“Of course, I lift it right away.” He never quite says that he doesn’t ever lift the statute of limitations when the victim is an adult, but he does not have to say so. We know he does. At least, we know that the Church’s ordinary organs of justice do waive such statutes very frequently.

Pope Francis did not waive the statute of limitations in the case of Fr. Marko Ivan Rupnik, SJ, even though Rupnik is credibly accused of sexually, psychologically, and spiritually abusing at least nine women who were members of a religious congregation he had founded in his native Slovenia, and had been found guilty of “absolving an accomplice” in a “sin against the Sixth Commandment” – i.e. giving sacramental absolution to someone with whom he had engaged in sexual relations, for the sin of the sex act the confessor and the penitent committed together – which is a very serious crime according to Church law.

That’s a mouthful, a real doozy of a sentence.

Pope Francis said he had nothing to do with the Rupnik case. Nada, he said. Francis used the first person to explain his intolerance of statutes of limitation when minors are involved, and also that cases involving vulnerable adults are “the same” as cases involving minors. If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which refused to lift the statute of limitations in Fr. Rupnik’s case, has a different view, then Francis can rectify the situation with a memo.

Now, statutes of limitations exist for a reason. Francis is not wrong to note that they exist alongside other legal guarantees to ensure that the accused receive the substance of justice through due process.

In other words, statutes of limitation exist to protect the integrity of a legal system, as much as they do to protect persons accused within the system itself. In a system like the Vatican’s, which allows for the waiving a legal prescription, the question is neither solely nor even primarily the age or condition of the victim at the time the crime was allegedly committed, but the real possibility of giving the accused a fair trial.

In Rupnik’s case, there was mountainous evidence and ample opportunity for defense counsel to confront witnesses.

In any case, Pope Francis’s response to the AP’s queries not only left much unanswered, but also created new layers and levels of perplexity. He said he did not intervene in the case, but then said that he had something to do with “a small procedural thing” that was before the CDF at some point. “How ‘small’ a procedural matter?” is a fair question, at this point. So is: “What kind of procedural matter was it, more precisely?”

Before those, however, it is fair to ask: “Which is it: Did you have ‘Nothing’ to do with the Rupnik business, or did you have ‘something’ to do with the Rupnik business?” Because, what Pope Francis described sounded like it could have been something, however small, and senior churchmen close to Francis have strongly suggested that Francis had pretty much everything to do with the management of it.

Pope Francis also spoke of the Rupnik business being before the “normal court” – which would be the CDF/DDF court – even though he had earlier praised the Jesuits for keeping the business in-house, and farming out the investigation of certain allegations to the Dominicans.

“I’ll have to see if Fr. Rupnik appeals,” Pope Francis said.

CDF refused to lift the statute of limitations, so Fr. Rupnik never faced trial on actual abuse charges. He only saw his excommunication declared in 2020 and then lifted within a month of its declaration. One wonders: What does Fr. Rupnik have to appeal?

Se puede hacer esperar más transparencia del Vaticano en estos casos?” the AP asked Pope Francis. The question could be rendered, “Can people expect more transparency from the Vatican in these [kinds of] cases?”

It’s worth noting that “expect” has the double-sense of waiting and hoping. The Spanish, Hacer esperar, could be either “give people hope,” or “make people wait.” In answer, Pope Francis said: “It is what I desire.”

Cardinal McElroy, Pope Francis and the synod

 Exclusive: Cardinal Robert McElroy's first interview since receiving the  red hat | America Magazine

Cardinal Robert McElroy this week prompted widespread conversation among Catholics, after he published an essay which issued a call for a very broad change to the Church’s Eucharistic life.

The cardinal’s essay surprised some Catholics, because it seemed to deviate from the stated position of Pope Francis, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on a central issue of Catholic doctrine.

But few commentators have noted its other distinguishing feature: McElroy discussed a set of proposed changes to Catholic doctrine in the context of the Church’s synod on synodality – suggesting that the cardinal may hold a very different vision for the synod than does Pope Francis or the synod’s organizers.

The cardinal is likely not alone. While the pope and other synod organizers have insisted the global synod process does not aim to focus on doctrinal changes, McElroy has suggested that it will — just as many Catholics have insisted it might since the process was announced two years ago.

Cardinal McElroy’s Jan. 24 essay urged that the Church “embrace a eucharistic theology that effectively invites all of the baptized to the table of the Lord, rather than a theology of eucharistic coherence that multiplies barriers to the grace and gift of the Eucharist.”

The cardinal argued that Catholics living in sexual relationships which defy the doctrinal teaching of the Church should not be precluded from receiving Holy Communion.

While McElroy suggested that his point was “preeminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church takes a different view.

The Catechism teaches that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” — and to demonstrate that teaching is a matter of doctrine, not prudential judgment, the Catechism draws from St. Paul’s writings in Sacred Scripture:

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”

Of course, McElroy argued, in line with Catholic doctrine, that sexual sin is not the only kind of grave sin, nor even necessarily the most profound.

But while the Catechism teaches that anyone who has committed any kind of grave sin - sexual or otherwise should abstain the Eucharist, McElroy’s essay moved in the other direction, arguing that “[Eucharistic] unworthiness cannot be the prism of accompaniment for disciples of the God of grace and mercy.”

While the cardinal referenced frequently Pope Francis’ image of the Church as a field hospital, the pope himself has taken a very different approach from McElroy on the question of the Eucharistic communion.

The pope has warned the Church about the prospect of Catholics who “eat and drink judgment against themselves” at the Eucharistic table.

In Amoris laetitia, for example, the pope taught that “When those who receive [the Eucharist] turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily.”

In the same document, the pope taught that only “in some cases” can Catholics who are divorced and remarried approach the Eucharist, in a set of circumstances which, albeit controversial, remain narrowly defined in even the most permissive interpretations of the pope’s teaching.

Building on the same idea, the pope in 2021 lamented the Catholic “who is not in the community and is not able to take Communion because he is outside of the community.”

“This is not a penalty: you are outside. Communion is to unite the community,” the pope taught.

Presumably, Pope Francis would agree with McElroy that all the baptized should be invited to “the table of the Lord” — as would all Catholics.

But while McElroy advanced a seemingly unqualified approach to Eucharistic communion, Francis’ actual teaching has included the notions that Catholics should seek mercy in the confessional, and communion with the Church, before receiving the Eucharist.

While McElroy’s Eucharistic theology is seemingly in tension with the pope’s, the cardinal’s apparent ecclesiology might present a more acute, or immediate, issue for Francis.

Since he announced the synod on synodality in 2021, Pope Francis has urged that the global series of meetings focus on the experience of Catholics “journeying together” — on the ways that Catholics can better know the will of God for the missionary and pastoral life of the Church, by a process of common prayer, listening, and discernment.

The synod on synodality’s handbook explains that the process aims “to provide an opportunity for the entire People of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal Church in the long-term.”

In 2015, the pope insisted that a synod “is neither a convention, nor a parlor, nor a parliament or senate, where people make deals and reach compromises. The Synod is rather an Ecclesial expression, i.e., the  Church that journeys together to read reality with the eyes of faith and with the heart of God.”

Part of a synod’s work, the pope said, is for the Church to “interrogate herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith” — to examine, in short, whether the Church is living up to her doctrine, which comes from God’s own revelation.

Since that time, other synod leaders have said the same.

In August, the synod’s relator general explained that  the synod on synodality “is not meant to change doctrine, but attitudes.”

McElroy’s essay, on the other hand, portrayed the synod as an event by which Catholic Eucharistic teaching and practice might change, and by which other Catholic doctrine might change as well.

The cardinal suggested that the synodal process would be responsible to “discern how to address the exclusion of divorced and remarried and L.G.B.T. Catholics…on the issue of participation in the Eucharist,” and to address “the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood.”

That task list, of course, seemingly points to a synodal vision which goes beyond discernment of synodality, and looks to the synod on synodality as a kind of discerning or deliberating body about concrete doctrinal issues in the life of the Church.

As it happens, the pope has been clear that the issue of women priests is a settled theological matter in the Church, as have synod organizers. But even if it weren’t, the notion that the synod would take a position of any kind on ordination, or Eucharistic doctrine and discipline, would seem, at least to some observers, to suggest the sort of vision for the synod - as a “parliament or senate” - which Pope Francis warned against.

Casting that vision could well have consequences for the kind of synodal spirit Francis wants to encourage in the Church.

Whatever the cardinal intended to accomplish, one effect of his essay is likely to be the seeming confirmation of the fears of Catholics who’ve claimed that the synod on synodality would be a kind of Trojan horse for downplaying or deviating from Catholic doctrine.

Francis has made efforts to push back on that narrative.

To some Catholics, McElroy seemed this week to confirm it, and with that, to confirm their anxieties about the whole of the synodal process. It remains to be seen whether Francis will respond to that decision.

Pope outlines resignation plan and appeals for dialogue with critics

 Fr Frank's Homily – 29 January 2023 – Catholic Outlook

Pope Francis has said that he would not take the title of Pope Emeritus were he to resign.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, in which he reflected on his pontificate as it approaches its tenth anniversary, he praised the conduct of the late Benedict XVI while outlining how his own arrangements might differ.

However, he insisted that he remains in good health and dismissed pressure from conservative critics, comparing it to a “rash”.

Francis said that he “would not associate” such attacks with Benedict, whom he called “a gentleman, who never lost his nobility” even as he moved “to one side”.

He described Benedict’s role in fostering the coexistence of two popes as “heroic”.

“He was very generous, very broad and it’s true that some wanted to use it and he defended himself as much as he could against that,” said Francis.

“And I don’t have words to describe his bonhomie, right? He was a gentleman, one of those nobles in the old style.”

With Benedict’s death, he said, he had lost “a certainty against a doubt, [the ability] to ask for the car and go to the monastery [of Mater Ecclesiae, where Benedict retired] and ask”.

“I lost a good companion.”

Asked about his own possible retirement, Francis said that he would not have thought of becoming Pope Emeritus or establishing rules for papal resignations.

“If I resign, I am Bishop Emeritus of Rome,” he said. “I’m going to live in the house of the clergy of Rome, and that’s that.”

Benedict had still been “a slave” to the papacy after his retirement, and stayed in Rome when “perhaps he would have wanted to return to his Germany and continue studying theology from there”.

His residence in the Vatican, said Francis, was “a good compromise, a good solution”.

The interview covered myriad aspects of Francis’ near-decade as pontiff, and included widely-publicised remarks condemning the criminalisation of homosexuality. He also answered questions on the global Church, Vatican diplomacy and clerical sexual abuse – including the handling of allegations against Fr Marko Rupnik SJ.

In a conversation richly furnished with lively anecdotes, the Pope expressed his preference for personalities and encounters, singling out individuals such as Cardinal Sean O’Malley – the “great genius” in combatting child abuse, who “paved the way with his Capuchin simplicity” – or Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Dean of the College of Cardinals.

“Cardinal Re, what he thinks, he tells me,” said Francis. “After that, when I am wrong there, he tells me, and that’s a great help.”

He contrasted this with the critics who have grown more vocal since the death of Benedict, stirred by the memoirs of Archbishop Georg Gänswein and the posthumous publication of stinging criticisms of the papacy from the late Cardinal George Pell.

“They are like urticaria [an irritating rash], which bothers me a little, but I prefer that they do this, because it means that there is freedom to speak,” Francis said. He complained that the critics were “underground” while he preferred to talk “as between mature people”.

“If this is not the case, it creates a ‘dictatorship of distance’, as I call it, where the emperor is over there and nobody can say anything to him.

“No, let them speak, because the companionship, the criticism helps us to grow up and things to go well.”

Such attacks, he said, were the result of the “wear and tear” of a ten-year pontificate, “when you start to see the defects I have”.

“All I ask is that you say it to my face, because that’s how we grow up, right?

“The same thing happens in a family – when one dares to talk to dad or mum about things they don’t like, the family grows up.

“Dialogue is important, even if you don’t like it, it is important.”

Resuming the theme later in the interview, the Pope emphasised his wish to be “bishop of Rome, in communion with all the bishops of the world” and to “stop being a court”.

He said that the conversion of Castel Gandolfo, the former papal summer residence, into a museum was an example of “gradually removing all appearance of a court and making what is really a pastoral service”.

Describing his storied decision not to live in the Vatican apartments but in the Santa Marta guest house, he said that on his election “I went to see the pontifical apartments upstairs, which are not very luxurious, but they are huge. [I thought] ‘I can’t live here, I’m dying. I need people.’”

He said that “living with people makes my job much easier”, and explaining that his domestic arrangements helped his dialogue with fellow prelates “because when the bishops come here they greet me, we are at the table, normal, which is a pastoral service of support for the bishops of the world”.

Francis insisted that cardinals were embracing his approach, reporting that their last meeting was “wonderful”.

“How was even a serious problem like the power of jurisdiction addressed – who has it or not? Two cardinals had different positions, but were discussing it with great distinction, yes, collaboration.”

Despite Cardinal Pell’s objections to his pontificate, Francis commended the Australian prelate: “A great guy. Great.”

“The one who helped me a lot was Pell, although they say that in the end he criticised me. Good, you have the right, criticism is a human right.”

He repeated his praise for Pell’s economic reforms at the Vatican, as well as his “testimony of patience” during his trial and imprisonment in Australia.

Rather than speak about division in the Church, Francis focused on the collaborative achievements of his pontificate.

“I see good things that are done, especially the things that others do together with me,” he said.

“I see things that have been corrected and things that still need to be corrected, quite a lot.

“I see that the cardinals – yes, some who criticise, and have the right to – but in general we are united and that helps a lot. Above all, the union with the bishops and the episcopal conference is what I see most clearly.

“That helps me a lot. I sleep well.”

Church must now tackle urgent questions says Kasper

 Cardinal who debated Pope Benedict in America magazine remembers  'enriching' exchanges | America Magazine

The Second Vatican Council had left many questions open which must now be tackled, the emeritus President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion for Christian Unity, Cardinal Walter Kasper, has said.

“Half a century has now passed since the Council. We cannot simply stand still and must have the courage to move on especially on the questions of women’s role in the Church and on synodality,” Kasper said in a podcast interview on Bavarian radio Bayrischer Rundfunk on 19 January.

The late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who as a young theologian had himself taken part in the Second Vatican Council, had perhaps not seen this urgent need to continue with Church reform and had therefore “strongly intervened” against any plans for it in his time as Pope, Kasper pointed out.

For Benedict there were “two Councils” – “his” Council was the one that took place in Council Aula from 1962-1965. The second Council in Ratzinger’s eyes was the Council that journalists had made of the Council, the cardinal explained.

Although the relationship between Benedict and Francis had been “very friendly”, there was one essential difference between them. For Benedict church doctrine had always taken first place, while for Francis it was always the Gospel.

One could not speak of a sea change as far as Benedict’s theological works were concerned. He himself could not see any “great breakthroughs” in them, but in the post-conciliar period Ratzinger’s writings had had a calming effect on many Catholics and had helped them better to understand their faith. That also applied to his books on Jesus Christ.

Kasper criticised Benedict’s “fans” for “monopolising” and “instrumentalising” the Pope Emeritus. They had thereby under-appreciated the complexity of his thinking.

“I would say that neither his fans nor his harsh critics really understood Benedict,” Kasper said.

He himself had experienced Benedict as absolutely open to criticisms but in his public commentaries “he unfortunately often expressed himself differently”.

Father Timothy Radcliffe’s Designation as Synod on Synodality’s Retreat Master Stirs Anxiety

 Priest with confidence in a very modest God

Last year, in an August 2021 video posted on the Synod of Bishops’ website, Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe —  a controversial British theologian who has publicly contradicted Church teachings on homosexuality — decried political polarization and the fact that the “Church itself has been touched by these sterile culture wars.” 

Father Radcliffe, who served as head of his Dominican order from 1992 to 2001, urged Catholics to “transcend this fear of difference” by imagining the experiences that shaped the opinions of fellow believers with opposing views. 

But now, Father Radcliffe himself has become part of an already contentious debate over the goals and methodology of Pope Francis’ global Synod on Synodality. 

Barely a week after the late Cardinal George Pell’s posthumous critique of a “toxic” synodal process prompted Francis’ supporters to rush to his defense, the Dominican priest’s unexpected appointment to preach a three-day retreat before the October session of the synod is stirring additional concerns about the direction of this complex process.

Russell Shaw, the Catholic author and Church historian, told the Register that he was reserving judgment on the significance of Father Radcliffe’s role as the synodal assembly’s retreat master. But Shaw observed that a retreat preceding a Synod of Bishops appeared to be something new. 

Likewise, he noted that additional protocols announced by synod organizers that restricted the role of bishops had already fueled alarm that the process was being manipulated to secure a particular outcome, such as a rejection of Church teaching on homosexuality.

Dominican sources contacted by the Register offered a mixed response to the news on Father Radcliffe. 

One Dominican who did not want his name used said the priest was “controversial even within the order” and expressed doubt that the Register would “find anyone willing to go on the record.” 

Another member of the Order of Preachers praised Father Radcliffe’s gifts as a retreat director and said he was widely respected by fellow Dominicans.

A popular speaker, Father Radcliffe is the author of What Is the Point of Being a Christian?, which won the 2007 Michael Ramsey Prize, awarded by the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury for the “most promising contemporary theological writing from the global Church.”

Support for Same-Sex Relationships

Over the last two decades, Father Radcliffe, 77, has publicly challenged Church teaching on homosexuality.

In a 2005 article, “Can Gays Be Priests?” published in The Tablet, a British Catholic publication, Father Radcliffe challenged a papal document that directed seminaries to bar candidates with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

In the 2013 Anglican Pilling Report, he wrote that when considering same-sex relationships, “we cannot begin with the question of whether it is permitted or forbidden! We must ask what it means and how far it is Eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and nonviolent. So in many ways, I think it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.” 

A year earlier, in a December 2012 article in The Guardian, he applauded the “wave of support for gay marriages” as “heartening” evidence of growing social “tolerance” and “mutual acceptance.”

But he appeared to reject the argument in favor of same-sex civil marriage as an antidote to promiscuity because same-sex couples in legal unions would now be free to embrace the stabilizing practice of monogamy. Rather, he suggested that traditional notions of marriage need not necessarily apply to these couples. 

“A society that flees difference and pretends we are all just the same may have outlawed intolerance in one form, and yet instituted it in other ways,” he wrote, advising his readers to accept differences in marital practices.

These statements, which mark the priest’s long-standing ministry to “LGBTQ” Catholics at a London parish, drew headlines, but did not appear to affect the Dominican’s standing at the Vatican. 

In 2015, Father Radcliffe was named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Previously, he served as director of the Las Casas Institute of Blackfriars, Oxford, which promotes social justice and human rights. 

He is also a “witness” expert to the Synod of Bishops. 

‘Positive’ Tensions?

Indeed, when Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the relator general of the Synod on Synodality, announced on Jan. 23 that the October synodal assembly of bishops and participants would begin with a three-day retreat led by Father Radcliffe at the invitation of Pope Francis, no mention was made of the Dominican’s views on sexual ethics. 

Instead, the Luxembourg cardinal, who has also faced criticism for calling for a change to Catholic teaching on homosexuality, used the press conference as an opportunity to deflect concerns that the synodal process was deepening polarization in the Church by providing a platform for voices that opposed bedrock Church teaching and discipline. 

“We do not need the synod in the Catholic Church in order to experience tensions,” the cardinal asserted. “There are already tensions without the synod, and these tensions come from the fact that each one honestly wants to see or share how we can follow Christ and proclaim Christ in the world of today.” 

Cardinal Hollerich noted in his Jan. 23 comments that the working document for the continental phase of the synod, “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent,” views tension as “something positive. Because in order to have a tent, you need some tension. Otherwise, the tent is falling down. And I think that the synod, the listening to the word of God, the listening to the Spirit, praying together, being together on the way, will ease bad tensions.” 

“So we do not want bad tensions destroying the Church, but good tensions sometimes are necessary for harmony,” he concluded, without defining these terms.

During an October 2022 press conference introducing the working document, Cardinal Hollerich and other organizers celebrated the synod’s message of “radical inclusion” as the work of the Holy Spirit. 

The 44-page document notes that many synod reports raised questions about the role of women, young people, the poor, people identifying as “LGBTQ,” and the divorced and remarried.

It also identifies the celebration of the Mass, whether according to the pre-Vatican II missal or the post-Vatican II liturgy, and access to the Eucharist as “knots of conflict” in the Church and cites a great “diversity of opinion” on the subject of priestly ordination for women, which some reports called for, even though Pope St. John Paul II declared in 1994 “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

Respected Retreat Leader

Will the three-day retreat led by Father Radcliffe clarify the difference between good and bad tensions and better ground the goals and methodology at work in this process? 

Catholic experts contacted by the Register said they hoped the priest would provide a stronger foundation for the upcoming synodal deliberations and help bring the synodal delegates together.

Dominican Father Joseph Fox, the vicar for canonical services at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, who has attended retreats led by Father Radcliffe, vouched for the priest’s reputation as a strong retreat master. 

“A wide range of people have come back from his retreats with glowing reports,” said Father Fox. 

And though some of Father Radcliffe’s public comments have raised eyebrows, he had charted a prudent course during his decade-long service as master of the Order of Preachers.

Father Radcliffe’s considerable gifts may well mute criticism of his appointment. But his vocal stand in favor of “LGBTQ” issues, coupled with similar comments from synod leaders, will do little to tamp down the internal Church divisions that he and Cardinal Hollerich have deplored. 

It may also lead more Catholics who support Christian sexual ethics to mistrust the synodal process and conclude that it is being manipulated by organizers who have their own agenda.

“The people who sound this note about ‘division in the Church’ often present people who stand by traditional Church teaching as the ‘bad’ guys, while those who want a change in Church practice are the ‘good guys,” observed Russell Shaw. “I wish the people” who use such terms “would just let us know what they want.” 

The existence of tension within the Church is not the more fundamental issue, said John Grabowski, a professor of theology at The Catholic University of America. “Tension can be fruitful,” he told the Register.

Catholics can hold different ideas and still possess a “common faith and a common desire to see how can we meet the needs of the Church.”

But if the voices of those on the fringes of the Church are equally weighted with settled Church teaching, that is not a good tension. It is a recipe for confusion,” he said. “The Church isn’t a polling group. It is the body of Christ in the world.” 

Cardinal Pell’s Concerns

The Synod on Synodality has no magisterial authority. However, the final report will be sent to Pope Francis, who will then issue a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, which does. But experts worry that the process, especially translated through the lens of secular media, will raise expectations that Church structures and discipline are on the brink of major reforms. 

The late Cardinal Pell outlined a number of related concerns in a Jan. 11 article published posthumously in the British magazine The Spectator

In one of his final commentaries, the Australian cardinal urged the Church to address unresolved tensions in the poorly defined multiyear synodal process. 

Should synods be “servants and defenders of the apostolic tradition on faith and morals,” or will they “assert their sovereignty over Catholic teaching”? he asked. Likewise, he directed his brethren to adopt a stronger role during the synodal process. 

Bishops are “successors of the apostles, the chief teacher in each diocese and the focus of local unity for their people and of universal unity around the Pope, the successor of Peter,” he said. They are not “wallflowers or rubber stamps.” 

And he took aim at the synod’s message of radical inclusion.

The “insertion into the [synodal] dialogue of neo-Marxist jargon about exclusion ... the voiceless, LGBTQ, as well as the displacement of Christian notions of forgiveness, sin, sacrifice, healing, redemption,” he argued, constituted an “attack on traditional morals.”

He directed Church leaders to become more active participants in the synodal process, reasserting their role as trusted shepherds of their flocks while offering a firm judgment of the documents that are produced.

It is too soon to say whether bishops who agree with the late cardinal’s critique will become more vocal as the synodal process continues.

But the following week, Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego published an article in America magazine, the U.S. Jesuit news outlet, that echoed his past support for changes to Church teaching on homosexuality and women’s role in Church governance, even as it decried the “growth of polarization within the life of the Church and the structures of exclusion that it breeds.”

“This polarization ... is found in the friction between Catholics who emphasize inclusion and others who perceive doctrinal infidelity in that inclusion,” he said as he listed other areas of conflict.

Cardinal McElroy presented a “culture of synodality” as “the most promising pathway to lead us out of this polarization in our Church.” Such a culture can help to “relativize these divisions,” he said.

Here, Cardinal McElroy seemed to be offering his own vision of a synod’s purpose, saying that advancing doctrinal change was a legitimate goal of the process.

He proceeded to explain why women and lay Catholics should play a more prominent role in Church governance and why Church discipline barring active “LGBTQ” Catholics from the Eucharist should be changed, with “conscience” taking priority over doctrinal precepts.

But he did not adequately clarify how a synodal process, which might advance the radical reforms he is seeking, would ease polarization in the Church itself.

Like Father Radcliffe, Cardinal McElroy expresses his dismay over the divisions among Catholics. The symptoms they identify are real, but the prescriptions they offer, which sow confusion over Church teaching, will do little to heal the divisions afflicting the Church.