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Questions Linger about Possible “Manipulation” at ’14 Synod

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Interview with Edward Pentin, author of new book detailing alleged rigging of last year’s Synod on the Family

VATICAN CITY — Was there an agenda being pushed at last year’s Synod? In a new e-book published by Ignatius Press, the National Catholic Register’s Vatican correspondent Edward Pentin chronicles what happened behind closed doors at the Vatican’s Synod Hall.

The book is called The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An investigation into alleged manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Having spent months speaking with many of the key figures who were either at the Synod or directly involved, Pentin chronicles the evidence of alleged manipulation and addresses the important question: What’s at stake?

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa, and co-president of 2015 Synod on the Family, has endorsed the book, calling it “an absolutely fascinating account of Synod 2014, especially the machinations surrounding it.”

Aleteia spoke recently with Edward Pentin about The Rigging of a Vatican Synod.

Why did you write this book?

I wrote the book really because of strong allegations during the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family that the meeting was being engineered to obtain a certain result. These allegations became louder and more pronounced as the synod progressed and in the weeks that followed, with accusations of aggressiveness and bullying leveled at those in charge of the process. This led me to wonder how it was possible, when the Pope had called for a free and open discussion, and encouraged all to speak with parrhesia — that is, candidly and boldly — for some of its participants to complain that the meeting wasn’t as free and open as it the Pope had wanted?

Another aspect which I personally found bizarre and which I felt demanded further investigation was that the victims of this engineering were those participants who were simply defending the Church’s tradition and doctrine. Even the teachings of Pope St. John Paul II were marginalized and excluded. At that point I felt somewhat obliged to look into this further.

What do you hope it will achieve?

My hope is that by uncovering such serious allegations of manipulation, and letting the reader decide for themselves the extent of the injustices at the last synod, that it will help the next meeting in October to be more open, fair and honest and perhaps closer to the Holy Father’s overall vision. My aim was certainly not to target anyone or pursue an agenda of my own, but simply to get to the truth and pinpoint some of the protagonists in engineering the synod process.

A further aim of the book is that it will serve in some ways as a catechetical instrument. In the second chapter I lay out what is at stake at the synod, particularly the issues surrounding the Church’s teaching on marriage. I hope this will help the reader to understand just why there’s so much interest and passion surrounding these issues. Also by contrasting the two sides and placing them side-by-side, I hope it’ll assist the reader in seeing what the Church really teaches and how the synod managers are pursuing an agenda which many believe is at odds with established Church doctrine.

How comfortable were you in criticizing the hierarchy?

I wrestled with whether it would be of service to the Church and beneficial to the reader. As a Catholic, one also always wants to show deference to Church leaders. But likewise that one shouldn’t treat them as untouchable or hold them unaccountable if they are considered not to be fulfilling their ministry. Catholic journalism should really do this. In fact Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law states that the laity “have the right, indeed at times the duty” to inform the hierarchy of matters which “concern the good of the Church” while always showing respect for “the integrity of faith and morals” and “due reverence to the pastors.”

Some Catholic news agencies chose the safer option during the synod of focusing only on “good news” out of an instinctive loyalty to the hierarchy and the papacy. That loyalty is admirable, but I think it also prevented really tackling the complaints of injustice at the synod. Unfortunately, this also meant that only one half of the debate received attention – the one held by the synod managers, which many believed was heretical.

My book therefore tries to lay out the good and the bad at the synod. It doesn’t criticize the hierarchy directly, but relies on interviews and eyewitness reports and allows the reader to make up their own mind based on the evidence.

What was the most surprising discovery for you?

I think probably the so-called “book heist”, when 100 or so copies of Remaining in the Truth of Christ – a book upholding the Church’s teaching on marriage – was interfered with after it was delivered to the mailboxes of the synod fathers in the synod hall. I try to get to the bottom of what happened and although there wasn’t a definite effort to intercept the books, various obstacles were put in the way to ensure their delivery was delayed until the synod fathers were about to leave.

What’s been the reaction to the book? How much has the secular press picked up on it?

That’s a good question. Interestingly, the book has so far been met with silence by the secular media. There are a number of very newsworthy revelations in it, but since the book came out two weeks ago, there seems to have been a conscious effort not to report on them. I suspect it might have something to do with the book not being consistent with their narrative of not wishing to criticize this pontificate, and supporting what many considered to be a modernist agenda being pushed through during the synod. One just has to imagine what the reaction would have been had this occurred during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

Is it possible such manipulation may still be happening?

Unfortunately, evidence suggests that it is. I reported on Friday that the recent annulment reforms were pushed through without any consultation, apparently not even the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith saw the motu proprio [papal decree]. Cardinal Kasper is also again pushing his proposal to readmit civilly remarried divorcees to Holy Communion. I have personally been optimistic that the next synod will be more open and transparent following the controversies of the last meeting, but signs are that those in charge remain intent on pushing their agenda, this time using more subtle means. I think it’s therefore necessary to be alert to this, and highlight it whenever possible.

Click here to preview an excerpt of The Rigging of a Vatican Synod.

Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.

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