January 14, 2020 (Steven O’Reilly) – The last few days have been interesting to say the least. First comes news that Cardinal Sarah and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI co-authored a book defending priestly celibacy. This joint project grew out of their reflections on the Amazon Synod and whether it was possible or not to ordain married men as priests, and ordain women as deacons.
No sooner had word of this forthcoming book (due out in January) hit the news stands than press allies (and friends) of Pope Francis raised doubts and suspicions about the precise role and depth of Benedict’s involvement with Cardinal Sarah on this project. The attacks sought to cast doubts upon Sarah, such as suggesting he somehow manipulated Benedict. These suggestions are, of course, ridiculous. No doubt, there is much to this murky story still to be told. That said, though the Cardinal has produced evidence to prove the truth of his description of events leading to publication of the book, the attacks have distracted and muted the book’s defense of the Church’s teaching on priestly celibacy and the impossibility of admitting women to the diaconate.
The speed and ferocity with which these attacks were launched cannot be explained by a scholarly concern or simple media curiosity over who should be credited with a book not yet published. No, the friends and allies of Francis who launched these attacks obviously came after Sarah and Benedict because the book defends perennial teachings of the Church that Pope Francis and the Amazon Synod called into doubt by opening them up to discussion.
A very recent news item potentially shines light on another motivation behind the ferocious attacks on Cardinal Sarah. This evening (January 14), LifeSiteNews’ John Henry-Weston reported that the Pope’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation will be released either by the end of January or in early February (see LifeSiteNews “Secret Vatican letter to bishops: Pope’s final doc on Amazon Synod coming within a month“). According to LifeSiteNews, this information is based on a “a confidential Vatican letter sent to bishops of the world dated January 13, 2020.” Based on this letter to the world’s bishops, Mr. Henry-Weston reports:
The Apostolic Exhortation is to have the same name as the preparatory document for the Synod: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.
The letter hints at the contents of the final document by providing reading to prepare for the document’s presentation. It suggests that a press conference with the bishop about the new exhortation should include “an indigenous spokesperson if relevant in your area, an experienced pastoral leader (ordained or religious, layman or laywoman), an expert on climate or ecology, and a youth involved in peer ministry.”
This letter was sent out just as the Sarah-Benedict book controversy raged. Some of the papal friends and allies in the press who pounced immediately on that story were Austen Ivereigh and Gerard O’Connell — both of whom have close ties to the Vatican and Pope Francis (see, for example, 2013 Conclave: Was there a violation of Universi Dominici Gregis 12?, The “Influential Italian Gentleman”). Both men have close ties to Andrea Tornielli, who is the editorial director of the Dicastery for Communication at the Vatican. Did these men and others reach out to Tornielli about Cardinal Sarah’s book when news of it first came out?
In my view, if Cardinal Sarah — and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — had something to say on married priests and “female deacons,” it would have been far better and more helpful to voice louder opposition in the lead up to the Amazon Synod, as well as during it. Perhaps their voices might have had some impact at that time. Instead, it now appears quite evident their book is too little, and far too late. While Sarah’s book was rolling off the printing press in December, the Pope’s Exhortation had evidently already been finalized.
What does that mean? Who knows for sure — we’ll learn for sure in two to three weeks. But it seems probable that the ferocious attack on the Sarah-Benedict book was orchestrated precisely because the already completed Exhortation reached different conclusions than Cardinal Sarah on the questions of married priests and deaconesses. The title of the Exhortation seems to signal what to expect. According to LifeSiteNews’ reporting, the name of the post-synodal Exhortation is “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”
“New Paths?” Oh, boy. Doesn’t sound good. The Lord has laid out the paths (cf Psalm 25:10)…there ought not be any “new” ones. My expectation is that the Exhortation, true to Pope Francis’s style, will be roundabout and ambiguous, but in the end will somehow — in some tortuous and copiously footnoted way that only Francis can do — open a “new paths” for local bishops in the Amazon region (and then the rest of the world) to ordain married men. On the question of “deaconesses,” my expectation is that Pope Francis will announce a new commission to look into the question — something he stated in his final speech to the synod. I would not be surprised if the Pope — pointing to current practices which allow female lectors, “extraordinary ministers,” and “altar girls” at mass — suggested ways to expand these roles of women around the altar, but just short of ordaining them as deacons while the new commission does its work.
I hope I’m wrong. But, buckle up…I think this year will be a bumpy one. I do hope that “recognize and resist” (R&R) prelates, and others like Cardinal Sarah who have not yet red-pilled on Francis, will put more effort into “resistance.” If the coming Pachamama Exhortation is as bad as many fear…and the “Pachamama synod” was bad in itself…there’s no more point of R&R prelates doing Dubia, Declarations of Truth, Manifestos, books (published too late!), etc. R&R prelates should forget these separate independent, one-off projects…and finally combine their voices–few as they may be, and call an Imperfect Council to at least explicitly call these errors what they are, even if they cannot agree on what can be done about Pope Francis (see Don’t let perfection be the enemy of an Imperfect Council).
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA)
- From Pope Francis’s final speech to the Amazon Synod: “…I welcome the request to reconvene the Commission and perhaps expand it with new members in order to continue to study the permanent diaconate that existed in the early Church. You know you have reached an agreement among yourselves, which however, is unclear. I delivered this to the women religious, to the Union of [Superiors General] of Women Religious who asked me to conduct the research. I delivered it to them and now each of the theologians is seeking, is investigating. I will try to do it again with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and include new people in this Commission. I welcome the challenge that you have given me, “and that they may be heard”. I accept the challenge [applause].”