Rorate Caeli carries a piece by a pseudonymous priest claiming that the the post-Synodal exhortation has been ready since September. I tweeted that if true, I thought this very grave indeed.
Ttony, of the excellent Muniment Room blog, disagreed. He tweeted: 'I've done MANY international conferences and the most successful were those where the sherpas had written the conclusions in advance so that the final communique would only need to be tweaked according to the final decisions. This isn't bad.'
I replied that I thought this a different case. He replied:
'I don't. People are going to discuss preparatory texts and reach a conclusion so 90% of the conclusion should be predictable.'
It was getting late, so I said enigmatically: There are three reasons I think this a different case: will tweet in the morning if I can still remember them then....
In the morning, I was somewhat preoccupied: we couldn't get to Mass as the roads out of the valley are all flooded (it looks as though we should be able to get to Mass this evening, so that's OK). Then there was a walk to be walked... so I have finally got around to thinking about this, and realised that my thoughts would not easily fit into Tweets. Hence this post.
The first reason I think this is a different case is that a Synod is not the same as the kind of international conference to which, I think, Ttony refers. In such conferences, much of the real work is done behind the scenes by diplomats, so that everyone knows in advance pretty much where everyone stands. Historically, Synods may have been a bit like this, but Pope Francis declared that his Synod would be different. It would be about genuine openness, dialogue, listening to each other etc. So if the outcome were largely determined in advance, there is a large fissure opening between the Holy Father's rhetoric and his policy. That I would call grave.
The second reason is that I think there is a difference between a final communiqué and a Post-Synodal Exhortation. The Post-Synodal Exhortation is the Supreme Pontiff's reflections on and reactions to the Synod, and consequent exhortation to the Faithful. It is a different type and status of document. It is not simply a summary of what was discussed and agreed. Again, if that were drafted in advance of the Synod, that would seem to run contrary to the Holy Father's chosen and declared modus operandi.
The third reason I think this is a different case is that the Holy Father is a supreme authority, in a way most convenors of international conferences are not. He is able to legislate on his own authority for all those who attended the conference, and all those whom they represent. His Exhortation, therefore, is a much more serious affair for the whole Church than a post-conference communiqué.
There's something else, too. If the content of the proposed Post-Synodal Exhortation is as the pseudonymous priest supposes, that is a radical departure from the past teaching and practice of the Church, and that conclusion was reached before the Synod, one can't help calling into question the integrity of the process. It is one thing to write in advance a Post-Synodal Exhortation that reiterates what we all know to be the Faith: one should reasonably be able to assume that the Synod will indeed reach such conclusions. But not in the other case; unless one were to stack the Synod with those known to agree, exclude some of the more potent voices against change, and manage the process in such a way as to ensure (as nearly as possible) that the Synod gave the pre-determined right (new) answer.
We live in puzzling and troublesome times: do not forget to pray for our Holy Father daily.
Sancte Michael Archangele, defende nos in proelio,
contra nequitiam et insidias diaboli esto praesidium.
Imperet illi Deus, supplices deprecamur:
tuque, Princeps militiae caelestis,
Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos,
qui ad perditionem animarum pervagantur in mundo,
divina virtute, in infernum detrude.