Synod rule changes to be announced on Friday. Hold on to your socks.

Cardinal-Lorenzo-Baldisseri-Secretary-General-of-the-Synod-of-BishopsFrom the Bollettino:

Avviso di Briefing, 29.09.2015

Si informano i giornalisti accreditati che venerdì 2 ottobre 2015, alle ore 11.30, nell’Aula Giovanni Paolo II della Sala Stampa della Santa Sede, il Cardinale Lorenzo Baldisseri, Segretario Generale del Sinodo dei Vescovi, terrà un Briefing per fornire informazioni su tema e metodo della XIV Assemblea Generale Ordinaria del Sinodo dei Vescovi sul tema: “La vocazione e la missione della famiglia nella Chiesa e nel mondo contemporaneo” (Vaticano, 4 – 25 ottobre 2015).

(Sarà disponibile il servizio di traduzione simultanea in lingua francese, inglese e spagnola).


Edward Pentin, Andrea Gagliarducci and Sandro Magister have all written about what’s coming.

There will be major changes to the Ordo Synodi, the rules by which the Synod proceeds.

As the rules stand now, in a nutshell, in the first part of a Synod, speeches (interventions) are delivered.  These are customarily made known to the watching world, though last year there weren’t and, because of that, there were arguments about transparency.  Then there is a midterm report. Last year it was extremely controversial and appeared to have been in part worked up ahead of time to include pre-determined points.  The members break up into smaller groups to discuss the report and their points are made known.  A draft of a final report is cobbled up and the members vote on the inclusion or exclusion of individual paragraphs.  Last year the paragraphs were to receive a 66% vote for inclusion. The controversial paragraphs did not obtain 66% but the rules were ignored and they were included anyway. That final report became the basis for more solicitation of feedback from the wider world.  Then a new document was put together, based on last year’s report.  This became the working document for the beginning of this upcoming Synod.

This year, however, the rules are going to be significantly changed.  That’s probably what the briefing on Friday will announce.

What will the changes be?  We don’t have the exact text yet, but this is what we are hearing.

Rather than follow the Ordo Synodi as it has been for years now, there will be no midterm report (which sparked such resistance last year from those who would uphold the Church’s teaching).  The small groups will not communicate with each other.  Instead their results will go to the central organizing office of the Synod.  There will not be a final report.  There will not be, if leaks are accurate, a post-Synodal Exhortation from the Pope, though he obviously can do whatever he wants to.

The effect of this will be, from what it looks like now, to leave the “process” open-ended, inconclusive.

On the one hand, that’s fine, since the Synod has zero authority to change anything, laws, doctrine or pizza orders.

On the other hand, the vague results will provide grist and energy for the Kasperites and others who would see the Church’s praxis (and therefore eventually doctrine) conformed to changing secular mores while maintaining a veneer of orthodoxy.  It will give the impression that, even though many in the Synod defended doctrine, the process will go on until the changes get through.

Perhaps I am mistaken, and those of you more knowledgeable can contribute, but the method to be employed at this upcoming Synod smacks of what has been called the “Delphi Technique“.  I’ve been in clerical gatherings wherein this method was used to drive the majority toward pre-determined outcomes.  The method works by isolating resistors to consensus and sequestering negative feedback.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. juergensen says:

    After decades of John Paul and Benedict, why were these German heretics allowed to remain?

  2. slainewe says:

    Wish I had known about the “Delphi Technique“ 30 years ago. This describes exactly what happened to me during meetings in preparation for the pastoral letter on woman in the early 80’s. How can Catholics be this evil? This is cold, calculated, premeditated mockery of the Holy Ghost.

  3. anilwang says:

    Good explanation of the “Delphi Technique“. I never knew it had a name. It depends on the the observation that people are likely to doubt things they know they are true if they believe they are in the minority:

    That being said, there is one flaw in the “Delphi Technique“ WRT the Catholic hierarchy. It doesn’t matter if things are being manipulated and it doesn’t matter if you bishops think they are in the minority. Truth is truth and if falsehood is proclaimed all good bishops will rail against it. That’s what happened at the last synod. And as the Asch Conformity Experiments have show, once enough people have declared the truth, even timid bishops are more likely to affirm the truth themselves since “they aren’t alone and maybe they’re right all along”.

  4. CharlesG says:

    The Delphi Technique and a Synod manipulated by the likes of Cardinal Baldisseri fly in the face of Vatican II’s vaunted collegiality and Pope Francis’ call for parrhesia,

  5. McCall1981 says:

    The thought of the Synod ending inconclusively, and this “process” continuing on indefinitely is pretty depressing. If it does end up being inconclusive, I can imagine Card Kasper yelling “You may have won this battle, but I’ll be back!”, cackling maniacally, then disappearing into a puff of smoke.

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    It seems to me that the process outlined recognizes that the Synod has no authority to legislate anything and to make it claer that this is so. The Supreme Legislator, as stated in Canon Law, is the Pope. The Pope is calling the Syod to allow his bishops to inform him of their views. Whether he deems any worthy of merit is up to him. The decision to forego any kind of report is in keeping with the reduced importance of the Synod. Why should any attempt be made to claim that conclusions were reached when the group possesses no authority to conclude anything of substance?

  7. demivalka says:

    Good catch concerning the Delphi technique. The most important thing in combating it is to remain pleasant in the face of the obvious manipulation and to keep on message. There are several good primers about combating Delphi found online and readers should educate themselves.

  8. TNCath says:

    I hope Cardinal Pell is ready to head this off ahead of time.

  9. Tony Phillips says:

    “the Pope…obviously can do whatever he wants to.”
    This is precisely the problem…for the past 150 years we seem to have forgotten the pope can’t do whatever he wants to. Thank you, Benedict XVI, for reminding us of this.

  10. Ferde Rombola says:

    In the light of the revelations in Cardinal Danneels book, I think it’s time for Pope Benedict XVI to reclaim the Chair of Peter and clean up this mess. He should recognize the automatic excommunication of those who conspired to elect the current pope, an allegation first reported by some commenting on his book, but now, as reported by Edward Pentin, are denied. The denial is understandable considering the consequences. Whatever happened, it’s clear the election of Pope Francis now exists under a cloud and the truth must be found. It won’t happen with Pope Francis in the Chair.

  11. pseudomodo says:

    Whenever someone says, “he’s the Pope and he can do whatever he wants!”, I always respond, “Rodrigo Borgia and his children and his mistress would feel rather comforted by that statement!”

  12. ppb says:

    If there will be neither a final document from the Synod nor an Exhortation from the Holy Father, does that mean that the Synod basically doesn’t have a point now? I would be quite happy if this Synod could just be sort of quietly forgotten. But I see Fr. Z’s point that the lack of a conclusion could drag this out even more.

  13. Geoffrey says:

    No post-Synodal Exhortation? I agree. What’s the point of the Synod?

  14. MikeM says:

    I see the potential problems with leaving it open ended, but given that the synod’s process was already geared towards marginalizing traditional viewpoints, and given that participation in it is not at all representative of the make-up of the church, anyway, I feel better with their being no report. At least the report can’t be a manipulated one.

    i suspect that Pope Francis is already inclined to handle things a certain way (though I can’t tell which), and I suspect that he wants to turn the session into an opportunity for everyone to present their viewpoint just so that he can say that he heard what different people had to say. I’m not a fan of that management approach… If I’m in charge and I’m going to do what I want to do anyway, I don’t give an impression otherwise, and it annoys me when my opinion is solicited when it won’t really be taken into account. But, I suppose that there are reasons that these things are done sometimes.

  15. Mike says:

    But I see Fr. Z’s point that the lack of a conclusion could drag this out even more.

    The Council of Trent and its sequelae took over a quarter century to entrench the foundations of the Counter-Reformation. Long before that, Arianism hung on for almost a century after the Council of Nicaea. (Some would argue, with reason, that it hung on much longer, even that its tendrils extend to the present.)

    Rome isn’t rebuilt in a day.

  16. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    ‘The most transparent Synod, evuh!’

    ‘And, the most parrhesiacal Synod, evuh!’ (and who, in light of its level of transparency would ever be able to point to evidence to the contrary?)

    Presumably, it could even be called ‘Indaba’ since the objections of Africans who found that a parody of its real sense would be hid from our eyes in transparency inaccessible.

    But I don’t see how anyone concludes there may be a reduced importance of the Synod: won’t its startling new transparency assure it can be just as important as it is officially asserted to be?

    Unless, of course, it can be concluded that freedom of conscience can justify the ignoring of new rules judged unjust? Or the boycotting of a Synod organized inexpediently (which would not prevent a high unanimity of Rump-Synod advice)?

  17. Mary of Carmel says:

    The Delphi Technique is like a condition I learned about in my communication classes, called “Group Think”. It happens in juries and other places where a group assembles to make a consensus, and in the end, they make the wrong one because “dissenters” either refuse to speak up out of fear, or are silenced by the aggression of the facilitator and the group. (Think about the “o” rings concerning the Space Shuttle disaster. Some knew they were flawed, but didn’t speak up.)
    This Delphi Technique is more of a planned deception than a condition. It’s purpose is to rely on a person’s natural inclination to shy away from feelings of rejection or humiliation. There are other communication theories that center around this.

    It seems to me that, now more than ever, Catholics must not be afraid to speak up. If we are martyred for our beliefs, so be it.

    I only hope and pray that God will give me the grace to die for the Faith, should it be necessary to speak up.

    This move by the bishops, who are supposed to defend the Faith, leaves me feeling pretty sad.

  18. anilwang says:

    “the Pope…obviously can do whatever he wants to.”

    This attitude is actually the greatest reason why the Eastern Orthodox are hesitant to reunite.

    There are limits to what any bishop, Pope, or council can do. All are custodians to the deposit of faith that has been handed on. Not one iota can be forgotten, or adapted to suit the whims of any bishop, Pope, or Council. Granted Doctrinal Development does occur and pastoral practices can change, but development never adds to or changes the deposit of faith/Tradition …it can only elaborates and makes more concrete what is already known in a less rigorous way. And while pastoral practices and other “the traditions of men” can change, they can never contradict the deposit of faith/Tradition.

    For instance, old Eastern canon law (i.e. The Rudder) is part of the deposit of faith, and Eastern Orthodox hold that even severe canons like “priests may never attend wedding receptions under penalty of laicization” are still valid, once properly understood and applied (e.g. wedding receptions used to be pretty rowdy…equivalent to rowdy bachelor parties. IMO, laicization or other censure is an appropriate punishment for priests that go to strip club bachelor parties). There is something sacred about the priesthood that should set it apart from debauchery, and this canon law/pastoral practice embodies that doctrine.

    This is what most Traditional Catholics are afraid of. Papal Infallibility and the infallibility of the Church might prevent a change in doctrine. However, as events of the last 50 years have shown, the Gnostic heresy that pastoral practice isn’t doctrine, that how you live doesn’t embody what you believe, is rampant in the Church today and that more harm the Church by this heresy is possible.

  19. Nancy D. says:

    Page 117, of the pope’s book, On Heaven and Earth, in regards to same-sex unions
    “If there is a union of a PRIVATE NATURE, THERE IS NEITHER A THIRD PARTY NOR IS SOCIETY AFFECTED. Now, if this union is given the category of marriage and they are given adoption rights, there could be children affected. Every person needs a male father and female mother that can help them shape their identity. – Jorge Mario Bergoglio

    Who will be in charge?

  20. albizzi says:

    Almost certainly am I mistaken, but I could read once, months ago (I don’t remember where), that the two thirds rule would be probably abandoned for a simple majority of the votes during the next october Synod.

  21. acardnal says:

    The Delphi Technique reminds me of the star-studded, classic movie, “12 Angry Men.” I highly recommend it.

    The jury quickly votes 11-1 that the defendant is guilty of murder; the lone “not guilty” vote (Henry Fonda) is harassed, harangued, insulted and so on. The eleven want the trial over and to go home. Fonda works hard to bring every one around to a “not guilty” verdict.

  22. The Masked Chicken says:

    The Delphi Technique originated from the Rand Corporation in the 1950’s for use in reaching expert opinion about the uses of technology in military application. They have a list of available papers going back to 1962 at their archive:

    The landmark paper was by Olaf Helmer-Hirschberg from 1967 entitled, Analysis of the Future: The Delphi Method, which can be found on-line (although its copyright status is hard to determine, as Rand has ties to the Air Force, but I don’t know if its research is considered in the public domain or classified or what).

    The Delphi Technique is supposed to be based on soliciting the opinion of EXPERTS, not the ordinary folk, with the idea that expert opinion will crystallize around a few possibilities and the choice of which to adopt can be analyzed by statistics. By the 1960’s, the method had expanded to be used by non-experts (in fact, there is a classic 1966 paper on using the Delphi Method for making changes in education, which can be found in the archive list I linked to, above). This is, possibly, where the idea of the Change Agent came from and the dastardly Hegelian-inspired thesis-antithesis-synthesis method of the technique (Hegel did not originate the terms thesis-antithesis-synthesis, however, claiming that they came from Kant). The ideas were expanded upon by Fische in the middle 1800’s and it is he who should lay claim to the notion’s popularization.

    This dialectical method rests on very shaky ground, however. We have known for some time that there are systems that have no antitheses – for example, what is the opposite of zero? It can’t be everything, because that would, then, include zero. If you exclude zero, then that is no longer a natural antithesis, but a contrived one.

    In any case, the Delphi Method plays on two broad cognitive categories: cognitive biases and social biases. A list of cognitive biases can be found by googling, “List of Cognitive Biases.” Social biases are even more interesting to explore. Googling, the Abilene Paradox, will start you on many hours of rewarding reading, including a study of GroupThink, The Wisdom of the Crowd, etc.

    We know the Delphi Method is wrong when applied to non-expert groups, because the particular notion on which it is based – The Wisdom of the Crowd, has been demonstrated to be wrong. Although many sites online give advice on how to defeat the Delphi Method (many seem, to me, to have been written by the same individual), the simplest way to stop the process cold is to simply point out that good research has demonstrated that IT DOESN’T ALWAYS WORK, at least as a method of arriving at usable wisdom. Now, as a method of social engineering, however, it is dirty, underhanded, but not surprisingly effective because it is based on the Abilene paradox (not really Hegelian Dialectic, except in certain cases). People do not like to rock the boat and if their opinion can be minimized, they will passively accept the will of the majority, rightly or wrongly. The implementations are large and many can be found with some research. The questionnaire for the 2014 Synod on the Family may be argued to fall into this category.

    The Delphi Method has been used in secondary education for years. In the book (available for free, online), The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, goes into detail how the process has been used since the 1970’s (remember that Rand paper?).

    This method has even found its way onto blogs. I sometimes wonder if someone states a strong opinion, without rancor, and someone else claims to be wounded by it, whether or not a form of the Delphi Method hasn’t been implemented against the individual. There was a government white paper from a few years ago advocating just that – infiltration of blogs by change agents. Christians don’t like to be accused of being accused of being uncharitable, so this technique is likely to be successful on Christian apologetics, morals, and political blogs. Of course, Christians can also be jerks, so there is no reason to get paranoid that a change agent is at work – each person needs to examine their own conscience, but I have seen perfectly reasonable people back down in blog discussions unnecessarily from the perceived injury of another person who has missed the point of the original commenter. Given the stakes to society, especially today, with topics such as abortion and other life and relationship issues (SSM) sometimes and more frequently, now, Christians will be called to give strong, hard, dispassionate witness and analyses and calling a sin a sin should not be something we should back down from. Admonishing the sinner is a Spiritual Work of Mercy. No one wants to hear that they have killed the child in their womb, but better from you than God on Judgment Day.

    It is important for Christians out in the field to know the tactics that will be used against them. The Delphi Technique is one among many. Logic and the understanding of fallacies and biases can go a long way in preparing us for the dark days ahead. The enemy doesn’t play fair and we need to be prepared.

    So, get to it.

    The Chicken

  23. Benedict Joseph says:

    After all that has been endured, why would anyone expect anything else except that which is spawned by mendacity? One can no longer express surprise except when clarity, honesty and orthodoxy prevail.

  24. Legisperitus says:

    We must hope the faithful synod members remain strong in the face of the Delphi Technique.

    “I will not turn, and you’ll be forced to kill me.”

  25. Dr. Alfred says:

    The lack of a post-Synodal Exhortation and final report functions to allow Francis to not be put in a position where he would be compelled to publically correct those whom he has empowered in this process. His degree of agreement with some of those chosen can only be speculated, however, perhaps this is an acknowledgement that he may have ‘stepped in it’ and instead of having to publically correct this gives him an “out” whereby he can go along and do nothing. Although we wouldn’t really see it as a win, I could see him imagining this as a win for the conservatives and the liberals get their perpetual vehicle for “further study” or a creation of a “commission”. This is the cowards way out, but,(as one who has been terrified of what would happen if the synod created a document that contradicted the faith and then presented that to the pope) if I understand now that they are gathering for a synod that will have no point, I can accept the possibility of an ongoing commission on the subject because the status quo is daily insanity. This was not going to change at the end of the synod anyway. I would, of course, wish this would all just go away. If (and since) that won’t happen, I suppose I can take some solice in the fact they will simply be talking crazy talk and not making it official by doing crazy things.

  26. jhayes says:

    the Synod has zero authority to change anything, laws, doctrine or pizza orders.

    I think this is a really important point to get across. The issue is to convince the Pope, not the synod fathers. Some discussions make it sound as if noses will be counted at the end of the Synod and that will determine what happens. In reality, the synod fathers will advise Francis of their views, but only he will decide what happens.

    There will not be, if leaks are accurate, a post-Synodal Exhortation from the Pope, though he obviously can do whatever he wants to.

    He may decide it’s more effective to issue Motu Proprios like Mitis iudex every few months to deal with individual issues rather than take a couple of years to develop an Apostolic Exhortation to deal with all of the issues at once.

  27. Gerard Plourde says:

    I think that we must remember that when speaking of the Pope as Supreme Legislator, his power concerning Dogma and Doctrine is constrained by the magisterium. The most recent evidence of this is his clear statement that the question of the ordination of women has been infallibly defined by St. John Paul II.

  28. frjim4321 says:

    Maybe they are announcing this on Friday but I think it was already pretty clear it was coming and Pentin predicted this a couple/three weeks ago.

  29. Pingback: Did Pope Francis Really Say Jesus Was a Failure? - Big Pulpit

  30. Aegidius says:

    Almost as much as the fact that many current statements that undermine catholic teaching come from German bishops, it hurts to read postings like the initial one by juergensen. Let me humbly remind you that neither Cardinals Daneel, Baldisseri nor Forte are German and that “the Germans” well include Bishops Hanke (Eichstätt), Oster (Passau) and Voderholzer (Regensburg), all Bavaria, Cardinals Cordes, Müller, Brandmüller and, of course, the Papa Emeritus. Even here in Germany, the faithful have some guidance by good shepherds to follow.

  31. xsosdid says:

    I have been subjected to this very technique, in my parish, with a Sister of Saint Joseph as the facilitator. She attempted to single me out as the “enemy” of her group think with a method of questioning. When this didn’t work it seems to me that the tactics were changed. The preordained results (that women should be ordained…etc) happened anyway and were forwarded to our bishop as a “parish consensus”. It is pure evil, this process, very disorienting and manipulative.

  32. ocalatrad says:

    St. Gregory, A.D. 382: “If I must speak the truth, I feel disposed to shun every conference of Bishops: for never saw I Synod brought to a happy issue, and remedying, and not rather aggravating, existing evils. For rivalry and ambition are stronger than reason,—do not think me extravagant for saying so,—and a mediator is more likely to incur some imputation himself than to clear up the imputations which others lie under.”

  33. TomG says:

    ocalatrad: excellent on-point comment. Curious though as to whether this is St. Gregory Nazianzen or St. Gregory of Nyssa?

  34. jacobi says:

    The first session of the Synod produced confusion. If these reports are correct, the second session will produce speculation. This will inevitably lead to further confusion.

    I have read an interesting article by Fr Mark Drew ( C H ), who compares the Council concept of the Catholic Church and the “Synodality” of the Orthodox churches. Most informative until the last paragraph, which is disturbing. It speculates that we might be in the process of adopting or at least moving towards Orthodox practice.

    If so, this is serious. We must remember that the Orthodox churches are in heretical schism from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Tough, for them, but there it is.

    Rapprochement with the Orthodox churches must have a high priority in Catholic thinking now. But it is dangerous territory. Any hasty adoption of “Synodality” could have disastrous consequences

    For instance, certain doctrines would no longer be obligatory, something which would delight many of the Germanic bishops.

    Those doctrines would include Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception, but throw in a bit of pastoral innuendo and you have the Real Presence and the Ordained Priesthood to name but two

  35. Seppe says:

    @TheMasked Chicken
    “It is important for Christians out in the field to know the tactics that will be used against them. The Delphi Technique is one among many.”

    Another frequently used, related tactic is the “Alinsky Method” popularized by Saul Alinsky, regarded as the founder of modern community organizing. He was a mentor to young “Barack Husein Obama” and the subject of “Hilary Rodham Clinton’s” college thesis. Alinsky himself trained former Jesuit priest Gregory Galluzzo and found a welcome from Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. The Bishops’ Campaign for Human Development has funded many Alinsky-type “social justice” groups, including the voting group known as ACORN, which helped Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. So the Delphi technique and the Alinsky Method seem to have made their way to the Synod and who knows where else around the Vatican… Sounds sort of like “a vast right-wing conspiracy” or something. Antonio Gramsci would have been very pleased…

  36. Christ_opher says:

    Our Pope’s surprises practising Roman Catholics yet again! Please God let the outcome of the synod be one that reaffirms the truth of the church.

    Summary from Michael Brown at spiritdaily.

    Pope Francis raised eyebrows in Italy on Tuesday by slapping down the left-leaning mayor of Rome as someone who “pretends to be Catholic.”

    The unforgiving assessment of Ignazio Marino – a man the Italian media love to hate – further heightened tensions between the pope and the mayor in the run-up to the start of the Holy Year of Mercy in December, with the Vatican fearful the Italian capital is ill-prepared for the millions of extra pilgrims.

  37. Toan says:

    Hmm…is it just me, or are the final synod rules not quite as bad as originally expected? 2/3rds vote is still the target (although Pope Francis can still do what he wants), and small group reports will all be published, albeit not translated (I suppose Zenit can do that in a timely way).

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