Synod thoughts and thanks to readers

First, I am deeply grateful for the donations that have come in to defray the cost of my travel to Rome.  Some have been widow’s mites, some have been hefty, all have been warmly appreciated.   Since I have been on the run a lot during my time here, I haven’t had much of a chance to write all the individual thank you notes that I customarily send out.  I also haven’t updated the “thermometers”.  I will do more when I slow down.  That said, I will again say Mass for the intention of my benefactors for this trip tonight at Ss. Trinita probably between 6-7 Rome time CET (1200-1300 CDT).  UPDATE:  I had a call from the priest at Ss. Trinità who asked me to take the parish evening Mass at 6:30. I may have to take their intention for the Mass. But I still have tomorrow and my last day!   UPDATE: I was able to use my own intention!  So you got prayed for again.

Now to business.

Since I have a few really smart people writing to me about the Synod and its aftermath, I’ll share some of their points with you.  I can’t do much better than they are doing, frankly.

Here… much edited and cut… from a friend:

There is no keeping Cardinal George Pell quiet. He gave an extraordinary interview to Edward Pentin at the National Catholic REGISTER in which he builds upon his earlier, surprising comment (which I sent to you yesterday) to the effect that the Synod Final Document was better than a lot of us are thinking.  HERE

READ THIS CAREFULLY. Pentin asks the right questions, in the right order. Pell answers in Anglo-Saxon clarity but there are points beyond which he will not go and will not be drawn. Pell’s responses are carefully crafted. Whatever you think about his reasoning, this is a reasoned set of arguments. Remember, too, that Pell was there and that he showed outstanding courage in initiating and continually defending the 13 Cardinals’ Letter.

Some of you have already seen this op-ed piece by Ross Douthat. I didn’t see it until it was sent to me because I don’t dumpster-dive in the New York Times.  HERE

But Douthat would be incomplete without this repartee in the combox over at Andrea Gagliarducci’s blog MondayVatican.  HERE

In the combox an anonymous comment appeared that challenged Ducci for “special pleading” on behalf of Pope Francis, i.e., for trying to defend the Pope against the charge that he really is batting for the other side; that he is a Kasperite and worse….

Gagliarducci responds. I am not going to say that I agree with Gagliarducci; I don’t. But the matter is too important not to be careful and then careful again. So read Gagliarduccis explanation of why he refuses (so far) to conclude that the Pope is really with the Kasperites, and make up your own mind. But compare Gagliarducci’s arguments with Douthat’s. 

ONE MORE THING. I have been wondering for a couple weeks whether those of us who think in Anglo-Saxon terms don’t see matters in Rome in too black-and-white a set of terms. Gagliarducci calls us Manicheans and says we (Americans, British, Australians) lack subtlety in our judgments. While that may be true, we tend to win wars and not run away from them as the Italians do. But I raise the point again because I am struck at how very different American/British commentary on the Synod is from European.

Here’s the repartee at MondayVatican I am talking about:

Anonimo scrive:

26 ottobre 2015 alle 03:21

Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. However, whenever I read your articles, I am always left with one unanswered question: why do you always suggest, without any evidence whatsoever, that the adapters that placed the Pope in office, and that he has appointed to high positions, and that he has surrounded himself with, are not expressions of the Pope’s mind? The Pope is basically elected by them; the Pope makes them his closest advisers; the Pope appoints them to draft and control important documents; the Pope appoints them to the Synod when bishops’ conferences did not; they claim to speak the Pope’s mind, and he never contradicts them; the Pope severely criticizes the opponents of the adapters, likening them to men with hardened hearts, not alive with the Gospel. The Pope, against the numerical will of the majority of bishops does not clearly close the issues at variance with the adapters. Is it not a logical conclusion to draw to say that the Pope is in fact their man, and that they are the Pope’s men? Why do you refuse to draw the obvious conclusion? Perhaps you know something we do not. If so, you have never said it. 


Andrea Gagliarducci scrive:

26 ottobre 2015 alle 09:04


thanks for your comment. For what I see, the Pope is mostly an old fashioned, even conservative man in terms of doctrine. There is always something that does not match between what he says and the people he is surrounded with. So I highlight the contradiction. When he speaks about openness and smell of the sheep and everything else, I always find him vague, certainly not on the adpaters side. On the other hand, the Pope showed appreciation for Caffarra during the last Synod, he did not demote Card. Bagnasco as Italian Bishops Conference president, he has a good relation with Cardinal Mueller, even though the Cardinal knows how to criticize him (but Cardinal Mueller has also a deep knowledge of Latin America). So, in the end, I have that sort of feeling that behind any populism, behind any moment the Pope expresses in a vague way thus grabbing the progressives attention and secular media headlines, the Pope have a sort of debt with the adapters who in fact campaigned for him. Because otherwise his thought or his way of doing is not what we can call a straight line, and it is often inexplicable. However, it can also be that the Pope does not follow a rationale. But I think that only time will tell.

Also, I think I predicted that a media onslaught would begin against certain figures who were perceived to have resisted the Kasperites.   Today I received this SMS:

New scandal book by Gianluigi Nuzzi purports to quote “gay Cardinal” with new revelations Vatileaks style.

Whatever this is about, it can’t be good for anyone.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. anilwang says:

    Gagliarducci calls us Manicheans and says we (Americans, British, Australians) lack subtlety in our judgments.

    I disagree. If I listen to Cardinal Arinze or Cardinal Sarah or read Encyclicals like Casti Connubii or works such as the Summa Theologica, I see a great deal more black-and-white thinking than many Americans and British. This is not a cultural thing. IMO, it has to do with clear thinking.

    The more educated you are, the more you are trained in Sophism. Simple fishermen are a great deal more black and white than people in the ivory tower. You won’t see anything like the following:
    (hit refresh a few times to get different essays)

    being produced by a farmer in any country, but you will in the writings of those in the humanities…or in the writings of many in the New Atheism in most countries.

  2. Traductora says:

    The Pope just accepted Cdl Caffara’s resignation today, so that’s one faithful Italian voice down. I also read that the Italian bishops are resisting the new annulment giveaway rules. So maybe not everybody in Italy is thrilled with him.

    Also, the Spanish are overall more in the English-speaking camp in terms of their attitude towards the Pope. As part of the Spanish speaking world, they know more about his activities in Argentina than English speakers do, and the balance has not been favorable. Spain has some very orthodox and excellent bishops, although the head of the bishops conference is a weak, political man and the pope, unfortunately, was able to make a Cupich-style personal appointment (Osoro) to the major see of Madrid upon the retirement of Cdl Rouco.

    Overall, I do think there’s more orthodoxy in the Latin world than we hear and this is not an entirely English-speaking phenomenon. Of course, in return the Pope has done his usual public insults – such as abruptly cancelling his long-expected visit to Avila for the 500th anniversary of St Teresa of Avila. Avila has an orthodox bishop who has been there about ten years; unfortunately, he’s only a couple of years from retirement. Sigh

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    …”the Pope have a sort of debt with the adapters who in fact campaigned for him” I can’t tell if he is talking about during the conclave, which appears to have been established by an admission of an actual Cardinal, or during the Synod. Either way, it indicates something unseemly, a pope who “owes” people for supporting him or his position.
    I am not in the camp that wants the jury to still be out. The evidence is overwhelming, and while it probably doesn’t make much difference at this point, I understand why there are either people who just can’t see the truth here, or for whom it is inconvenient. I favor candor and pragmatism. If we have a bad pope in the Chair of Peter, I would rather face it than not. Maybe that’s just me, but I find avoiding realities nerve-wracking, and to me it is always better to face a problem so as to begin to take it on directly. There is also the reality of public opinion. While some may not care about public opinion, it could not be seen as a good thing to have this kind of talk out there, and so it may help to temper things a bit when the time comes to DO something again. And that time will come, as sure as day follows night.

  4. JimRB says:

    I think this talk of a “bad pope” is indulging in a bout of hyperbole that is at times just as bad for our Catholic witness as this synod has been.

    Yes, he’s done things we find disagreeable. I’m sure we do things he finds disagreeable as well – God knows I NEED confession every single week.

    And the time to “do something” came long ago. Most of us here aren’t cardinal electors or papabili. I’m a dad with four boys and a husband – what I can do is pray, live my vocation, hopefully give one or more of my boys to the church, and enhance the Catholic life and culture in my parish and town. Stressing because the Pope seems to have a penchant for ambiguity and likes to toe the line with moral relativism (from my tiny perspective) does no good. I loved Cardinal Pell’s interview for just this reason: the document isn’t what we want but it’s not that bad, and now it’s time to do what you can do: Pray, works of mercy and penance, and live your vocation.

  5. Dundonianski says:

    Interesting repartee quoted but for me the anonymous questioner is given “thoughtfully constructed vagueness” by Gagliarducci in response; the present Pope has not embarked on this course of Kasperian theology (mercy trumps Doctrine!) lightly, his homily in conclusion was not gracious (to the defenders of Doctrine) Sometimes even in the rarified atmosphere of this blog the simple question and answer may be just that.

  6. gsk says:

    Clarity is good, JimRB. Perhaps you mean, “I am a husband and the father of four boys.” Prayers for your dear family, and that these young men have the strength to follow God’s holy will wherever it leads.

    As for the Pope reneging on the Avila invitation, can we conclude this was a petulant move, or may there be a real justification?

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: the Pope “owing” certain people, I think the gentleman is talking “bella figura” obligation rather than actual obligation. It would look bad to appear ungrateful or make a hard break with people who vociferously support you, and yet you might not agree with them. Even partial or no usefulness of these people to you would make this difficult. But if those people have your ear and are seen to have it, they tend to gather influence.

    I suspect that the Pope just will keep doing his own idiosyncratic thing, but if he lets these folks run around doing their toxic stuff, it looks worse than ungratefulness would look.

  8. J_Cathelineau says:

    I do stand with Traductora above. Strongly. And a bit angry.
    There are many good, non english speaking Bishops. Just going unnoticed, because angle-saxon people just don´t know any other language than english.
    Here is what Mons. Munilla said yesterday:
    «Algunos pensaban que iba a venir el Sínodo e iba a decir que los divorciados vueltos a casar pueden comulgar. Eso no ha sido y es imposible porque es contradecir la fe de la Iglesia. Si para comulgar hay que estar en gracia de Dios y el divorcio y las nuevas nupcias es adulterio, ¿nosotros quienes somos para rectificar la palabra de Jesucristo?. Es imposible que el Sínodo puediera decirlo y que el Papa pueda decirlo porque no tenemos autoridad sobre la palabra de Dios»

  9. PhilipNeri says:

    As far as I understand the Jesuit mind-set (!), the Holy Father is behaving like a Jesuit superior.

    Problem? Get everyone together and let opinions fly! When everyone has been heard, the superior makes a decision and everyone salutes.

    This approach contrasts sharply with the Dominican style:

    Problem? Get everyone together and let opinions fly! When everyone has spoken (if not heard) — about six days later — a subcommittee is formed. The subcommittee spends two years gathering the opinions of those friars most likely to agree with the ruling cadre. Then we spend a week in the summer going over the recommendations in small groups and reporting out our discussions. The subcmte has already written its report, but it’s important that there is an appearance of participation by the friars. Finally, so that no one is left unhappy, the recommendations are neutered into nonsense and turned into commendations. Everyone leaves to return to his own ministry. Nothing changes.

  10. Matthew Gaul says:

    Mid-century, the always superb old-fashioned Catholic aristocrat Erik Leddihn noted that Catholics in the diaspora, living in Protestant cultures, are more prone to narrow-thinking and shibboleth use, even when they were in the right. They lack the naturalness of those who grew up in the Catholic air, as it were.

    I do think we in the Anglosphere suffer from this. Doesn’t make us wrong, and in fact Anglophone modernists work under this same impediment. For what it’s worth.

  11. Andrew says:


    “anglo-saxon people just don´t know any other language than english”

    In other news related to the Synod:

    Katolikus püspöki konferencia: Tehát az elvált és polgári jogilag újra házasságot kötött párok esetében az Eucharisztiához való járuláshoz változatlanul ezután sincs mód.

    Konvertiti žiadajú synodu zachova? nerozlu?nos? manželstva: V závere listu sa konvertiti obracajú na Katolícku cirkev so žiados?ou, aby udržala nerozlu?ite?nos? manželstva s takou vernos?ou, ako sa udržiavala v celej histórii Cirkvi. Pod?a nich zmeny v cirkevnej disciplíne by boli nielen neadekvátne, ale by aj zárove? znamenali kapituláciu pred problémom, ktorého sa cirkev chcela uja?.

  12. J_Cathelineau says:

    Thanks, Mathew Gaul.
    Many of us in the spanish-sphere got our eyes open reading to the likes of Michael Davies, Hugh Ross Williamson, Louis Bouyer (in english), not to mention card. Newman, Benson, Tolkien, Chesterton, Lewis et al., and yes, blogs like this one. We are extremely grateful for them.
    We all have links to english speaking blogs, and The Remnant and Rorate Caeli are regularly translated to spanish. Every day. So maybe you got the lead now, but we are working for Unity.
    So this division is nonsense. Maybe is time for you to know the existence of Fr. Meinvielle, Fr Castellani, Fr Alfredo Saenz, Msgr Straubinger, Jean Madiran, Hugo Wast….
    Aren´t we Catholics (Universal)?

  13. Toan says:

    Pentin points out at the end, “* the text actually says “criterio complessivo” – overal criteria. As a reader pointed out: this is “extremely important since no. 85 passed by one vote. If Pell got it wrong, others did also. It shouldn’t have passed.””

    “The complete teaching of John Paul II” vs. “This is the comprehensive criteria laid out by John Paul II…[insert truncated FC 84 here].” That, in itself, would make a difference. I wonder if “insegnamento complessivo” appears anywhere else in the document. I can’t find the original text, so I can’t say.

    Nonetheless, the paragraphs also have expressions like, “discernment according to the teaching of the Church” and “this discernment can never be detached from the exigencies of truth and the charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church”, which further back up the additional criteria laid out by Pope St. John Paul II’s.

    We can read the paragraph to favor the truth or to favor falsehood. Those inclined to follow the truth on this matter can read the paragraph in a way that supports the truth. Those disinclined will be likely to read it in a way that doesn’t, which is probably what everyone would do even if FC 84 were quoted in its entirety. The inclined will keep doing what they’ve been doing, and the disinclined will keep doing what they’ve been doing. Seems like a practical continuation of the status quo to me.

  14. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Matthew Gaul,

    I think that Leddihn’s analysis (and yours) are correct. I also think that Americans particularly, based on our celebrated pragmatism, run the risk of not being discerning with respect to the theological positions of those with whom we ally on moral issues. While Fundamentalists and Evangelicals may currently share positions with Church teaching, the fact that they embrace the heresies of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide makes them unreliable over the long run. Further, these positions contain in them a strong temptation to the sin of Pride regarding the infallibility of one’s own assessments and judgments in matters of Faith and Morals (a danger present to Liberals and Conservatives alike) and are directly opposed to the the doctrines of Tradition and Pastoral Authority that stand alongside Scripture at the heart of Catholicism.

  15. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    This European condescension that Americans (and maybe Brits) see things too sharply, that we should relax and appreciate their urbane nuance, is really getting old. Rather than refute that for folks who seem to have hard time following logic, How’s this?: “You Europeans see us Anglo-Ams in far too stark terms. You should relax and realize how nuanced we Anglos really are. What’s that you say? You don’t see us that way? Ah! Proves my point.”

  16. TimG says:


    I for one would welcome links to non English speaking blogs if they have an English translation. I regularly check Sandro M’s English website and it is heartening to read of pastors in other countries who support Church teachings and traditions.

  17. Imrahil says:

    Speaking of Kuehnelt-Leddihn,

    he insisted frequently that the well-known legend that the Apostles were “simple fishermen” has not much basis in fact and that the indications point to the contrary (says he). So, according to him, St. Peter and St. Andrew were the sons of a successful big-style fishing entrepreneur who could afford to simply leave the boats to the employees and, as proven by the scriptural letter the former wrote, thoroughly educated; St. James and St. John, probably of the priestly class, at any rate personally acquainted with the High Priest, where Kuehnelt-Leddihn notes that the priests, when not on duty, would have an ordinary job such as, here, fishing; St. Matthew, even if his profession was in ill repute, a probably capable finance civil-servant of the Roman Empire, and so on.

    Dear Gerard Plourde,

    good points.

    It may be that we and the Evangelicals agree, for the moment, on some systematically third-rate concrete applications. We do not agree on principle, not only on the articles of Faith that refer to the Church, but quite deep down also. There can’t, ultimately, be peace between “nature is good; some things that are apparently good aren’t really; don’t do them; to make things easier, God has given some commandments specifically”, which is the Catholic position, and “nature is bad; you must overcome it because otherwise God doesn’t let you into Heaven; God says do this and do that; you want to question that? naturally you will want to do so, but God has the more power and will send you to hell if you do, so better overcome nature” which is the Evangelical position –

    even if both agree, for the time being, on the third-rate practical application such as that pre-marital sex is to be avoided.


    it is true or seems to be that the authentic spirit of Catholic culture (if we accept that Catholicism is also, if secondarily, about setting up an entire culture, not only about preserving faith and doing good deeds in a hostile world) rather breathes in traditional Catholic societies than in the ones where Catholics are pressed to win the morality race. That said, in the area of the dogmatic, where we only distinguish between true and false, things are easier.

    >>While that may be true, we tend to win wars and not run away from them as the Italians do.

    With all due respect, that is a bit… well… it neglects the fact that Italy had for a long time had a passionate internal strife among the Catholics and the anti-Catholics (that is, those who fought on the anti-Catholic side and who were often personally quite sincere, God have mercy on them); something with which among other things the very creation of the present Italian state is tainted with. The anglosphere who was – then still – safely sitting in a convenient alliance between Protestant faith, but not too much religion please, and respectable bourgeois life was naturally spared such a strife – but is that something positive?

  18. Raymond says:

    Having grown up multi-lingual in the Philippines, Spain, and the US, I definitely sense the different outlooks between Anglo-American Catholics and those of the South European/Latin varieties.

    Perhaps due to the heavy Protestant presence, Anglos of both the left and the right argue more about doctrine and cannon law. Latins are more devotional and easy-going. Processions and shrine pilgrimages are more common.

    I remember, as a newly-arrived teenager to the US, during World Youth Day 1993 in Denver, and seeing a smiling American teen wearing a t-shirt that said “Proud to be Catholic!” It struck me as very odd at that time.

  19. Mac_in_Alberta says:

    Anglo-Saxon thinking? Piffle.
    The correct term is “logic.”

  20. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Imrahil,

    Thank you. You quite succinctly state the unbridgeable gap concerning man’s nature that fuels the Protestant heresies.

    Also, to provide some additional information to your response to the now-removed comment regarding American and Italian responses to war (and certainly not to denigrate the Italian experience since they suffered the ravages of war far more than we ever have) – We Americans growing up in the late 20th and early 21st century (especially those of us who live in areas with substantial Catholic presence) have no experience of the suspicion and hostility that Protestants exhibited toward Catholics. This hostility is still very much present in the Fundamentalist and Evangelical community. There are groups (some of which smilingly greet us at pro-life rallies) who still accept unquestioningly Boettner’s slanderous assertions that Catholicism is the”Babylon Mystery Religion” and the tool of the Antichrist and who seek actively to lead Catholics away into heresy

  21. Scott W. says:

    “This European condescension that Americans (and maybe Brits) see things too sharply, that we should relax and appreciate their urbane nuance, is really getting old.”

    Really they might as well be saying Americans all like fried chicken and watermelon.

  22. TimG says:

    This is probably going off topic (or more likely, subject matter for an earlier post from Fr Z), but we faithful Catholics need to get our act together and operate as one team. One Peter Five has a story about Massimo Faggioli and Co attacking Ross Douthat for his article in NYT….here is the tweet;

  23. Kathleen10 says:

    Andrew. Good point.

    J_Cathelineau. English is the language spoken in America, but many Americans are multilingual. The notion of Americans as knowing only English is outdated, but even if it were true it shouldn’t be a problem because we are an English-speaking nation, after all.
    If the Spanish-speaking viewpoint has not gotten out there as much, you can bet it has more to do with the media than any assumed language snobbery. The media actively suppresses what it doesn’t agree with. Perhaps you should get angry with them.
    As Catholics we ought to be united. Divisions over language and culture are profoundly unhelpful, especially when our church is in trouble. Do we believe that God cares about linguistics?

  24. Mr. Graves says:

    “anglo-saxon people just don´t know any other language than english”

    Gibt es mehr Sprachen als Englisch und Spanisch.

  25. Pingback: Post-Synod Update for Wednesday - Big Pulpit

  26. Phil_NL says:

    If the Italians accuse anyone of black-and-white thinking, it tends to be a compliment.

    If the Germans accuse anyone of black-and-white thinking, you know they just committed intellectual seppuku. If anyone invited black-and-white thinking, it were the Prussians. Sadly, they never seemed to be able to apply it to good causes, or formulate it in a way that it is translatable outside the German language.

    Give me anglo-saxon thinking every day – and I’m not even anglo-saxon myself.

  27. Imrahil says:

    Dear Phil_NL,

    I beg your pardon, but you’re wrong here. What you complain of in the Prussians is not black-and-white thinking, despite a curious coincidence w.r.t. their flag’s colors.

    It is, if anything, over-thinking, not seeing the forest for sheer mass of trees, etc. – which frequently led, in history, to downright and conscious bullydom because all this thinking doesn’t lead anywhere anyway, and after all we’ll always find someone to justify us in thought – that was the problem here. Not black-and-white thinking; if anything, the lack of it. For after all, all distinction, even if it is as detailed as it should, comes to a yes/no (a black and white) down at the bottom… no, the Prussians did not think in black and white; they thought and thought and thought until they thought their thoughts irrelevant, and the quite exemplary Prussian Oswald Spengler would write that nobility-of-spirit is a contradiction in terms.

    See also the frequent invectives of Chesterton against “the German professors”, where he certainly does not complain about their thinking with to few subtleties.

    Also, when you say Prussians: if we assume that the authentic German spirit is the one of the Holy Roman Empire, then Chesterton’s statement that Prussia is the arch-enemy of Germany (and Austria) is evident – and it has, gloriously, met its demise by the Allied action in 1947.

  28. Phil_NL says:

    Dear Imrahil,

    You’re right in several respects, particularly over-thinking, and that a justification is easily enough found for anything, at least by an agile mind without a conscience. But I still think black-and-white thinking has a place in that diagnosis of Prussian ills, namely the tendency that once a course has been set, everything that creates doubt as to that course is cast aside as black. In other words: the lack of nuance is deliberately sought, as justifications for setting nuance aside are produced by the bucket load. Black-and-white thinking is, in that view, a tool, and one that has been tragically abused.

    Applied to the situation regarding the synod, my interpretation is that if a German accuses you of black-and-white thinking, it means that he has been unable to cast aside his doubts or nuances while maintaining his strict logical coherence, and sees that your position doesn’t fail that test. In other words, he’s almost jealous.
    I suspect that the cause of this is something we see often on the left: they wish to ignore any rule or dogma they don’t like, but still set great store by formalizing the new ‘dogma’ in the way they like it, so that post hoc, they’d be in line with all the rules again. And, at the risk of being seen as an incorrigible latin (which I’m not, accidentally), I find funny.


    Back on a more serious topic: as for the abolition of Prussia in 1947, that needed to be done – it was something that should have been taken care of in Vienna over 120 years before, as it was clear even then that it would dominate what later would become Germany. But I doubt to which extent it was truely effective, as the prussian culture – and especially the mode of thought – couldn’t be extinguished by a mere administrative act. On the other hand, the forcible division and the repressive regimes thrown at the Prussian heartland over the next 40 years, combined with a conscious effort to exorcise most ghosts of the past in West-Germany have probably done the job. Probably.

  29. The Cobbler says:

    Normally, when one is accused of having a black and white view of an issue, I think of the Calvin and Hobbes strip where the world loses its hues and whatnot. Calvin’s dad tries to explain that the problem is sometimes Calvin sees things in black and white — Calvin loudly retorts, “Sometimes that’s the way things are!

    Today, however, all I can think is, “So Americans see things too black and white? So much for the word ‘too’ being sexist — turns out it’s rather old-world-ist!”

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