Rorate Caeli

"For Francis, a resounding defeat: Traditionalists have won a huge victory." | "Even in 2015, it's hard for Francis to go much beyond this without risking schism."

Professor Odon Vallet is an expert in the history of religions and civilizations and, since he is deemed a strong and radical "Progressive", he is a favorite in the French media to speak as a secular-friendly voice on Catholic issues.

He was interviewed by popular daily "20 Minutes" on the results of the 2014 assembly of the Synod of Bishops:

In what sense did the provisional text [the Forte relatio] signal an important step?

The provisional text included two overtures. One regarding the remarried divorcees. The other regarding homosexuals. It was not a revolution, but an evolution. It was not proposed to admit the remarried divorcees to the sacrament, but simply to predict, either by marriage annulment, or by a penance procedure, the readmission to the sacrament. For homosexuals, there was no question of recognized marriage, but to underline the "gifts and qualities" that they could offer to the Church. They were welcomed, without however officially recognizing their [civil] union.

An evolution that did not pass through at the time of voting...

In the final text, no allusion is made anymore to these two controversial issues. It is a resounding defeat for pope Francis, a snub. Worse still, an American Cardinal [editor note: Raymond Leo Burke, of the conservative opposition] even declared that the Pope had done "great harm by not saying openly what his position was." In reality, Francis remained silent to grant all freedom to the participants. It is the first time in 50 years, at least, that a cardinal opposes the Pope openly. It is the first time as well, in several centuries, that bishops and cardinals don't have confidence in him.

How to explain it?

The almost totality of these prelates were named by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Their opinions are more conservative than that of the pope. Some even pose the question of legitimacy. They have not accepted the resignation of Benedict XVI.[***] Since pope Francis said that he too would resign and that his pontificate would be brief, some are beginning to play for time and wait for the election of his successor.

However, it is indeed pope Francis who will have the final say?

After the second synod, in 2015, the Pope [would] normally take the decisions under the format of an apostolic exhortation. But it is almost impossible that the Pope will go against bishops and Cardinals. That would risk provoking a schism in the Church. Traditionalist Catholics have won a huge victory. France played an important part in this.

Isn't it a symbolic victory for homosexuals?

This attempt to change touched the spirits in parishes, in dioceses.[*] Many clerics who prepare for marriage were glad to see that the Synod seemed to take realities into consideration. But the final retreat left them distraught. In many countries, such as France and Germany, the Catholic Church is deeply divided. The great success of protests [Rorate note: La Manif pour tous] against marriage for all [Rorate note: mariage pour tous, a French Socialist euphemism for same sex civil "marriage"] foretold this failure of Pope Francis. Let us not forget that the center of gravity of the episcopal body is clearly conservative. The Pope has lost for the moment any room for maneuver despite his immense popularity [**]. Since he is cunning, he will take the time to reflect and try to take control in another way.

It is a correct analysis of the moment. We would just add a few notes. First, [*] that the provisional report inflamed spirits everywhere and in very different ways, not merely, as Vallet implies, of hope and expectation among pseudo-Catholics who do not believe in anything. From what we received from readers in more mainstream parishes, and from every single African reader, the provisional report set a fire of indignation in many spirits in parishes and dioceses as well. If anything, the laity in African nations (and certainly in every single Asian nation) is even more conservative in moral matters than their bishops. Second, that [**] the pope's undeniably immense "popularity" in secular contexts is much less noticeable at the parish level, where the "Francis effect" is negligible, if existent -- and the more dedicated and thoroughly catechized a particular group is, the less popular the pope is. Therefore, the risk, if not of an outright schism, of a strong and enduring division between pope and priests and laity is immense. Francis has lots of support to change Catholic doctrine... but mostly among people who rarely go to Church, if they are Catholics at all. Third, [***] the resignation of the former pope is a non-issue, except in the mind of the new liberal Ultramontanists.

An additional point concerns Cardinal Burke, this exemplary servant of the Church. He has been nothing if not humble, accepting all humiliations patiently. The way he has been treated by Francis is embarrassing for the pope, not for him. Consider how different John Paul II and Benedict XVI were with outright dissenters, such as the anti-African German cardinal Walter Kasper, and many others of a similar vein, who were never humiliated and threatened of demotion and exile, despite their position -- quite the opposite. This was not because these popes were "soft", but because they fought for the unity of the Church.

Francis, on the other hand, played with fire and brought the Church to the brink of the precipice, her most serious division in five centuries, in order to implement what even his nominee Cardinal Pell called "the secular agenda"; not even in a Synod whose members were chosen by him and steered by Cardinal Baldisseri under his command was he able to achieve even 2/3 of the votes on the issues close to his heart, even after they had been considerably watered down. Compare and contrast this to both Vatican I and Vatican II where not even the most controversial issues reached this level of disagreement from the clear will of the Pope -- and even when there was a much smaller proportion of "non placet" votes (even fewer than 10%), the texts were changed to achieve agreements as close to unanimity as possible. And instead of gracefully accepting the blocking of the rejected paragraphs, he proceeded to include the rejected passages in the text, which makes the whole synodal process lose meaning... Despite all this, as Vallet says, he is "cunning" enough to move forward in his attempt, regardless of the serious and extremely high risks to the unity of the Church involved in it. May Our Lord and Our Lady protect the Church.

[Tip: Riposte catholique. Source, in French]