I. Did the Vatican lie in excluding Cardinal Tong Hon?
The final list of the members of the 2015 Synod of Bishops includes a good number of prelates past the "retirement age" of 75, including a handful of octogenarian Cardinals: Tettamanzi (81), Kasper (82), Danneels (82), Sgreccia (87), and Sodano (88 in November of this year). Many others are between the ages of 75 and 80, such as Cardinal Damasceno Assis (one of the four President-Delegates of the Synod, who is 77), the Curial dicastery heads Cardinals Coccopalmerio (77), Amato (77), Veglio (77), and many others. Without falling into blind faith in the "biological solution" against liberalism -- there are, after all, a good number of liberal theologians and prelates in their 40's, 50's and early 60's -- it should be noted that the "Kasperite camp" has as its most prominent leaders and promoters, Cardinals in their late 70's and 80's, including a majority of the prelates mentioned above. (Sgreccia and Amato are staunch conservatives on moral issues, though, as is the 77-year-old Cardinal Carlo Caffarra of Bologna.)
Why, then, was Cardinal John Tong Hon, the 76-year-old Archbishop of Hong Kong, one of three President-delegates of the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization, and papally-appointed delegate to the 2014 Synod, told by the Vatican that he could not attend this year's Synod because he is too old? The Asian Catholic news agency UCANews broke the news on August 31:
Hong Kong Cardinal Tong says he was not invited to Synod on Family
Largest Chinese diocese may not be represented at Vatican gathering
The head of the largest Chinese Catholic diocese in the world will be absent from the World Synod of Bishops in October because he has been deemed to be too old.
Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong was not invited to participate in this year's synod, which will focus on the family, because he is older than 75.
“Now I know that I am not going to the synod," the 76-year-old cardinal told ucanews.com in a late August interview.
The cardinal said he was told by a Vatican representative that the Vatican "does not want to make any exceptions" regarding age.
Cardinal Tong said he was unaware if another representative from Hong Kong was chosen in his place. He knew only that he was “disqualified by age,” he said, laughing.
“They will find somebody … if they need somebody,” the cardinal said.
Synod participants in general are elected by local bishops’ conferences. Owing to historical reasons, Hong Kong, a former British colony and the largest Chinese diocese in the world with a Catholic population of 560,000, remains a mission area and does not have its own bishops’ conference.
Some Hong Kong Catholics expressed disappointment that the diocese may not be represented at the synod.
“It is a pity that no one from Hong Kong is going,” Francis Law, a member of a Chinese Facebook page called “Catholic Parents”, told ucanews.com.
Law said Hong Kong Catholics could contribute to discussions at the synod, expressing concerns about recent developments on same-sex unions around the world, particularly in the United States, which legalized same-sex marriage in June.
“These kinds of voices needs to be brought to the Synod,” said Law, who is a member of the Diocesan Youth Commission.
Obviously someone lied to the good Cardinal! It is the Pope's prerogative to appoint whom he wishes, and had the Cardinal simply been passed over for this year's Synod there would be no issue. Unfortunately, he, a CARDINAL of the Roman Church, was told a complete lie as to why he could not attend -- what does this say about today's Vatican? Either someone from the Vatican lied to him, or an egregious double standard was at work: prelates over 75 are unacceptable as Synod delegates, unless they are "progressives" from Europe?
Cardinal Tong Hon is by all accounts a man deeply interested in fostering Christian family life as shown by his Christmas pastoral letter of 2012 (affirming that marriage should be between a man and a woman), and his November 2014 Pastoral Letter on the "Gospel of the Family". The latter gently but unmistakably affirms, in response to Cardinal Baldisseri, the need to avoid confusion regarding Church teaching on the family, especially in this passage (emphases ours):
As I see it, apart from giving paramount importance to the welfare of innocent children, Cardinal Baldesiri has touched on at least two important principles of pastoral action, the first “compassionate accompaniment” and the second “compatibility with Church teaching.”
I like to think of the first principle as requiring the Church and her pastors to have a “listening heart” (1 Kings 3: 9) and to reach out in solicitude, love and compassion to the person as a subject and not a mere object of pastoral care and concern, not to judge or condemn, but to respect the freedom and dignity of the person and accompany them along the difficult path towards wholeness and a fullness of life.
The Church must develop a sensitivity that would enable her to be able to pick up and respond to even the silent scream of every heart.
The second requires fidelity to the teaching of the Church as properly understood. Thus the adoption of a “non-judgmental attitude” does not mean that the pastor is unconcerned with what is good or bad, right or wrong, virtue or sin.
The pastor will need the gift of discernment and to know the parameters of what is or is not in accord with the mind of the Church when searching for practical, but principled solutions.
This leads me to a third principle, viz. “an essential dimension of authentic pastoral care is the identification of causes of confusion regarding the Church’s teaching.”
It is often necessary, not only doctrinally but also pastorally, to state and elucidate the Church’s teaching, so as to pre-empt or remove avoidable misunderstanding and confusion. The manner and the language in which the message is couched and transmitted matters enormously.
It is not a question of “balancing the truth with mercy.” Rather it is speaking the truth with love and sensitivity and acting accordingly with the courage and hope that come from faith in God who is “rich in mercy.
By no means harsh, but definitely not "Kasperite" in tone either.
In addition, the Cardinal has presided over the rapid growth of conversions in his Archdiocese (it welcomed 3,600 new Catholics on Easter 2015!) In more normal times he would have been practically a "shoo-in" as a Synod member. His clear stance versus Beijing's persecution of Christians is exemplary for the churchmen of today.
II. Archbishop Cordileone - singled out for exclusion?
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco is not only a known "culture warrior" but is also the Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. Not surprisingly, he was elected by his fellow US bishops in November 2014 as one of two "alternates" for the four USCCB delegates to the Synod of 2015. The other alternate was Blase Cupich, at that time the Archbishop-elect of Chicago.
Today's final list of Synod members includes 8 Americans: the four delegates elected by the US bishops (Archbishops Joseph Kurtz, Charles Chaput and Jose Gomez and Cardinal Daniel DiNardo), and four papal appointees: Cardinals Timothy Dolan and Donald Wuerl, Archbishop Blase Cupich, and Bishop George Murry SJ.
How interesting that of the six bishops originally elected last year by the US Bishops to represent them in this year's Synod either as delegates or alternates, the ONLY ONE who will not be able to make it is Salvatore Cordileone, who is actually the US episcopate's point man on the "promotion and defense of marriage"?
Underlining his non-appointment is the fact that Pope Francis appointed four US prelates, three of whom had not even been elected by their peers to represent them in this year's Synod. No, he was not excluded because there was no space for him anymore, Neither could he have been excluded because he is "unknown" -- his position as an alternate, if nothing else, would certainly have put him within the Pope's attention as he (or his closest advisers) studied whom else to appoint to the Synod.
The exclusion of these two prelates smacks of unworthy intrigue and power-play in the run-up to the Synod. This does not surprise us anymore, but it is painful to see new evidence of it almost every single day as we approach October.