Consistory 2022: a great opportunity missed


There exists a relationship between grace and nature analogous to the one between faith and reason. An imbalance arises when there is faith without reason or grace without nature, and vice versa, but perfect balance does not consist in putting these realities on the same level; on the contrary, it consists in placing them in their legitimate order, subordinating nature to that grace of which it is the precondition, just as the precondition of faith is reason, which is however subject to faith.

This helps us to understand what the “spirit of faith” or “supernatural spirit” means, depending on whether we are referring to the primacy of faith over reason or of grace over nature. It means not renouncing the indispensable role of reason and nature, but seeing all things with the eyes of faith, expecting even the impossible from the action of grace.

Today this spirit of faith is missing from among the Christian people, starting with its ecclesiastical leaders. The supernatural spirit of faith has been replaced by the political spirit, which is the one with which the Christian presumes to understand reality by means of reason alone and to shape it without resorting to the decisive action of grace.

Pope Francis has repeatedly recalled that the true reformers of the Church are the saints, and yet his approach to the great issues of the world always appears political, and therefore “worldly” rather than supernatural and moved by the spirit of faith. This “political” approach dominated the latest consistory, held at the Vatican on August 29 and 30 with roughly 180 cardinals in attendance, which was a great missed opportunity to address the serious problems afflicting the Church today. Officially at the center of the meeting of the cardinals was the reform of the curia proposed by the new apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium, but in fact the pope prevented the cardinals from speaking out in joint session on this and other issues, in everyday terms muzzling them.

The consistory is a meeting of the pope with the cardinals, who, according to the Code of Canon Law (canons 349-359), are his first advisers. For at least seven years Pope Francis has not allowed the cardinals to express their opinions at this solemn meeting. Everyone expected this to happen at the meeting at the end of August, but the consistory, at the pope’s behest, was fragmented into linguistic groups, paralyzing the cardinals and preventing that frank and direct dialogue which had last taken place in February of 2014.

This truth has been brought back to our minds by an eminent cardinal and great historian, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller. His voice, which could not be heard in the assembly of the consistory, is in fact resounding outside it. The vaticanista Sandro Magister has allowed us to get to know it, publishing the speech that the cardinal had prepared but was not allowed to deliver (’-mouths/).

In his document Cardinal Brandmüller recalls the function of the cardinals as expressed by canon law, which in ancient times found its symbolic expression in the rite of the «aperitio oris,» of opening the mouth. A rite, the cardinal explained, that «meant the duty of frankly expressing one’s own conviction, one’s advice, especially in consistory. That frankness – Pope Francis speaks of “parresía” – which was particularly dear to the apostle Paul. For now, unfortunately, that frankness is being replaced by a strange silence. That other ceremony of the closing of the mouth which followed the “aperitio oris” did not refer to the truths of faith and morals, but to official secrets

«Today, however,» Cardinal Brandmüller adds, «there is a need to emphasize the right and indeed the duty of the cardinals to express themselves clearly and with frankness precisely when it comes to the truths of faith and morals, of the “bonum commune” of the Church. The experience of recent years has been entirely different. At the consistories – convened almost exclusively for the causes of saints – forms were distributed to request speaking time, followed by obviously spontaneous remarks on any sort of topic, and that was it. There has never been a debate, an exchange of arguments on a specific topic. Obviously a completely useless procedure,» in spite of the fact that the primacy of the successor of Peter by no means excludes «a fraternal dialogue with the cardinals, who “are obliged to cooperate assiduously with the Roman Pontiff” (canon 356). The more serious and urgent the problems of pastoral governance, the more necessary is the involvement of the college of cardinals

The cardinal, as the Church historian he is, continues: «When Celestine V, in 1294, became aware of the particular circumstances of his election and wanted to renounce the papacy, he did so after intense conversations and with the consent of his electors. A completely different conception of the relationship between pope and cardinals was that of Benedict XVI, who – a unique case in history – made his resignation from the papacy, for personal reasons, without the knowledge of the college of cardinals that had elected him. Until Paul VI, who increased the number of electors to 120, there were only 70 electors. This near doubling of the electoral college was motivated by the intention of accommodating the hierarchy of countries far from Rome and honoring those Churches with the Roman purple. The inevitable consequence was that cardinals were created who had no experience of the Roman curia and therefore of the problems of the pastoral governance of the universal Church. All this has serious consequences when these cardinals of the peripheries are called to elect a new pope

The current situation is that «many if not the majority of the electors do not know each other. Nonetheless, they are there to elect the pope, one from among them. It is clear that this situation facilitates the operations of groups or classes of cardinals to favor one of their candidates. In this situation the danger of simony in its various forms cannot be excluded.» The cardinal’s document concludes with a proposal: «In the end, it seems to me that serious reflection should be given to the idea of limiting the right to vote in conclave, for example, to cardinals residing in Rome, while the others, still cardinals, could share the “status” of cardinals over eighty

Clear, unequivocal words that should make the whole college of cardinals reflect.

Pope Francis’s refusal to let the cardinals speak stems from the political and worldly perspective of his pontificate. He is afraid that a free and open discussion could weaken the exercise of his power, not realizing that the truth can never harm the Church or the souls subjected to Her. The spirit of faith, which is opposed to that of politics, consists precisely in seeking in all things that which is highest and loftiest, that which is most in keeping with the glory of God and the good of souls, always abiding by the dictates of the Gospel.

The alternative is between the Truth of the Gospel and the power of the world. Proclaiming the truth of the Gospel does not mean speaking of immigration or a climate emergency, but of the “Novissima” – death, judgment, hell, and heaven – and of Divine Providence, which regulates all activity in the created universe. Proclaiming the Gospel means condemning, with the voice of the Church, sin, especially public sin, starting with abortion and LGBT doctrines, which are considered by the world to be “civil achievements.” It means speaking of holiness, and not of synodality, because it is from holiness and not from political mechanisms that the necessary reform within the Church begins: the reform of the men who make it up, not of its divine and immutable constitution.

Now a blanket of silence has fallen on the consistory. And the silence of those who should speak is the greatest punishment that Our Lord can inflict on his Church.