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Vatican press spokesmen Father Federico Lombardi and Father Thomas Rosica at a press conference.John-Henry Westen / LifeSiteNews

TORONTO, December 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The synod on the family was a success despite a media that reported “whole groups pitting one against the other” and the “so-called Catholic blog world who had their own vision of what was happening,” says Fr. Thomas Rosica, English-language media attaché of the event.

“Key issues emerged in a tedious painful process,” the Basilian priest stated in a recent public address on the synod. “Yes, there were tensions, yes, there were sharp voices, yes, there was behavior that I would never imagined to see among senior people in the Church, but Pope Francis revived – not revised – revived the synod of bishops, and he got the bishops talking about the things that are real.”

Rosica described his role as the Vatican’s English-language attaché at the synod in a December 8 lecture entitled Sub Petro et Cum Petro: How Pope Francis has revived the Synod of Bishops 50 years later.

“Each of you heard different versions of what supposedly took place,” he told the forty-odd people attending the event, sponsored by St. Michael’s School of Theology at the University of Toronto. “I will tell you what took place.”

An estimated 1,000 reporters, from “all the major networks of the world” covered the synod, as well as those from “very minor Catholic lobby groups that were more difficult to deal with than were the public networks,” said Rosica, CEO of the Canadian Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation.

“The problem is we had people on the outside, especially the media corp and some of the Italians and some of the so-called Catholic blog world, who had their own vision of what was happening,” he said. “But it wasn’t happening.”

A new approach

Under the methodology pioneered at the 2014 October Synod on the Family, the Vatican provided no published texts of the discussions, as it had done at previous synods. This was intended “to give greater freedom for bishops to speak freely,” Rosica said.

He took part in the synod’s private and public sessions, and with Holy See Press Office director, Jesuit Fr. Frederico Lombardi, “gave the overall themes,” without disclosing the source of the interventions, to reporters at daily briefings.

The synod fathers were free to go to the media, or publish their interventions on their websites, which many did, and “gave their texts to their preferred journalists and those texts were immediately published,” Rosica noted.


That raised questions about “to whom are they giving it, and why are you giving it to this one and not the other,” he said in response to a question following his address. “Is that the best method? Personally speaking, no. I didn’t make the decision.”

Indeed, at the time of the synod, EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo analyzed the process with Robert Royal, editor of, and New York canon lawyer and pastor Fr. Gerald Murray.

“The synod is becoming more of a closed session than it had been in the past,” Murray said. Although the process was meant to encourage free speech, he noted, it was “information control” and had “a very negative possibility attached to it,” because what the synod fathers “actually say will never get to the public, it can be manipulated by the reporters.”

“I would be much happier if we return to earlier synodal practice where everything was made public so the faithful can follow the discussion,” Murray told Arroyo.

Rosica alluded to this contentious point in his lecture. “I would list some of the things at the press conference that had been spoken in the assembly hall or spoken in the groups,” he said, “only to be countered immediately by Catholic bloggers or…so-called Catholic websites who said, this was not spoken.”

“And I had everything carefully noted and footnoted of who the synod fathers were and how many times it was referenced,” he noted. “I would say, for example, this morning 17 of the interventions dealt with the need for changing language.”

‘Language is essential’

It was this precise subject of changing the Church’s language, according to Robert Royal, that “took people by surprise, because it seemed to come out of nowhere. None of the other language reporters mentioned the sensitivity language for homosexuals.”

“What we learned after, just by a stray remark that Archbishop Chaput made… is that language about ‘gays’ had only come up about once or twice at that point,” Royal told Arroyo, adding he asked Lombardi: “Don’t you have some statistics how often the subjects have been brought up? He claims not to have them.”

In his address, Rosica emphasized the point again. “Language is essential, the changing of language, which was one of the goals of the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “How many bishops and cardinals said, we have a problem with our language? We had one among the cardinals who said, ‘I don’t often receive people in my office and say how nice to meet you, living in sin, or ‘What a nice intrinsically disordered person you are.’”

“He said those words mean nothing; we have to find words that will attract and to lead people deeper into the mystery and the understanding of conversion than using words which simply repel.”

Although Rosica didn’t mention names in his talk, it’s likely he was referring to Cardinal John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand.

Following Dew’s intervention at the 2014 synod, Rosica told reporters at the daily press briefing that “one of the salient interventions” of the day had made the point that “language such as ‘living in sin’, ‘intrinsically disordered’, or ‘contraceptive mentality’ are not necessarily words that invite people to draw closer to Christ and the Church,” according to a September 17, 2015 report by Voice of the Family (VOTF).

Romanian doctor speaks for family at the synod

Such a stance was sharply criticized by one of the lay participants at the Synod, who gave an intervention herself and took an active part in the discussion. Catholic doctor Anca-Maria Cernea, of the Center for Diagnosis and Treatment in Romania, focused her three-minute intervention at the synod on the repression of the Catholic Church under communism.

But in a later interview with LifeSiteNews she spoke out strongly against a tendency within the Synod hall, among a “Leninist minority,” to undercut Catholic doctrine.


“There are voices in the Synod who would like to give up this classical differentiation between ‘sin’ and ‘sinner,’ the fact that you have to hate the sin and love the sinner and help him out. They would like to remove this,” Dr. Cernea told LifeSiteNews.

She stated that contraception was not discussed enough, but homosexuality, which doesn’t concern the family, was. “So if we discuss it, let’s discuss it the right way,” she said. “Let’s say very clearly that it’s a sin, that the practice of homosexual acts are sinful,” and that people who fall in this way “should be accompanied with love. We as Christians should help them out.”

She referred to German Cardinal Walter Kasper’s controversial proposal to open Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. “They want divorce in the Catholic Church. Because if divorce is accepted, then also all of the consequences will follow up from that.”  

“But the fact is, this shouldn't even be discussed, because this is a matter of doctrine, and we are not going to submit to discussion every point of the Catholic doctrine.”

She said that living under communism had made her aware of “ideological language,” and that the Church may be accepting such language that carries a message at odds with Church teaching.

“The danger is not ‘global warming’ or disparity of income between different classes or between different areas of the globe: The problem is sin. So we should try to fight sin,” Cernea told LifeSiteNews.

The Romanian communist government persecuted, tortured, and imprisoned Catholics in that country, and “betrayal” of the Catholic faith is “really offensive to their memory, to the blood that they [shed],” she told LifeSiteNews.

Kasper, the outstanding theologian

Cardinal Dew, whom Pope Francis appointed to the synod’s general council, is an advocate of Kasper’s proposal to open Communion to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics. According to VOTF, Dew argued for this at the 2005 synod on the Eucharist.

In his recent address, Rosica noted that: “Cardinal Kasper’s theory, which some considered to be heretical or whatever, Cardinal Kasper got people talking.” He added: “Walter Kasper is an outstanding theologian, a great man, he’s the devil in some people’s minds, chastised, castigated, demonized, but he simply got people talking.”

Rosica, who has attended at least four synods, noted in his address that at previous synods, “a lot of it was pre-fab, pre-baked, pre-cooked,” and “bishops and cardinals were often told, ‘Oh no, you can’t really talk about this, take that away.’”

“There was really no talking or dialogue before, there were much pleasantries, it was all very sweet and there were yes-fests and everybody voted on everything,” he said.

But with the synod on the family, “Francis literally took the lid off and said we need to discuss these things, we need to talk about them, the bishops need to provide this feedback to the pope, that’s what he was addressing.”

Others, however, don’t see that as necessarily a good thing. Cardinal Raymond Burke, for one, told LifeSiteNews’ Jeanne Smits in March 2015 that “I have asked more than once that these subjects which have nothing to do with the truth about marriage be taken out of the agenda of the synod.”


And canonist Murray told Arroyo: “The way this synod is set up, it favors having a discussion about a topic that really is closed. Communion for the divorced and remarried is not an open question.”

That the synod is even discussing the issue “leads some people to say, ‘I guess the church doesn’t mean what it used to say.’ That’s a problem.” He added: “Cardinal Kasper’s proposal is preposterous. It is an offence against the nature of marriage, and it should not be further discussed.”

‘No doors have been shut’

Rosica, however, noted in his Toronto address: “There are those who say doors were closed and windows were closed and I strongly disagree with that, having been there as a witness and having put together and helped to compile all the information.”

“To be clear,” the synod’s final report, the Relatio synodi, “makes no explicit mention of absolution and the return to communion,” he said.

However, “it seems to leave some possibility for such a solution by quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church acclamation that ‘imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified because of different conditions.’ Just as the degree of guilt will differ, the report said also the consequences of the acts are not necessarily the same in all cases.”

“No doors have been shut to people who are in difficult situations,” Rosica declared.

However, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, publicly reiterated in a December 4 interview that “[t]o admit a person to Eucharistic communion when he lives in manifest contradiction with the words of Jesus signifies opening a door which does not lead to Christ, or actually to close the true door of life.”

Doctrine versus pastoral practice

In his address, Rosica described the question of Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried as “a pastoral decision based on a doctrinal reality.”

“There are those who say this will completely overturn the doctrine of the Church, but if you talk to most bishops and cardinals, they will tell you, yes, the indissolubility of marriage is not in question here, but the reception of the sacraments are pastoral questions.”

However, such distinctions are “false,” says Burke, who told Smits that “[t]here cannot be anything that’s truly pastorally sound which is not doctrinally sound. In other words: you cannot divide the truth from love.”

“And so to say that we’re just making pastoral changes that have nothing to do with doctrine is false. If you admit persons who are in irregular matrimonial unions to Holy Communion, then you’re directly making a statement about the indissolubility of marriage, because Our Lord said: ‘He who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,’” stated Burke.

Moreover, as Rosica told his audience, “the synod was never doctrinal, never a legislative group. It’s at the service of the pope, it’s one of the listening ports that he has.”

The “teaching on bishops and collegiality and synodality is fundamental to understanding [Pope Francis],” said Rosica, who credits the Argentine pontiff with reviving the synod of bishops after it went “unchecked and unvalued for fifty years.”

This revival is “giving bishops a new language which they didn’t have,” he said. “But when one is not a team player, when one is not in a collegial mind, when one does not embrace the idea of synodality, it becomes very difficult for that bishop or cardinal to move forward.”

The Holy Father has promised an apostolic exhortation on the synod “within a year,” Rosica said. He expects it will come before the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which began December 8, 2015.