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Cardinal Pell: we need more clarity on goals of synodality

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Cardinal George Pell in 2021. Photo: CNS.

Those leading the Church’s pivot to “synodality” need to give Catholics more clarity about their goals, Cardinal George Pell has said in a wide-ranging interview with The Spectator’s religion editor Damian Thompson.

“The first is I think we should ask those who are leading it just what they hope to obtain from it, and how they hope to do that,” Cardinal Pell said on Thompson’s podcast, Holy Smoke.

“As well as those abberant views that may have been proposed in Germany, in many parts of the Church, as well as a degree of nonsense, good people are proposing sound Catholic teaching.

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“But I think we need a little bit more clarity from those driving the process about what they hope to achieve.”

Cardinal Pell stressed that comparisons with Anglicanism have their limits, because “according to its own thinking” Catholic synodality “is not seen as a type of parliament”.

“I think it’s said quite explicitly that the range of views discussed will be presented to the Pope, and then the Pope will choose what he does with them. Quite different from the Anglicans.”

Church unity should not be taken for granted, Cardinal Pell added.

“It is a great blessing, built up and maintained over the centuries by good people and careful people. And we’ve got to be very careful that we don’t unconsciously damage it.

“Now the potential for differences; tensions between national synods, is very real. But even perhaps more so between continental synods.”

The interview, conducted by Thompson while visiting Rome and published on 21 March, also touched on the Vatican’s détente with China, the matter of Vatican financial reform, and the recent Papal motu proprio Traditiones Custodes, among other topics.

China: “I don’t think we’ve gained anything.”

On China, Cardinal Pell said the fact that the 2018 Holy See-China Agreement had not been published presented “a preliminary and very substantial difficulty” for those interested in the Chinese Church’s future.

“I know high-up people in the Vatican are very dissatisfied with the way things are going. The agreement is there to try to get a bit of space for the Catholics.”

“Obviously that’s praiseworthy,” he said, before adding that “I don’t think we’ve gained anything – the persecutions seem to be continuing.”

“In some places they’ve got worse. Of course I especially think of those Catholics in the underground church. The principal point of difference was their loyalty to the successor of Peter.

“We owe them a lot, we owe them our respect and our gratitude.”

Cardinal Pell was reluctant to start another ‘bushfire’ on the Latin Mass. Photo: Shalone Cason, Unsplash

On Traditiones Custodes

Thompson, a well-known advocate for Catholic traditionalists, attempted to draw Cardinal Pell out on the topic of Traditiones Custodes, the recent motu proprio that set new rules for the celebration of the ancient Roman rite of the Mass.

“I’ve got an immense sympathy for the traditionalists – those who follow the old rite,” Cardinal Pell said.

“But we might be at a situation where things have been improved. I don’t want to throw fuel on the fire, but the concessions that were given to the [Fraternal Society of St Peter], now they are certainly a step in the right direction.

“The working presumption should be that what was given to that fraternity also applies to similar fraternities, like [the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest].”

Cardinal Pell said he was “in favour of trying to improve the situation. I wouldn’t want to say or do anything which risks starting the bushfire again.”

Auditors needed for Vatican finances

On Vatican Financial reform Cardinal Pell said “transparency, especially in this day and age, is necessary” but did not think it was necessarily the case that the Vatican needed to “put all [its] cards on the table” as long as things were “done justly and correctly”.

The Cardinal reiterated his preference for external auditors, saying they could “achieve what we’re aiming at”.

“Now, we don’t necessarily require the external auditors to publish everything that they discover, as long as they are independent, and competent, and what they recommend is done,” he said.

Cardinal Pell appointed “big four” accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to audit the Vatican’s finances during his time heading the Secretariat of the Economy, but their contract was suddenly terminated in 2016.

However, he remained tight-lipped about the current Vatican financial trial. Regarding the status of the former Vatican auditor, Libero Milone, and the trial of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Cardinal Pell said “we’ll leave that for the courts to decide”.

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