Reading tea leaves on the Pope's post-Synod document

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Mar 31, 2016

America's leading Vatican-watcher John Allen thinks that it could be significant that Pope Francis has enlisted Cardinal Christoph Schöborn to headline the press conference at which his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia will be introduced. Cardinal Schönborn was identified with the "progressive" faction during the October meeting of the Synod, Allen points out. And as for the question that's on everyone's mind-- whether divorced-and-remarried Catholics will be allowed to receive Communion-- that's already the case de facto, we're told, in the cardinal's Vienna archdiocese. 

So is the Pope tipping his hand, asking Cardinal Schönborn to introduce a document that will please liberal Catholics? That's Allen's hunch, and he may well be right.

But he may well be wrong, too.

First, because as Allen acknowledges, while Cardinal Schönborn has been popular with liberal Catholics recently, he "also has solid conservative credentials." He studied under, and remains a close friend of, Pope Benedict XVI. He was entrusted with the task of editing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He is recognized within the College of Cardinals as a theological heavyweight.

Second, because if the Pope's apostolic exhortation is going to be a disappointment to liberal Catholics, Cardinal Schönborn might be just the right man to lower the boom. 

Put yourself in the Pontiff's shoes. Imagine that you are about to issue an important document. One way or another, you know that many people will be unhappy with it. In choosing someone to introduce the document to the press, wouldn't you consider someone who could break the news gently to those who would be unhappy-- someone to whom they would listen respectfully, someone who could explain why they didn't get what they wanted? That's what I would do. 

Does Pope Francis think the same way? I don't know. That's why I'm anxiously waiting-- why we're all anxiously waiting-- to see what  Amoris Laetitia actually says.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Gil125 - Apr. 02, 2016 5:29 PM ET USA

    Of course, this is tea-leaf reading. But may one suggest that it implies that His Holiness is very aware of public relations, and adept at the art? And that there is some evidence to the contrary.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Apr. 01, 2016 9:16 AM ET USA

    If one were to view a collage of photos or read the transcripts of the Holy Father's interviews or to review his praise for Cardinal Martini's ideas and writings etc, it's very difficult not to come away believing he is partial. This makes it even more challenging to trust that Cardinal Schonborn will "lower (any) boom." Further it's important to remember that subtle, nuanced "loopholes" mixed with orthodoxy prove much more insidious than overt liberalism. Pray to be confirmed in our faith.

  • Posted by: feedback - Apr. 01, 2016 2:43 AM ET USA

    Thanks for sharing the reflections. Personally, I sincerely believe that "absolutely nothing will change" in Church teaching about worthy reception of the Holy Communion. And the two-part Synod and all discussions helped to expose the growing problem of a lack of due Eucharistic piety, especially in the Western world.