I met with Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz the evening of Saturday, October 18th. A few hours prior to our meeting, he had been at the Vatican, in the Synod auditorium, where he had participated in voting for the definitive version of the Synod document. He was visibly content: after the media storm, some people’s attempts to manipulate the Synod, the scandalous introductory document, and the skirmishes and inflamed discussions, the Synod concluded with a “happy ending” as he said playfully. Despite all this, many questions remain about the Synod and the Church in general. That evening I sat down for a long interview with the Archbishop of Minsk, to clarify what had happened at the Synod, which, according to many, should be considered a turning point (some have even called it the Third Vatican Council).
Your Excellency, a few months ago, Cardinal Kasper made some remarks on access to Holy Communion for divorced and newly married people, and how the media have been fanning the flames: during the Synod, the weight of these affirmations was felt. As you prepared for the Synod, how did you consider this controversial subject?
Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz: Not just I, but all the bishops of Belarus, and others with whom I have gotten in contact, were worried over what was happening during preparations for the Synod. It seemed that the media had already prepared a scenario and the grand finale. Thank God that things turned out differently. In other words, the Church didn’t follow the world’s rhythm, because the secularized world isn’t the Church’s driving force: the Holy Spirit is.
After the first week of the Synod, the Relatio post disceptationem text was published. It was the summary of the initial phase of work. Unfortunately, this document caused a lot of discontent among most of the Synod Fathers. According to Professor Father Tony Antarella, psychoanalyst of note and expert at the Synod, this text did not reflect the bishops’ opinion, nor was it coherent with the Church’s teachings. What was your reaction to the text?
This wasn’t my first Synod, so I already knew firsthand what course the preceding ones had taken. Still, during this Synod, the secretary made some new decisions that the bishops didn’t like. First of all, the bishops’ speeches weren’t published. We were told that this was done to make the Synod Fathers feel more at ease, so that their speeches would be more spontaneous. That may have sounded logical, but it turns out that people weren’t able to recognize their own bishops’ opinions; a week later, the Relatio post disceptationem text, which was to summarize the first phase of work, was proclaimed publicly.It was then that the majority of the bishops didn’t identify themselves as having made the declarations contained in the document. There was consternation, and critical voices were raised. I myself reflected on what I should say to the faithful in my homeland, since the text contained things that I didn’t agree with.
The text was analyzed thoroughly during the second part of the Synod, in the so-called Circuli minores (small groups). In Relatio, there was sometimes a lack of theological and biblical reasoning, reference to the Church Magisterium, and the teachings of the most recent Popes. Some even said that the second part of the proposed document should not have been approved at all. I was lucky to be working with the English-speaking group, which made a completely justified criticism regarding the points in which the document didn’t comply with Church theology and teaching. When our group presented its report, we all found out that other groups had also come to the same conclusions in similar areas.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the “Cor Unum” Commission, ex-Archbishop of Konakry, declared, without mincing words, that what was happening around the Synod was an attempt to destabilize the Church and coerce her to change doctrine. He later added: “We pray for those pastors who abandon the Lord’s flock to the wolves of secularized, decadent society, far from God and nature.” Did you perceive this kind of danger while you participating in preparation for the Synod?
I felt it very strongly, as did many other bishops. We realize that it was a kind of manipulation: certain people wanted to influence and change the direction of the Synod’s work. There is another matter, too. While working in the English-speaking group, I received a first translation of the Relatio, and afterwards we were given another, in which certain controversial affirmations had been translated in a completely different way, even though the original Italian had remained unchanged. To make it short, many doubts and questions remained. For me, the most important matter was that, thanks to the Circuli minores work, all of the behind-the-scenes games were brought to an end.
Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki, president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, in criticizing some of the affirmations contained in the first version of the Relatio, stated that the Church should ask herself: “Should we surrender to contemporary culture or, vice-versa, should we evangelize the culture through the help of marriage and the family?” What do think about Mons. Gądecki’s words?
In the final document of the Synod there is much talk of evangelizing contemporary culture and the world through the family. Unfortunately, modern man isn’t familiar with the Church’s doctrines and teachings. But there is an even greater problem than this: there is a crisis of faith. At one time, families used to be stable because they were strong in the faith. I agree totally with Archbishop Gądecki when he says that it isn’t the secularized world that should decide for the family, but rather it is the family that should evangelize the world. Christ didn’t give us the Gospel so that we could change it according to the needs of the world: it is the Gospel that must transform the world, in every era.
On the topic of families who were invited to the Synod – it was pointed out that there was a lack of families representing the Neocatechumenal Movement, notable for its large families and strong missionary vocation..
I am not familiar with the criteria that were used to select Synod observers and specialists. But personally I was surprised at the inexplicable absence of representatives of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, which is active in many countries throughout the world, and is of invaluable worth in these matters. As you can see, many questions arise on the organization of the preceding Synod.
What is your evaluation of the Synod’s final document, Relatio Finalis?
First of all, it must be stressed that the final document is fundamentally different than the first one. Certain chapters were completely changed. The initial document contained very few references to the Bible, the deposit of faith, and Church teaching – in the final document, these blanks have been filled: all passages of Sacred Scripture and important papal documents such as Paul IV’s Humanae Vitae and John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio are quoted.
Many of the faithful who were following the Synod’s progress through the media were misled, in a certain sense, because the impression was given that the Church was going to change its teachings on the family. What are you going to tell your faithful when you go home to Belarus?
First of all, I will ask them to read the document, which was approved by the Synod Fathers. I will also tell them what Francis said, at the close of the Synod: The Church’s teaching on the family, that we received from Christ, remains unchanged. It is not the spirit of the world that guides the Church, nor is it the media, but rather, it is the Holy Spirit.