The small, but tenacious group within the Synod of Bishops that’s leading the fight against any development of Catholic doctrine on marriage and human sexuality is growing more and more nervous.

Word is that a number of traditionalists like Cardinals Raymond Burke and Walter Brandmüller have been at work with priest-theologians to produce yet another book aimed at countering the arguments put forth by Cardinal Walter Kasper and others in doctrinal development camp.

It appears that Augustinian Father Robert Dodaro, head of the Pontifical Patristic Institute (Augustinianum) in Rome, is once again leading the project. The American theologian was editor of the initial volume, Remaining in the Truth of Christ, which was published just before last year’s Synod gathering. It featured essays by five cardinals (Burke and Brandmüller among them) and four other scholars, all with the purpose of convincing bishops attending the 2014 Synod assembly to resist any attempts at developing the Church’s teaching and practice concerning one specific issue—giving the sacraments to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

A source said the authors of the new book are confident they have assembled irrefutable arguments that will “demolish” the proposals of Kasper and similar-minded bishops and theologians.

But Cardinal Burke’s contribution will be limited to efforts like these that are taking place outside the Synod Hall. That’s because he will not be attending next October’s gathering. He is no longer an “ex officio” member of the Synod, as he was at last year’s assembly, and a Vatican source confirmed that Pope Francis has decided not to invite him.

As if this were not already bad enough for the “semper idem” bloc, the same source confirmed that the Pope has asked Cardinals Kasper and Godfried Danneels, both retired and 82 years old, to return once more as members of the upcoming assembly. Francis can personally appoint one-third of the Synod Fathers and there are already grumblings that he’s “stacking” the assembly with “lefties” like Kasper and Danneels, as well as Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago and Bishop George Murray, SJ of Youngstown.

The Synod Hall will be full. Evidently there will be some 345 participants, including the experts and observers. The only voting members will be the more than 260 bishops and priests that are Synod Fathers—a third of them papal appointees. Who knew there were so many “lefties” in the hierarchy? 

****

Pope Francis has again warned that “creativity and positive engagement in discussion” are the only way the world can face the “serious problems and challenges afflicting our time”.

This is at the heart of the theme he has chosen for the 2016 World Day of Peace, “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace.” The theme for the world day, which the Catholic Church celebrates each year on January 1, was announced this week.

According to the Pope and his advisors at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace there is a long list of issues that are most seriously threatening global peace in our present age. They include “fundamentalism, intolerance and massacres, persecutions on account of faith and ethnicity, disregard for freedom and the destruction of the rights of entire peoples, the exploitation of human beings submitted even to the different forms of slavery, corruption and organized crime, war and—finally—the plight of refugees and forcibly displaced persons.”

This last item is certainly not the least. And Pope Francis, seemingly more than any other world figure, gets it. It was no accident that his first pastoral visit outside the Eternal City after becoming Bishop of Rome in July 2013 was to Lampedusa. It was on that small Mediterranean island between Sicily and Malta, first point of arrival for many of the “illegal” migrants and refuges, that he decried the “globalization of indifference”. 

The mass migration of people has created challenges—and grave problems—for countries on nearly every continent. In Europe, where there is no coordinated, continental policy for regulating migration, people are growing more and more alarmed by the waves of refugees and migrants. Greece and Italy have been the point of arrival for the overwhelming majority of the more than 224,000 people, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, that have “invaded” Europe since the beginning of this year. Another more than 2,100 people never made it; instead, they perished in the sea.

The migration crisis has sparked divisive and heated debate among people and politicians in most European countries. In Italy, the head of the xenophobic Northern League Party, Matteo Salvini, this week slammed the Pope’s hand-picked secretary-general of the national bishops’ conference, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, after the prelate criticized politicians for stoking anti-immigrant sentiments to win votes.

“Those who defend this illegal invasion, which is ruining Italy, either don't understand or are making money [off of it],” Salvini said. He even took a potshot at Francis, asking facetiously if the latest migrants rescued off the Italian coast this week would be taken “to Brussels or the Vatican”.

****

It may be scorching hot in Italy, but the people of Castel Gandolfo must feel like they are getting the papal cold shoulder yet again.

Residents in the small hilltop town some twenty-four miles south of Rome have been complaining the past two years that Pope Francis’s refusal to spend any considerable time at the papal summer villa there has really killed their tourist trade. He’s only been out there for a few visits, but never more than a couple of hours at a time.

Perhaps the most important moment was in 2013 when Francis celebrated Mass at Castel Gandolfo’s parish church for the August 15Feast of the Assumption and then led a public recitation of the Angelus. Townspeople had hoped that at least this would become an annual recurrence for the feast, or “Ferragosto,” as the August holidays, culminating on 15, have been called since antiquity.

However, in 2014 the Pope was in Korea on the feast, so that never happened. But this year, with no trips on his calendar, the folks in the town of Castel Gandolfo were all but convinced that Francis would be back.

Instead, it looks like their hopes have been dashed again.

According to Vatican Radio, Francis will remain in Rome next Saturday where he will become the first pope in history to publicly recite the Angelus for the Feast of Assumption from the papal study window overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

How big of a deal is this? A bit of perspective is in order.

It was at Castel Gandolfo during the commemoration of the Assumption in 1954 that Pope Pius XII first started the custom of praying the noontime Angelus with the faithful. Many at the time evidently thought the Pope’s public recitation of the Marian prayer for the special Marian feast day was just a one-off. But after he returned to the Vatican, he continued the practice each Sunday.

And every pope since him has kept it up, using the public occasion to offer spiritual reflections, make important announcements or issue worldwide appeals. In a sense, the study window on the square has become the papal bully pulpit.

But Pope Francis’ decision to stay in Rome this year, rather than head to the summer residence in the hills, should probably be read through a different lens. In the past the city of Rome would be deserted during these days.

But not anymore.

More tourists than ever are in town. There are also a lot of migrants and refugees, too. And there are many poor and elderly people who cannot afford to leave.

It is for them the Pope—their bishop—has decided to stay.

Robert Mickens is English-language editor of La Croix International.

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