On July 22, 2022, Pope Francis released the motu owner Ad Charisma tuendum, explaining how the personal prelature of Opus Dei would be affected by the reform of the Roman Curia by the Holy Father. According to this document, the competences concerning personal prelatures will be transferred from the Dicastery for Bishops to the Dicastery for Clergy. Thus, the Prelate of Opus Dei will no longer be a bishop but will bear the title of Supernumerary Apostolic Prothonotary In place.
The reactions of the usual suspects were quick and predictable. Fixated as they are to read every Church matter through the prism of their own concerns, influential voices online from the traditionalist movement now say the move was meant to end the possibility of resolving the rift between traditionalists and the Holy See by establishing personal prelatures—similar to Opus Dei—for groups such as the FSSP, the ICK or even the SSPX (see here and here).
In their exercise of papal reading of the tea leaves, they do not consider that this decision can in fact be linked to the recent reforms of the Roman Curia enacted by Evangelium Predicate. They do not recognize the possibility that this resolution could be a means for Pope Francis to help Opus Dei to better use its “charisma” in the Church, and that it is more a question of “promoting an evangelizing action than “hierarchical authority”. ” And yet, this is exactly the reasoning that Francis gives Ad Charisma tuendum. Seeing this movement as a “demoteor a way to centralize power and control, the pope’s critics show they have the kind of worldly mentality that Francis seeks to correct.
The response from critics stands in stark contrast to the reaction of the Prelate of Opus Dei, Msgr. Fernando Ocariz. Analyzing the reasons enumerated by Pope Francis for issuing the motu owner, Msgr. Ocariz preferred to emphasize the “charism of Opus in order to deepen the evangelizing action carried out by its members and thus spread the call to holiness in the world, through the sanctification of work and family occupations. and social”. Msgr. Ocariz invites each member to let this invitation “resonate strongly in each and everyone” and to see it “as an opportunity to deepen the spirit that our Lord instilled in our Founder and to share it with many people in our family, work and social environments.
As for the provisions applied to the Prelate, Mgr. Ocariz says he “filially accepts” them:
We give thanks to God for the fruits of ecclesial communion that the episcopates of Blessed Alvaro and Don Javier have brought. At the same time, the episcopal ordination of the prelate was not and is not necessary for the leadership of Opus Dei. The Pope’s desire to highlight the charismatic dimension of the Work now invites us to strengthen the family climate of affection and trust: the Prelate must be a guide but above all a father.
More official responses from Opus Dei can be seen here and hereBesides these, an explainer by Jack Valero of Opus Dei UK can be read in a Tablet article. Some interesting reflections by Dr. Raul Nidoy, theologian and member of Opus Dei Philippines, can be read here.
This filial and obedient response from Msgr. Ocariz contrasts sharply with what has happened recently regarding the German Synodal Way. This Thursday, the Vatican issued a statement clarifying that the Synodal Way in Germany does not have the power to compel bishops and the faithful to adopt new modes of governance or new approaches to doctrine and morals. This unusual public intervention contradicts the idea that Pope Francis only wants to suppress traditional or conservative organizations and movements within the Church.
Note the very different tone of the response from the Presidents of the Synodal Way:
The Apostolic Nuncio in Germany is invited to participate in the Synodal Journey as a permanent observer. Since the beginning of the Synodal Way, the Synodal Committee has endeavored to find direct channels of communication with the Roman bodies. In our opinion, this would be the right place for such clarifications. Unfortunately, the synodal committee has not been invited to a discussion to date. We regret with irritation that this direct communication has not yet taken place. In our understanding, a synodal Church is something else!
In this answer, the presidents of the Synodal Way attempt to oppose the concept of “Synodal Church” to the Church which proposes it. This is a worrying trend. From the start, Pope Francis has been very clear that synodality always happens with Petro and sub Petro (“with Peter and under Peter”). In an address 2015the Holy Father said:
The fact that the Synod always acts cum Petro et sub Petro—indeed, not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro—is not a limitation of freedom, but a guarantee of unity.
The entire address is worth reading, as it perfectly encapsulates Francis’ idea of synodality, so misinterpreted by his critics, both left and right.
This is also perfectly consistent with the recent clarification from the Vatican, which says:
It would not be licit to initiate new structures or official doctrines in the dioceses, before an agreement agreed at the level of the universal Church, which would represent a wound to the ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church . As the Holy Father recalled in the letter to the people of God en route to Germany: “The universal Church lives in and of the particular Churches, just as the particular Churches live and flourish in and from the universal Church , and if they find themselves separated from the whole ecclesial body, they weaken, rot and die. Hence the need to always keep alive and effective communion with the whole body of the Church”.
Even still, the tone of the German leaders’ response is not even remotely comparable to the harsh language employed by many traditionalist commentators against Church leaders. This Friday, Cardinal Wilton Gregory published a decree outlining how it would implement the Traditional Custodians in the Archdiocese of Washington.
The reactions among the traditionalists were Eric Sammons calling Cardinals Cupich and Gregory “nasty”, Peter Kwasniewski calling the decision “restrictive, vindictive, heartless and pastorally cruel”, and Rorate Caeli publishing an article saying, “There you go for dialogue”.
This is yet another attempt to oppose a common word from Pope Francis’ lexicon (“dialogue”) to the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him. It is not uncommon for papal critics try to poke “accompaniment”, “synodalism” and “dialogue” against Francis’ relations with the traditionalists. However, again, this is a misunderstanding of what Francis means by these terms. He clarified its meaning several times, including in Amoris Laetitiawhere he writes:
For this discernment to happenthe following conditions must necessarily to be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and its teaching, in a sincere search for the will of God and a desire to respond to it more perfectly. (AL 300)
“Love of the Church and its teaching” naturally includes the magisterium of Pope Francis. He also writes in the exhortation:
“Naturally, if someone exhibits objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he cannot in any case claim to teach or preach to others; it is something that separates from the community.(AL 297)
For years papal critics have tried to impose on the Church their personal interpretations and ideas of what the Church actually teaches. They do so against the magisterial and authoritarian interpretations of the pope and the bishops in communion with him, presuming to teach and preach to others in this narrative. The result that happened to them is perfectly in line with what Francis described in Amoris back in 2016.
Now some of those same traditionalists take offense to Ad Charisma tuendum in the name of Opus Dei while the official voice of Opus Dei was not at all offended. Here we see an attempt to use Opus Dei as a proxy for their own agenda, turning it into another club to hit the Holy Father with.
The differences in tone between the three types of reactions to three different papal and episcopal decisions over the past few days highlight key distinctions in how these groups view church fellowship and filial obedience. It is therefore not surprising that we can also examine these three types of reactions to the severity of the three papal interventions in question. The decision of Opus Dei in no way changes the substance of their charism and their action and is part of the more general reforms underway in the Curia. The German Synodal Way has received a public slap in the face and could face future disciplinary action unless it begins to better align with the pope’s vision in the future. Traditionalists, however, have been given harsher restrictions by their words and actions, and these will severely impede them from achieving their goals.
The writing is there in the wall for all to see. But the solution is clearly there too. It would require humility, discretion and obedience, which the pope’s most vocal critics seem unwilling to offer. May they be more like Opus Dei, which has given us a lesson in ecclesial communion which should serve as a model for Catholics in the future.
Image by Pablovarela from Wikimedia Commons.
Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Tolkian-flavored Catholic novels, he is also a parish reader and former catechist. It seeks to better understand the relationship between God and Man by emphasizing the fragility of the human condition, both physical and spiritual. It also wishes to offer a new perspective of current events in the Church and in the world from the point of view of a small country in Western Europe, very secularized but also very Catholic by tradition.