Pope appoints synod critic Napier to leadership of 2015 meeting

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has appointed a prelate who was sharply critical of last month's world meeting of Catholic bishops on issues of family life to serve on the leadership team of the next meeting, to be held in October 2015.

Increasing the number of leaders of the bishops' meeting from three to four, Francis has added to the leaders of the 2015 meeting South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who at one point said the 2014 event had put Catholic prelates in "a position that is virtually irredeemable."

The pontiff has called two consecutive bishops' meetings, known as synods, for 2014 and 2015 to focus on issues of family life. The 2014 meeting, held Oct. 5-19 at the Vatican, drew worldwide coverage for what appeared to be a new attitude of dialogue and debate among the church's prelates during the closed-door proceedings.

As the Vatican begins preparations for next year's event, it announced in a short statement Friday that Francis has appointed the leaders of the 2015 synod. The pontiff re-appointed each of the leaders of the 2014 synod to serve again in 2015, but added Napier to the group of presidents who will help run the event.

The South African cardinal was one of several prelates who publicly criticized the 2014 synod, especially a summary document released after the first week of discussions that was noted for its call for the church to listen more and to apply mercy much more widely.

Speaking at a Vatican press conference Oct. 14, Napier said that document's message of openness to modern society had conveyed an incorrect message about the 2014 synod.

"The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying," Napier said during that press conference.

"The message has gone out and it's not a true message," the cardinal continued. "Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we're doing some damage control."

Following his naming by Francis, Napier will serve as one of four delegate presidents of the 2015 synod, alongside French Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle, and Brazilian Cardinal Raymundo Assis.

According to the Friday's statement, the pontiff has also re-appointed two other key officials from the 2014 synod to serve again in 2015: Hungarian Cardinal Péter Erdő will again serve as the synod's relator, or secretary; and Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte will again serve as its special secretary.

Announcement of the leadership of the 2015 synod is the second notice from the Vatican in two days about the event, following a statement Thursday that bishops' conferences around the world will be receiving preparatory documents for the 2015 synod within weeks.

That statement said the Vatican office for the synod of bishops will be sending a preparatory document for the 2015 synod to the world's bishops conferences "at the beginning of December" in hopes that an initial working document for the next synod can be ready by summer 2015.

While the initial preparatory document for the 2014 synod, sent in October 2013, made headlines because it contained a wide-ranging questionnaire that the Vatican synod office said was to be distributed "as widely as possible," Thursday's statement did not indicate if the document for the 2015 synod will also have such a questionnaire.

The statement did, however, say that the new preparatory document will "be constituted" of the final document from the 2014 synod along with "a series of points that help in its reception and its deepening."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

A version of this story appeared in the Dec 5-18, 2014 print issue under the headline: Pope appoints critic to synod leadership team.

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