On July 22, 2022, Pope Francis issued the motu proprio Ad Charisma tuendum, explaining how the personal prelature of Opus Dei would be affected by the Holy Father’s reform of the Roman Curia. According to this document, the competencies regarding personal prelatures will be transferred from the Dicastery for Bishops to the Dicastery for the Clergy. Accordingly, the Prelate of Opus Dei will no longer be a bishop but will hold the title of Supernumerary Apostolic Protonotary instead.

The reactions from the usual suspects were swift and predictable. Fixated as they are in reading every Church affair through the lens of their own preoccupations, influential online voices of the traditionalist movement are now claiming that this decision was meant to end the possibility of solving the rift between traditionalists and the Holy See by establishing personal prelatures—similar to Opus Dei—for groups like the FSSP, the ICK, or even the SSPX (see here and here).

In their exercise of papal tea leaf-reading, they don’t consider that this decision may actually be connected to the recent reforms of the Roman Curia promulgated through Praedicate Evangelium. They don’t acknowledge the possibility that this resolution may be a way for Pope Francis to help Opus Dei better use their “charism” in the Church, and that it is more concerned with “promoting an evangelizing action” than with “hierarchical authority.” And yet, this is exactly the reasoning Francis gives in Ad Charisma tuendum. By seeing this move as a “downgrade,” or a way to centralize power and control, the pope’s critics show they have the kind of worldly mindset that Francis seeks to correct.

The response of the critics contrasts remarkably with the reaction from the Prelate of Opus Dei, Msgr. Fernando Ocariz. Analysing the reasons enumerated by Pope Francis for issuing the motu proprio, Msgr. Ocariz preferred to focus on the “charism of Opus in order to further the evangelizing action carried out by its members and thus to spread the call to holiness in the world, through the sanctification of one’s work and family and social occupations.” Msgr. Ocariz invites each member to allow this invitation to “resonate strongly in each and every one” and to see it as “an opportunity to go more deeply into 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, Msgr. Ocariz says that he “filially accepts” them:

We give thanks to God for the fruits of ecclesial communion that the episcopacies of Blessed Alvaro and Don Javier have brought about. At the same time, the episcopal ordination of the Prelate was not and is not necessary for the guidance of Opus Dei. The Pope’s desire to highlight the charismatic dimension of the Work now invites us to reinforce the family atmosphere 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 here, Besides these, an explainer from Jack Valero from Opus Dei UK can be read in an article from the Tablet. Some interesting reflections from Dr. Raul Nidoy, a theologian and member of Opus Dei Philippines, can be read here.

This filial and obedient response from Msgr. Ocariz is in sharp contrast with what happened recently regarding the German Synodal Way. This Thursday, the Vatican issued a statement clarifying that the Synodal Path in Germany has no power to oblige the bishops and the faithful to adopt new ways of governance or new approaches to doctrine and morals. This unusual public intervention contradicts the idea that Pope Francis only wants to crackdown on tradition-minded or conservative-leaning organizations and movements within the Church.

Note the much different tone of the reply from the Presidents of the Synodal Path:

The Apostolic Nuncio in Germany is invited to participate in the Synodal Path as a permanent observer. Since the beginning of the Synodal Path, the Synodal Committee has endeavoured to find direct ways 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 response, the Presidents of the Synodal Path try to pit the concept of “synodal Church” against the Church that proposes it. This is a worrying trend. From the very beginning, Pope Francis has been very clear that synodality always happens cum Petro et sub Petro (“with Peter and under Peter”). In a 2015 Address, the 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 whole address bears reading, for it thoroughly encapsulates Francis’s idea of synodality, so misinterpreted by his critics, both at the left and right.

This is also perfectly consistent with the recent Vatican clarification, which says:

It would not be lawful to initiate new official structures or doctrines in dioceses, before an agreement agreed at the level of the universal Church, which would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church. As the Holy Father recalled in the letter to the people of God who are on their way in 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 entire ecclesial body, they weaken, rot and die. Hence the need to keep communion with the whole body of the Church always alive and effective”

Even still, the tone of the response from the German leaders is not even remotely comparable to the harsh language employed by many traditionalist commentators against Church leaders. This Friday, Cardinal Wilton Gregory issued a decree outlining how he would implement Francis’s Traditiones Custodes in the archdiocese of Washington.

The reactions from traditionalists included Eric Sammons calling Cardinals Cupich and Gregory “wicked men,” Peter Kwasniewski calling the decision “restrictive, vindictive, heartless, and pastorally cruel,” and Rorate Caeli publishing an article saying: “So much for dialogue.”

This is yet another attempt to set a common word from Pope Francis’s lexicon (“dialogue”) against the Holy Father and the bishops in communion with him. It is not uncommon for papal critics to try to pit “accompaniment,” “synodality,” and “dialogue” against Francis’s dealings with traditionalists. However, once again, this is misunderstanding of what Francis means by those terms. He clarified his meaning many times, including in Amoris Laetitia, where he writes:

For this discernment to happen, the following conditions must necessarily be present: humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it. (AL 300)

“Love for the Church and her teaching” includes, naturally, the magisterium of Pope Francis. He also writes in the exhortation:

“Naturally, if someone flaunts an objective sin as if it were part of the Christian ideal, or wants to impose something other than what the Church teaches, he or she can in no way presume to teach or preach to others; this is a case of something which 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 this against the magisterial and authoritative interpretations of the pope and the bishops in communion with him, presuming to teach and preach to others in this account. The outcome that befell them is perfectly in line with what Francis delineated in Amoris back in 2016.

Now, some of these same traditionalists are taking offense from Ad Charisma tuendum on behalf of Opus Dei when the official voice of Opus Dei has taken no such offense at all. Here we see an attempt to use Opus Dei as a proxy for their own agenda, turning it into yet another club with which to hit the Holy Father.

The differences in tone between the three kinds of reactions to three different papal and episcopal decisions in the past few days highlight key distinctions in how these groups view ecclesial communion and filial obedience. It is no wonder, then, that we can also examine these three kinds of reactions against the severity of the three papal interventions in question. Opus Dei’s decision doesn’t change the substance of their charism and action in the least, and can be chalked up to the more general reforms that are under way in the Curia. The German Synodal Way received a public slap on the wrist and may face future disciplinary measures unless they begin to better align with the Pope’s vision in the future. Traditionalists, however, have received more severe restrictions as a result of their words and actions, and these will severely hinder them in attaining their goals.

The writing is there in the wall for all to see. But the solution is clearly there as well. It would require humility, discretion, and obedience, something that the pope’s most vocal critics do not seem inclined to offer. May they be more like Opus Dei, who gave us a lesson of ecclesial communion that should serve as a model for Catholics going forward.

Image from Pablovarela from Wikimedia Commons.

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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 Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

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