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While most people are splitting hairs over the recent Synod’s final document (relatio) on the church and the family they are missing the real coup that Pope Francis has now achieved. He’s very clever. He now knows who his foes are!

As far as the document is concerned Catholics of opposing theologies have both declared “victory” for their side by cherry-picking their favourable passages. But that’s not the point. That’s just the top of the iceberg. The bottom of the iceberg is more interesting and much more clever.

Pope Francis’ had quite another idea for the second synod gathering and that was to help him “take the pulse” of the bishops who, up until now, have not shown their hand. On Saturday evening, the pope made his point: “(the Synod) was about laying bare the closed hearts, which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teaching, in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge.”

The closed hearts have been laid bare and he now has the names. He has spent three weeks this synod with the 270 bishops and he now know who’s who in the zoo in his little black book. Like a politician checking the numbers Francis now knows which ones are his supporters and which ones are his foes.


A US President can nominate Supreme Court judges and leave a more permanent legacy for the country after he’s gone. Likewise, a pope can change the direction of the church by the bishops he creates and the cardinals he elevates. This is his sole prerogative. Saint John Paul II was the master of this and changed the post Vatican II progressive direction of the church back to a conservative path which has lasted for 50 years.

Cardinal Gerald Lacroix of Quebec told reporters last week, Francis knows the “accents and difficult points” of the debates that went on. He also “knows the weight of each argument”.

Francis has seen with his own eyes who are the enablers for renewal and who are still pushing-back. Simply put, he knows his foes and he knows his supporters as they are now all out of the closet. For example, on the foes list are: Cardinals George Pell (head of Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy), Robert Sarah (prefect, Congregation for Divine Worship), Marc Ouellet (prefect, Congregation for Bishops) and Wilfrid Napier (South Africa).

Those bishops on the supporters list are: Cardinals Vincent Nichols (England), Christoph Schönborn (Austria), Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Luis Tagle (Philippines), Oswald Gracias (India) and Archbishop Bruno Forte (Italy).

Historically, popes have used these synods as a proving ground for selecting future Church leaders. Francis has now forced the bishops to lay their cards on the table and will now set about more confidently choosing those bishops and giving out red hats to those cardinals who enable his progressive agenda for the church. Not only has Francis charisma but he is a very clever thinker.