Cardinal Joseph Zen wrote last month to bishops and cardinals attending the synod on synodality, urging them to petition Pope Francis to change the procedures for the meeting, and to challenge synodal organizers’ program for the sessions.

In a letter dated Sept. 21, a copy of which was obtained by The Pillar, the 91-year old emeritus Bishop of Hong Kong told the bishops and cardinals that he is “confounded” by what he sees as a reinvention of the Biblical concept of synodality by the event’s organizers, in a bid to promote teaching contrary to the faith.

The cardinal urged bishops to champion true “episcopal collegiality” during the synodal process.

“Because of what I am going to say, I can easily be accused of ‘conspiracy theory,’ but I see clearly a whole plan of manipulation,” the cardinal said.

“They [the synodal organizers] begin by saying we must listen to all. Little by little they make us understand that among the ‘all’ are those whom we have ‘excluded.’ Finally, we understand what they mean are people who opt for a sexual morality different from that of Catholic tradition.”

“Often they claim not to have an agenda,” Zen wrote. “This is truly an offense to our intelligence. Anybody can see which conclusions they are aiming at.”

In the six-page text, Zen also expressed his “even greater confusion and worry” at what he perceives to be concerted effort to use the synod to establish democracy in place of the Church’s sacramental hierarchy, as the means of establishing doctrine.

The cardinal admitted a “malicious suspicion” that the synodal process, originally announced to conclude after a single session in Rome this October, was extended by an extra year because “organizers, not sure to be able to reach during this session their goals, are opting for more time to maneuver.”

Zen’s letter, dated Sept. 21, has been circulated in recent weeks in several languages among bishop and cardinal synodal invitees.

The letter followed the cardinal’s submission, along with four other cardinals, of several formal questions — dubia — to Pope Francis asking him to clarify the Church’s teaching on a range of doctrinal issues related to the synodal agenda, including blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of women.

Zen wrote in his letter that synodal organizers “speak of ‘conversations in the spirit’ as if it were a magic formula.”

He added that while participants have been invited to “expect ‘surprises’ from the Spirit,” that language seems to be cover for a predetermined outcome in the synod.

“Evidently they are already informed which surprises to expect,” Zen wrote.

Zen argued that an emphasis on “conversation” in small groups — as opposed to “discussion” and debate among the synodal body as a whole — is a deliberate ploy to prevent open debate over controversial agendas to change Church teaching, which he believes will be operative among some synod organizers and participants.

In a passage of the letter likely to spark controversy, Zen described the synodal secretariat staff as “very efficient at the art of manipulation,” and urged participants “not to obey them” when “they tell you to go and pray, interrupting the sessions of the Synod.”

“Tell them that it is ridiculous to think that the Holy Spirit is waiting for these your prayers offered at the last moment,” he wrote.

“Before the Synod, you and your faithful must have already accumulated a mountain of prayers, as Pope John XXIII did before Vatican II….”

From the Pillar