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Five cardinals have sent a set of questions to Pope Francis to express their concerns before this week’s Synod on Synodality opening at the Vatican. 

The prelates, who also issued a “Notification to Christ’s Faithful,” hail from the diverse ecclesiastical landscapes of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller

The 94-year-old German-born cardinal, president of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, has engaged with Pope Francis in the past on the topic of Church doctrine; he was among the four cardinals who in 2016 issued a set of five dubiato Pope Francis regarding the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. Those dubiasought to address several controversial passages in that document regarding divorced and remarried Catholics, with the prelates arguing that the document could be interpreted as “teach[ing] a change in the discipline of the Church” regarding marriage and the sacraments.

In August 2022, Brandmüller criticized Francis’ formation of an extraordinary consistory that month, arguing that the event had been organized in order to prevent full and open discussion among the cardinals participating in it.

Cardinal Raymond Burke

The 75-year-old Burke was born in Wisconsin and served as bishop of La Crosse from 1995–2004 and as archbishop of St. Louis from 2004–2008. From 2008 to 2014, he was prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. He joined Brandmüller in writing the 2016 dubia; the two cardinals are the only remaining prelates of that group who are still alive. Burke in 2019 was critical of that year’s Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region, claiming that the meeting’s Instrumentum Laboris seemed “not only in dissonance with respect to the authentic teaching of the Church, but even contrary to it.”

Burke has further challenged Francis’ authority to eliminate the Latin rite in the Catholic Church. Earlier this year, he joined German Cardinal Gerhard Müller in rebuking the German Synodal Way, which has voted in favor of blessing same-sex unions and unions between divorced and “remarried” Catholics.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, SDB

The 91-year-old Zen, who previously served as the sixth bishop of Hong Kong from 2002–2009, has tangled with the Vatican by claiming that its secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, “manipulates the pope” on Church policy in communist China. 

Zen had unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome in late 2020, asking the Holy Father to appoint a new bishop to Hong Kong where the seat had been vacant since January 2019. In May 2021, Francis appointed Bishop Stephen Chow, who was elevated to a cardinal on Sept. 30, to serve in that role.

Pope Francis and Zen would finally meet in January of this year while the latter was in Rome for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI. “It was wonderful. He was so very warm!” Zen told America magazine at the time. 

Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez

The 90-year-old Mexican prelate served previously as archbishop of Guadalajara from 1994–2011. He participated in the papal conclaves that elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and then Pope Francis in 2013. He has been known for controversial statements regarding homosexuality and Protestants.

Sandoval Íñiguez was also among the two Mexican cardinals found guilty of “proselytism” for allegedly encouraging Catholics to vote for particular candidates, which is forbidden under Mexican law.

The Mexican Episcopal Conference responded that the prelates had merely “made personal pronouncements on the social reality of the country” rather than advocate for a particular candidate.

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Well-known globally for his seven-year stint as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Sarah, 78, has also served as the archbishop of Conakry from 1979–2001, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum under Pope Benedict XVI, and the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples under Pope John Paul II.

The Guinea-born prelate had stressed his fidelity to Francis upon retiring from his prefect post in 2021, stating that he has “tried to be a loyal, obedient, and humble servant of the truth of the Gospel” and that he has “never opposed the pope.”

Earlier this summer, in an apparent reference to concerns over this month’s synod and its rumored consideration of female ordination, Sarah spoke at a conference in Mexico City.

“No council, no synod, no ecclesiastical authority has the power to invent a female priesthood,” Sarah said, “without seriously damaging the perennial physiognomy of the priest, his sacramental identity, within the renewed ecclesiological vision of the Church, mystery, communion, and mission.” 

The cardinal in June urged Catholics to utilize Scripture, prayer, and other spiritual endeavors to serve as “witnesses to the truth in a world in crisis.”

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