Catholic World News

Pushback on Synod document [News Analysis]

October 14, 2014

Controversy sharpened at the Synod of Bishops, as many prelates have complained that an interim report released on October 13 did not accurately represent the thoughts of the Synod fathers, and the Vatican press office hastened to announce that “a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature.”

The relatio post disceptationem, which was intended to summarize the discussion during the first week of the October synod, “is a working document,” the Vatican observed in an unusual statement released on the day after the document appeared. The press office emphasized that the relatio was designed not to be an authoritative statement, but to be the basis for discussion during the second week of Synod deliberations.

At a news conference introducing the relatio, reporters were openly skeptical about some of the more controversial passages of the document. When questioned about the statement that homosexuals “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” Archbishop Bruno Forte, who drafted that section, gave an answer that “played to decidedly mixed reviews both inside and outside the Synod hall,” reported John Allen of Crux.

Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has been consistently outspoken in his defense of Church teaching regarding marriage, charged that the relatio did not accurately reflect the Synod discussions but “in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept.” The American cardinal reported that “a great number of the Synod fathers found it objectionable.”

The official summary of Synod discussions on October 13, released by the Vatican press office, reinforced that point. The summary mentioned that Synod participants had asked for clarification on the suggestion of “gradualism,” greater emphasis on the Church’s teaching regarding sacramental marriage, an acknowledgment of sin, and a strong affirmation of the indissolubility of marriage. Cardinal Burke, in his critique of the document, said that the relatio “lacks a solid foundation in the Sacred Scriptures and the Magisterium.” He too suggested that an authoritative papal statement confirming the essential elements of Catholic teaching on marriage is “long overdue.”

Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, told Vatican Radio that the relatio failed to provide solid support for “good, normal, ordinary families” striving to fulfill the Christian ideal of marriage. “It is not so much what the document says but what it does not say that has been noticed,” the archbishop lamented. “It focuses on exceptions, but what is needed is the proclamation of truth.”

Many prelates observed that the early release of the relatio had triggered an enormous volume of media coverage, much of it inaccurate, conveying the impression that the Church would change her teachings. (BBC provided a vivid example of this sort of analysis, announcing that Pope Francis had “scored a first quiet victory” in the document and saying that the Pontiff had “convinced many Catholic Church leaders to moderate their formerly strongly critical language about gay unions.”)

“We’re now working from a position that’s virtually irredeemable,” said South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, referring to the media coverage. “The message has gone out that this is what synod is saying, that this is what the Catholic Church is saying,” he said. “Whatever we say hereafter will seem like we’re doing damage control.”

With a week still remaining before this session of the Synod concludes, it seems clear that critics of the relatio will organize a strong campaign to ensure that the Synod’s final document is very different from the interim report.

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Show 5 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: unum - Oct. 15, 2014 8:49 AM ET USA

    It is clear that Msgr. Bruno Forte used his position as an appointee of the Pope to manipulate the press release to favor his views. Pope Francis needs to make better appointments in the future or his credibility will be severely damaged.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 15, 2014 2:31 AM ET USA

    It would be helpful to know what kind of "gifts and qualities" Sodomites "offer to the Christian community" that have never been noticed in 2000 years of history of the Church and before? Many things about this Synod were wrong from the start: use of labels "conservative" / "very conservative," lay speakers with focus on fringe behavior, lack of clear objectives for the meeting. But thank God for the voices of faithful Catholic Bishops emerging from the chatter. Good things still could happen.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Oct. 14, 2014 8:04 PM ET USA

    “We’re now working from a position that’s virtually irredeemable,” said South African Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, referring to the media coverage. “The message has gone out that this is what synod is saying, that this is what the Catholic Church is saying,” he said. “Whatever we say hereafter will seem like we’re doing damage control.” That statement has more value than the entire the relatio, and maybe more than the Synod will have.

  • Posted by: shrink - Oct. 14, 2014 7:24 PM ET USA

    “We’re now working from a position that’s virtually irredeemable” Just so. As it was planned all along.

  • Posted by: shrink - Oct. 14, 2014 7:10 PM ET USA

    “a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature.” Seems like a round-about way of acknowledging that there are a group of prelates who are liars?