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Synod participants voice dissatisfaction with interim report

October 16, 2014

Reports from small working groups within the Synod of Bishops have revealed a widespread dissatisfaction with an interim report released early this week.

On October 16, the Vatican released reports from the ten working groups, divided by language, in which the Synod fathers had discussed the relatio post disceptationem. The reports expressed surprise that the preliminary report had been made public, and most groups registered serious reservations about the content of that report.

In particular, the working groups said that the relatio had failed to provide a strong positive vision of the Christian understanding of marriage and family life. The small groups called for a stronger affirmation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. And most of the groups questioned the wisdom of “gradualism” as a pastoral approach to people in irregular unions.

Vatican journalist Marco Tosatti of La Stampa reported that the reports from the small working groups were released only after a heated debate within the Synod. Tosatti said that Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary-general of the Synod, originally announced that the reports would not be made public. That announcement prompted a strong protest, led by Cardinal Peter Erdo, the relator general for the Synod. When other prelates joined in the complaints, Tosatti said, the decision was made to release the reports from the working groups.

The Vatican press office, in a statement summarizing the working group’s reports, noted the concern that the relatio was “a working document that does not express an opinion share univocally by all the Synod fathers.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, reporting for one of the French-language groups, said that he felt obliged to give voice to the “emotion and confusion provoked by the publication of a document that we considered as a simple (although quite useful) working document, and thus provisional.”

The groups observed that the relatio focused heavily on problematical situations, such as cohabitation, same-sex unions, and divorce. Without ignoring those problems, the bishops said that the Synod should adopt a more positive tone. Their reports suggested that the Synod’s final product should “contain a strong message of encouragement and support for the Church and for faithful married couples.”

One of the English-speaking groups, led by Cardinal Raymond Burke, reported:

We also believe that in the Relatio Synodi we need to express words of encouragement and support to those who are faithfully living out their marriage vows and bringing up their families according to the teaching of the Church.

Another English-language group, led by South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, said:

…that the Relatio ended up placing too much emphasis on the problems facing the family and did not stress sufficiently the need to provide an enthusiastic message which would encourage and inspire hope for those Christian families who despite many challenges and even failures - strive every day to live out faithfully and joyfully their mission and vocation within the Church and society.

The groups applauded the effort in the relatio to depict the Church as a place of welcome for all people, regardless of their difficulties. But the press office reported that the Synod fathers feared the document “could give the impression of a willingness on the part of the Church to legitimize irregular family situations.”

An Italian-language group, led by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, was more sharply critical, saying that the preliminary report “seems to be afraid to express an opinion on several issues that have now become the dominant cultural expressions.”

The working groups did not indicate any consensus of support for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. However, most groups did find broad agreement that if possible, the procedures for obtaining a marriage annulment should be streamlined. Cardinal George Pell told The Tablet that about three-quarters of the Synod fathers had criticized the relatio during discussions in the Synod Hall. The Australian cardinal himself described the text as “tendentious and incomplete.” Like many of the reports from the small working groups, he found it “strange that there was so little in the document on scriptural teaching and magisterial teaching on marriage, sexuality, family.”


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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Oct. 17, 2014 5:49 AM ET USA

    Imagine being a faithful, orthodox bishop at the Synod...

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 16, 2014 8:31 PM ET USA

    "Cardinal George Pell told The Tablet that about three-quarters of the Synod fathers had criticized the relatio." The rest are backpedaling full speed. But there is hope then.

  • Posted by: Minnesota Mary - Oct. 16, 2014 7:04 PM ET USA

    "... so little in the document on scriptural teaching and magisterial teaching on marriage, sexuality, and family." That sums up the reason why we have so many "Catholics" living in, dare I say, "sinful" lifestyles. For decades the education of Catholics has been void of these most necessary teachings. Is it any wonder there are so many "Catholics" who are disobedient to these teachings? What many of these bishops lack is knowledge of Cause and Effect. Or maybe they do know.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Oct. 16, 2014 5:27 PM ET USA

    Wow - he (Cardinal Pell)found it “strange that there was so little in the document on scriptural teaching and magisterial teaching on marriage, sexuality, family.” That statement tells me that someone with an agenda is writing the document.