Following the positive reception that the Synod’s relatio document, its mid-term report, received in the global media over the past two days, a South African cardinal is saying that the document has been misunderstood.
The National Catholic Reporter noted the remarks of Durban’s Cardinal Wilfrid Napier:
“One of the prelates participating in the Synod of Bishops on the family has sharply criticized the landmark document the meeting released Monday, saying its message of openness to modern society has put the prelates in ‘a position that is virtually irredeemable.
” ‘The message has gone out: This is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic church is saying,’ South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said at a Vatican press conference Tuesday.
” ‘And it’s not what we’re saying at all,’ Napier said. ‘No matter how we try correcting that … there’s no way of retrieving it.’
” ‘The message has gone out and it’s not a true message,’ he continued. ‘Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control.’ “
The cardinal was commenting on the fact that the relatio is only an interim report, which will continue to be debated during the coming week. And, even at that, nothing from it will be definitive since this extraordinary synod is only preliminary to the ordinary synod which will occur in October 2015. The relatio is only a discussion of what has been said in the synod so far.
But, this qualification doesn’t mean that the relatio isn’t good news. For instance, Napier himself seemed to backtrack from these seemingly backtracking comments. The National Catholic Reporter stated:
“Speaking later at the Vatican press conference, Napier seemed to back away from his criticism. Asked if he would want the meeting to rescind the document, he responded: ‘That’s rather radical, I think, because the relatio actually has a lot of very good, very good things.’
” ‘It would be like saying, “Let’s take back the words that the synod fathers used in the synod hall,” he said. ‘A lot of it is what was actually said.’
” ‘Some of the … dissatisfaction is that individual things that [were] said by individuals … are put in here as if they really do reflect the feeling of the whole synod,’ the cardinal continued.”
And two Catholic LGBT leaders in the U.S. offered reasons to still consider the relatio as good news. CNN.com reported:
” ‘I actually don’t think this is as much of a backtrack as we usually see!’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, head of the gay rights group Dignity USA.
” ‘I think that response to this report was swift and intense, and I’m sure many bishops want to be sure people aren’t reading more into it than is there,’ she continued. ‘However, it is undeniable that there has never been any Vatican document that made positive, respectful statements about same-sex relationships, so that is an undeniable breakthrough.’
“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, echoed that sentiment.
“‘Regardless of the fact that this is a working document, it is still significant in that it reveals a strong current of affirmative attitudes at high levels in the church towards lesbian and gay people,’ he said.”
In a second news article, The National Catholic Reporter noted that the debate about the relatio has already begun:
“. . . 41 prelates at the synod made speeches about the text [of the relatio], suggesting additions or changes. Unlike previous synods, the Vatican is not releasing the texts of the speeches made by the prelates.
“According to an unofficial Vatican summary of those remarks, released Tuesday, the prelates praised Monday’s document, but also raised some concerns.” [You can read the full text of the summary by clicking here.]
The summary of the topic of homosexuality stated:
“In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.”
So much is yet to be discussed by the synod, but with evidence that there are voices in that body which support positive changes regarding LGBT issues, as well as other marriage and family topics, is reason to give hope. At the very least, it means that we still have representatives on the inside working for a more inclusive church for LGBT people, which means there will very likely be some steps forward. So, we can keep hoping, but we still should keep working and praying.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry