Challenges of Reporting from the Synod: Homophobic Statements, Leaked Documents, the Rumor Mill, and How to Keep Up With It All

Below is the next installment of Bondings 2.0’s reports from the Synod on Marriage and Family in Rome. New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo will continue to send news and commentary from this meeting. Previous posts can be reached by clicking here.

We’ve passed the midway point here at the synod in Rome, and I have to say that trying to navigate through all the information coming out of it has been like trying to drive in a hurricane!  So much happens here everyday, followed by so much analysis, that it is barely possible to report even a small slice of it.

While I am trying to write about LGBT and related issues, I must acknowledge that these are not the big news items, at the synod–at least not so far. The exception this week was the intervention made by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea. His speech to the synod, by any standard, bordered on the extreme.  Religion News Service reported:

“. . . [I]n one particularly eye-opening speech to the assembly last week, a leading African cardinal blasted the ‘idolatry of Western freedom’ as equivalent to ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and compared both to ‘apocalyptic beasts.’

“Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, a top official in the Roman Curia, also said that divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage in the West, and Islamic fundamentalism in Africa and elsewhere, both had a ‘demonic origin’ that the synod had to combat.

” ‘What Nazi-fascism and communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic fanaticism are today,’ Sarah said.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah

I mean, how does one rationally respond to such statements?  I fear that even reporting it gives it a a modicum of respectability which it clearly doesn’t deserve.   His statement is an example of how homophobia distorts a person’s thinking.  Fortunately, I have not heard that anyone else in the synod has voiced agreement with him, so I doubt his words have had much influence.  Having spoken them, though, Sarah provided ammunition (and, yes, the weaponry metaphor is correct here) to other homophobic people to physically and psychologically harm LGBT people.  His statements are irresponsible and un-Christian.

The much bigger news this week, though, was the leaked letter to Pope Francis organized by Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, and signed by about eight bishops (hard to say for sure because the original number of signatories was 13 but now four have disavowed signing it).  The letter criticized the new process of the synod which Pope Francis has instituted.  While Pell said it was not meant to be a public letter, it somehow found its way to an Italian daily newspaper.  If you are interested, more information can be found by clicking here.

And then there was the mysterious apology offered by Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square this week.   Pope Francis began his talk by saying, “I would like to ask forgiveness in the name of the church for the scandals that have happened in this last period both in Rome and at the Vatican. I ask forgiveness.” The Vatican Press Office declined to identify or speculate about what the pope’s reference was to.   Click here for more information on this topic.

Many guesses were made about what Pope Francis meant.  My guess, and it is one that I have not seen elsewhere, is that Francis may have been apologizing for Sarah’s speech, which was made in the synod last week, and which were made public two days before Francis’ audience.

The biggest part of my reluctance in posting information about these stories sooner is that it is hard for me to gauge how important these items are to the rest of the world outside of Rome.  Since I live in Washington, D.C., I am very aware that what is big news “inside the Beltway” is not always big news to the rest of the world.  When both of these stories broke this week, they both had the feel of being  “inside St. Peter’s Square” stories, but after the searching the web, I realized that they were being circulated more broadly than I originally perceived.

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Cardinal Vincent Nichols

So I am learning a lesson here that is also germane to one of the main discussion topics of the synod.   At Wednesday’s press briefing, London’s Cardinal Vincent Nichols was discussing the proposed idea of whether to allow bishops more local decision-making in pastoral outreach on issues related to marriage and family.  Nichols offered the following analogy of how a broader perspective can help correct myopic vision.  The following is from The National Catholic Reporter’story on the briefing.

“Nichols also praised the universality of the church in his remarks, saying that the local church has to ‘strive for is a kind of critical distance from its local setting, its particular culture.’

” ‘The church has to have a critical distance, a bit like an arc light,’ he said. ‘If there’s going to be some light, then the two elements have to be at a critical distance. The universality of the church holds the local church to a critical distance, otherwise it gets too close to the prevailing culture and the light disappears.'”

I totally agree.  But only if we also recognize that sometimes the universal Church can also learn something from the particular cultures in which it is embedded.  The checks and balances should go both ways.

Another part of the challenge of keeping up with everything is that there are so many channels of information dispersing news and documents, and it seems that new ones emerge every day.   For instance, while neither journalists nor the public have access to the synod hall to hear the discussions,  many bishops have made their presentations and other thoughts public in a variety of different ways.

Here are a few sources that I have found helpful. I offer these to those of you whose appetite for synod news just can’t seem to be sated.  Just click on the links below to get to the named source.

Vatican Sources

The Vatican Press Office is maintaining a blog about the synod, which includes links to press briefings’ summaries and interviews with bishops.  You can read it in any one of six languages, including English.

Vatican Radio publishes a report on the press briefings daily, as well as other stories about the synod.  Additionally, the video of the daily press briefings are available each day on the Vatican’s YouTube channel.

You can read the Vatican’s Daily Bulletin (available in five languages;  click “EN” in the upper right-hand corner of the Bulletin page for English), which contains links to all press releases of the particular day, some are synod-related and some are not.

Individual Bishops’ Sources

Washington, D.C’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl made his synod intervention available on his blog.

New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan also posted his synod intervention on his archdiocesan blog.

Australian Archbishop Mark Coleridge is maintaining a blog about his synod experiences and reflections.

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich is offering video reflections about the synod on the archdiocese’s YouTube channel.

Crux posted a news story on various ways that bishops are using the web and social media to get their messages directly to people.

Other sources

I’ve found the following news sources to be invaluable in interpreting the sometimes Byzantine language of the Vatican:

National Catholic Reporter‘s Joshua McElwee and Father Thomas Reese, SJ are providing news, interviews, and analysis

Religion News Service‘s David Gibson and Rosie Scammell are offering succinct and incisive news coverage of the synod.

Crux‘s Michael O’Loughlin, John Allen, and Ines San Martin have been reporting news, analysis, and background information.

Salt and Light TV, a Canadian Catholic outfit, is offering expanded synod coverage on their website and also on their blog.

Grant GallichoCommonweal’s associate editor, has been providing illuminating commentary on the magazine’s blog. 

Dispatches, a blog of America magazine, has synod reports from Gerald O’Connell

Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican observer, offers synod commentary in his “Letter from Rome” column on Global Pulse magazine.

For a British take on the synod, check out the blog reports by Christopher Lamb on The Tablet’s website.

Terence Weldon’s posts at Queering The Church always offer intelligent commentary on Catholic LGBT issues, and his posts about the synod are no exception.

I’ve previously mentioned, and it’s definitely worth repeating, that FutureChurch’s Debra Rose-Milavec has been blogging at SynodWatch, providing great reports and commentaries. Though other travel obligations have caused to be absent from Rome this week, she will be returning by the time the third and final week of the synod opens on October 18th.

So, while being here does have some advantages in terms of covering the news of the synod, I have to acknowledge that even if you are not present here,  the Internet has provided many ways to keep in touch with information that is being made public.

Have you found other internet sources of information about the synod that you find useful?  If so, please share your sources with other Bondings 2.0 readers by providing the web addresses for the sites you found in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

14 Responses to Challenges of Reporting from the Synod: Homophobic Statements, Leaked Documents, the Rumor Mill, and How to Keep Up With It All

  1. Gary W. cox says:

    Cardinal Sarah is not the only one. I have found each days news of the synod more disturbing than the last.

  2. Rick Garcia says:

    Does anyone know how many wives Cardinal Sarah has? How many child rapists he has protected? How many nuns have been raped in his archdiocese by priests because they know they won’t get HIV from Sisters? Some of these guys are just disgusting.

    Having said that, we have members of the synod who are Gospel centered and seriously trying to do the right thing and trying to bring the message of justice, Mercy, and hope to the people of God.

  3. My sympathies for your predicament Frank: there’s just far too much to make full sense of it on the fly. Many thanks for your continued reporting, and for the various very helpful links. I’m grateful that you acknowledge my own work, but also surprised. I’m posting very little serious commentary for now at “Queering the Church”, precisely because I want time to digest all that’s happening first. What I am doing though, is posting links to the reports I find notable, at “Queer Church News” (http://news.queerchurch.com/ )

    I would add that in addition to the sources you mention, there is also some superb commentary coming from sources in other languages, so the QC News site includes links to some of those foreign language sources, too. That’s one more reason I’m holding back on commentary – I’m spending a lot of time struggling with translations.

  4. I would also add to your list of sources John Thavis – http://www.johnthavis.com/

  5. amagjuka says:


    The above is an NPR podcast Dan Savage made where he discusses his Catholicism and his mother’s death. I think this piece is so beautiful in describing a person who has been hurt by the church yet yearns for it. Dan describes his Mom as a devout Catholic who also became his biggest supporter. This is not a contradiction. Dan rejected much of the Catholic dogma when he realized he was gay. Yet when his Mom died, he yearned for the comfort of the Church, his roots. He went into churches and stared into the eyes of the statue of Mary.

    When the Pope was in the USA, he spoke to believers and non-believers. He said something like, “If you don’t believe, send me good wishes.” This is what Dan’s mother would say to him–“I know you don’t pray, Daniel, but keep them in your thoughts.”

    A priest came and said Last Rites. The sacrament gave both Dan and his mother comfort. Prayers learned in childhood “filled the terrible silence.” Before she died, Dan’s mom said, she would be with them always and would see them again. “Remember me. Keep me in your thoughts, Daniel.”

    “When you do this, remember me.” This is what Jesus says at the consecration. Experiencing love and remembering it and living on that basis is what we are to do.

    Dan wishes he could come back to the church. But he thinks of the gross injustices done by bishops and priests (priests telling people in Africa that condoms cause AIDS, etc, etc) and just cannot do it. Dan is left with all his childhood faith, the hope that he will see his mother again in heaven. But he just cannot believe.

    I think Pope Francis would like to “sit with people” in the moment Dan describes. I think he wants there to be an opening, an invitation. And Dan should come just as he is. It is not necessary for him to resolve his anger and betrayal by the church and those cruel and unjust priests. Pope Francis wants Dan and all the faithful to know that, like a mother, the church should be (and will be?) there for him.

    I remember when Cardinal Dolan told LGBT people they should “wash their hands” (a metaphor for repenting for their sins) before coming into the church. I think Pope Francis says the opposite: come in, just as you are. The church should be there for you, especially in your brokenness. And by brokenness, I mean Dan’s mourning his mom, not his homosexuality.

    Some bishops and cardinals refuse to acknowledge Vatican II ever happened. But it did happen. Pope Francis says he wants the “messy church,” with all people speaking up and living together. Perhaps this is the “leap of faith”: That somehow, by virtue of the Holy Spirit, we will find a way to accompany one another. I must remember that it is my job to find a way to love Cardinal Dolan, even when he says things I abhor. I must attend to my own soul, and this is my work and my challenge.

  6. pjnugent says:

    Excellent reporting, Frank. Thanks.

  7. […] colored by the fact that he participated in the French B small group, which was moderated by Cardinal Robert Sarah, who made probably the most homophobic remark of the synod. In response to another question about […]

  8. […] Bishop Johan Bonny’s inability to even raise the issue in his small group led by the cardinal who compared LGBT activists to Nazis. But there is hope, for Gallicho wrote: “[T]his listening synod, if it is to be true to the […]

  9. […] note:  Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo speculated that Pope Francis’ non-specific apology at a general audience during the synod may have been […]

  10. […] year’s deliberations as “inhuman theater,” he added to his initial criticism of homophobic comments by Cardinal Robert […]

  11. […] Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who covered the meeting from Rome, deemed Sarah’s […]

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