Vatican City, Oct 15, 2014 / 10:17 am
An incorrect translation into English of the original midterm report of the Synod on the Family may have spurred controversial interpretations of the document itself.
The document's original version was written in Italian, which Pope Francis directed to be used as the official language of the synod. In prior synods the official language had been Latin, esteemed for its precision and lack of ambiguity.
The point of controversy occurs at paragraph 50 of the relatio. The Italian original, after praising the gifts and talents homosexuals may give to the Christian community, asked: "le nostre comunità sono in grado di esserlo accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale, senza compromettere la dottrina cattolica su famiglia e matrimonio?"
In the English translation provided by the Vatican, this is rendered as: "Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"
The key word "valutando," which has sparked controversy within the Church, was translated by the Vatican as "valuing."
Italian's "valutando" in fact means "evaluating," and in this context would be better translated with "weighing" or "considering."
The English translation, in contrast, suggests a valuing of the homosexual orientation, which could at least create confusion to those who are faithful to the teaching of the Church.
It must be said that the translation was not an "official" translation – the Vatican website notes at the top it is an "unofficial translation" – but it was the working translation delivered by the Holy See press office in order to help journalists who are not confident in Italian with their work.
However, until now only this "working translation" has been provided.
The document was first delivered in Italian, shortly before Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, general rapporteur of the synod, was going to read it in front of the assembly. After about half an hour, the document was available in English, French, Spanish, and German translations, and delivered via a bulletin of the Holy See press office.
This timing suggested that the translation had been done in the very last moments. According to a Vatican source, Cardinal Erdo had to give the document to the General Secretariat for the Synod on Saturday, and the document had been polished until the very last moment, and was given back to Cardinal Erdo only late on Sunday.
That the text is not fully Cardinal Erdo's may be suggested by the fact that "the post discussion relation is much shorter than the pre-discussion one," as Archbishop Philip Tartaglia of Glasgow put it to CNA Oct. 15.
The excerpt on pastoral care of homosexuals has been addressed by critics during the discussion that followed the reading of the relatio on Monday.
The document raised the impression that the Church had changed her views concerning homosexuality.
Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stressed Oct. 13 that "pastoral care for homosexuals has always been part of the Church's teaching, and the Church has never gotten rid of or dismissed homosexual from her pastoral programs."
In fact, pastoral care for homosexuals is well described in a 1986 document, issued by Cardinal Mueller's dicastery, "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons."
Bearing the signature of the then-prefect, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and approved by St. John Paul II, the letter was delivered to bishops worldwide, providing instructions on how the clergy should respond to the claims of the LGBT community.
Far from being a document of condemnation, the document provided a nuanced response to the issue of homosexuality.
The document stressed that "it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs."
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."
Pastoral care for homosexuals was also addressed.
"We encourage the Bishops to provide pastoral care in full accord with the teaching of the Church for homosexual persons of their dioceses," the document read
But – the document added – "no authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. A truly pastoral approach will appreciate the need for homosexual persons to avoid the near occasions of sin."
Likewise, "we wish to make it clear that departure from the Church's teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church's position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve."
The document also dealt with the spiritual life.
"An authentic pastoral programme will assist homosexual persons at all levels of the spiritual life: through the sacraments, and in particular through the frequent and sincere use of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through prayer, witness, counsel and individual care. In such a way, the entire Christian community can come to recognize its own call to assist its brothers and sisters, without deluding them or isolating them."
The approach of the document was thus that of reaffirming the truth of the teaching of the Church, and at the same time approaching with mercy homosexual persons.