By Catholic News Agency's Vatican Observer, Andrea Gagliarducci

Controversy prompts Vatican to clarify synod midterm

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, O.F.M., of Durban, speaks at the Holy See press office Oct. 14, 2014. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, O.F.M., of Durban, speaks at the Holy See press office Oct. 14, 2014. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

.- After a media frenzy and lively internal debate were both raised by the publication of the midterm relatio of the Synod of Bishops, its secretariat issued a statement clarifying its merely provisional nature.

“The General Secretariat of the Synod … reiterates that it is a working document, which summarizes the interventions and debate of the first week,” said an Oct. 14 declaration of the Holy See press office on behalf of the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

The statement was made “in response to reactions and discussions following the publication of the Relatio post disceptationem, and the fact that often a value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature.”

The relatio's publication was hailed in the secular media with such headlines as “Synod signals Catholic shift on gays” and “Vatican's New Views On Gays, Divorced”.

The Holy See press office also noted that the relatio “is now being offered for discussion by the members of the Synod gathered in the Small Groups, in accordance with the Regulations of the Synod.”

Among the synod fathers who received the relatio less than warmly was Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, O.F.M., of Durban, South Africa's largest port on the Indian Ocean.

Cardinal Napier, a moderator of one of the small circles at the synod, openly dismissed the relatio during an Oct. 14 briefing with journalists, saying, “that’s Cardinal Erdo’s text, not the synod text.”

The cardinal questioned whether “some expectations of the synod are unrealistic,” and underscored that “the synod is not called to discuss contraception, abortion, same-sex marriages. It was convoked to speak about the family.”

“How it is written, the relatio conveys that there is an agreement on issues, on which there is not in fact an agreement” the Archbishop of Durban underscored.

And he concluded: “I hope the line of the synod, not that of some group, prevails.”

Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and moderator of an Italian small group, recounted to journalists that synod fathers “were surprised by the first reactions published in the media, as if the Pope has declared, as if the synod has decided … it is not true! The relatio is a working document, and every group will relate its points of view and proposals, which will be voted on by the synod fathers.”

Notwithstanding the Holy See press office's statement, the discussions in small circles has been called “lively” by many of the participants.

The press office also released an unofficial summary of the discussion that followed the issuance of the relatio.

According to this summary, the synod fathers raised many points of concern.

The synod fathers stressed that the relatio should have spoken more widely of families faithful to the Gospel, in order to encourage their testimony; they also asked that the synod shed light with clarity on the beautiful and merciful indissolubility of marriage – which is often lived out and is indeed possible in our society – rather than focusing on failed family situations.

Other synod fathers desired to stress more the importance of women in transmitting life and faith; suggested to at least mention the importance of grandparents; asked for a more specific mention to the family as ‘domestic Church”, to the parish as “family of families,” and to the Holy Family.

The Holy See press office also reported that synod fathers asked that the issue of graduality be clarified, since it can lead to some confusion.

“For instance, regarding admission to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried, it was said that it is difficult to welcome exceptions without exceptions becoming a common rule,” the Holy See press office recounted.

For what concern homosexuals, synod fathers have highlighted that welcoming them is needed, but this must be done prudently, in order not to give the impression that the Church is positively evaluating homosexual acts.

Part of this discussion was also revealed during the Oct. 13 press conference. Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest and general rapporteur of the synod, said the relatio may not be completely attributed to him.

When asked about legislation regarding homosexual couples, Cardinal Erdo did not respond and instead gave the floor to Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, saying “who has written the paragraph must respond.”

However, after Archbishop Forte’s response, Cardinal Erdo wanted to point out that the relatio lacks a mention of “the disorder” of some behavior, even though synod fathers had stressed it.

Likewise, some synod fathers – the Holy See press office said – complained that the word “sin” is almost not present in the relatio, and reminded that Christ asked that his followers not conform to the mentality of the contemporary world.

In an Oct. 13 interview, Cardinal Raymond Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, told CNA the relatio “is simply riven with very serious difficulties, and I'm deeply, deeply concerned and I'm not alone.”

And Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, on behalf of the Polish bishops' conference, told Vatican Radio that “we also need to present the truth,” according to a translation by Rorate Caeli.

It is general opinion that the relatio post disceptationem may be overturned in the final document, the ‘relatio synodi’ (synod’s report).

The latter will be a comprehensive document which will contain all the inputs of the two-week synod of bishops.

It will be the first time the synod issues a final report. Usually, synods made a list of proposals and suggestions coming from the discussions of the small groups, and the Pope himself was entrusted with summarizing all the concerns and suggestions in a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.

According to the new methodology of the synod, the proposals will be summarized by the General Secretary of the Synod, the General Rapporteur, the Special Secretary, and a group of six prelates called to assist in drafting the document.

The group includes: president and deputy of the Commission for the message, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture; Archbishop Victor Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina; the General Superior of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas; Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla; Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington; and Peter Kang U-il, Bishop of Cheju.

“The appointment of six people to help in drafting the final report was normal. Before, there were proposals, and there was no need of help to draft a comprehensive text. This kind of summary is a hard amount of work for the only General Rapporteur and General Secretary,” said Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office.

The Pope will decide whether or not to make public the synod’s report. Its conclusions will be the basis for the working document of the 2015 synod of bishops.

Tags: Synod on the Family, Cardinal Napier

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