VATICAN CITY – The reaction to the Relatio post disceptationem at the Extraordinary Synod on the family continues to be felt. In the Vatican press office today, John Thavis described these as the “aftershocks” to the “pastoral earthquake” of the release of the relatio yesterday. One of the more conservative members of the College of Cardinals called for the publication of all interventions in its aftermath. Cardinal Raymond Burke also accused the General Secretariat of the Synod of manipulating the document for its own favored outcome in an interview with Catholic World Report:
CWR: In what way is information about what is happening in the Synod being either manipulated or only partially reported and made public?
Cardinal Burke: The interventions of the individual Synod Fathers are not made available to the public, as has been the case in the past. All of the information regarding the Synod is controlled by the General Secretariat of the Synod which clearly has favored from the beginning the positions expressed in the Relatio post disceptationem of yesterday morning.
While the individual interventions of the Synod Fathers are not published, yesterday’s Relatio, which is merely a discussion document, was published immediately and, I am told, even broadcast live. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to see the approach at work, which is certainly not of the Church. …
While the document in question (Relatio post disceptationem) purports to report only the discussion which took place among the Synod Fathers, it, in fact, advances positions which many Synod Fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of the Synod Fathers found it objectionable.
Burke called on Pope Francis to issue a statement reaffirming current church teaching on marriage and family life. The summary of yesterday’s morning session, released today, affirmed that the relatio was not universally accepted as an accurate description of the thrust of the conversation. On both homosexuality and cohabitation, the summary noted calls to clarify that the relatio should not offer a “positive evaluation” (English translation) of either status or practice, as was noted in the aftermath of the release of the relatio yesterday through other sources. At the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis emphasized the invitation of all to the Church — good and bad — from the Gospel reading, which seems to coincide with the thrust of the relatio.
Time’s Elisabeth Dias argued that the relatio in its current form isn’t the big shift that many took it to be:
The relatio is a mid-Synod snapshot of 200+ Catholic leaders’ conversations that happened in the Synod hall last week. It is a starting point for conversations as the Synod fathers start small group discussions this week. It is a working text that identifies where bishops need to “deepen or clarify our understanding,” as Cardinal Luis Antonia Tagle put it in Monday’s press briefing. That means that the topic of gays and Catholic life came up in the Synod conversations so far and that it is a topic for continued reflection.
Second, here’s what the document is not:
The relatio is not a proscriptive text. It is not a decree. It is not doctrine, and certainly not a doctrinal shift. It is also not final. “These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view,” the document concludes. “The reflections put forward, the fruit of the Synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops planned for October 2015.” …
The relatio reaffirms at several points that marriage is between a man and a woman. Substance on that point is not changing. The Vatican has been repeatedly clear that this Synod will bring no changes to doctrine, or even a final document with new rites. To “welcome gays” does not mean the Church is no longer equating “gay” with “sin.”
This report got tweeted by one of the Vatican spokesmen, Fr. Manuel Dorantes of Chicago, with a particular message in mind:
— Fr. Manuel Dorantes (@TweetingPriest) October 14, 2014
Burke, who is now taking part in the small-group discussions in the second week, argues that the relatio does not accurately reflect the debate of the first week, however. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is participating in both halves of the Synod, said he believed the interventions in the first week would be published, so that question will be settled rather quickly if and when that happens.
John Allen of Crux and the Boston Globe notes that the debate isn’t actually all that new — Cardinal Kasper’s proposals have been floating around for decades — but that one American prelate summed up why the approach is likely to remain pastoral rather than doctrinal:
Yet for every Marx or Coccopalmerio, there’s a Cardinal George Pell of Australia, now the pope’s finance czar, who warned of “doctrinal backflips” this week during a public forum sponsored by Crux, and who told the synod on Friday that “pastoral practices and moral codes separated from Catholic doctrines are not merciful, but misleading and sometimes damaging in the long term.”
Both Marx and Pell, by the way, are members of the pope’s “G8” council of cardinal advisors, suggesting that the divisions run all the way to the top.
Although most arguments so far have been familiar, Americans may take consolation that one of the few points resembling an original insight came from the president of the US bishops’ conference,Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, in an interview with Crux.
Kurtz said he’s wary of change on divorce and remarriage, in part because of the danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Church wants to support married couples, he said, it can’t send a not-so-subtle message that it really doesn’t expect them to make it.
As I noted yesterday, the release of the draft relatio is really just the first stage of this synod’s reporting. The updated version, which will take into account the criticisms of the document within the synod as well as the group discussions, will make for a better look at the thrust of the conference. Plus, the participants will all be free to discuss their contributions afterward. As Dias notes, this is just the beginning, not the end.
Update: The first link to John Allen was from a report prior to the relatio. Today, Allen writes that the difference is still tonal, not doctrinal:
For the first time in a semi-official Vatican document, a summit of Catholic bishops from around the world convened by Pope Francis acknowledged Monday that relationships that don’t accord with Catholic teaching, including same-sex unions, can have positive moral value.
While the midterm report from a synod of bishops doesn’t signal any shift in Catholic teaching, it does suggest a mammoth change in tone in terms of how Catholicism relates to whole categories of people often estranged from the church, including gays and lesbians, couples living together outside marriage, and people who have divorced and remarried. …
A midterm report in a synod of bishops has no official standing in Catholic theology as a statement of binding church teaching, and it’s also possible that the meeting’s approach could evolve before the synod closes at the end of the week.
Moreover, this synod will reach no final conclusions, as Francis has designed it to lay the groundwork for another, larger summit of bishops in October 2015. In any event, in the Catholic system a synod of bishops has no power of its own, but merely makes recommendations to the pope.
Nonetheless, Monday’s report is indicative of where a majority of the roughly 200 bishops gathered in Rome presently stand, most of whom are the elected presidents of bishops’ conferences around the world.
We’ll get a better sense of how indicative it is when the interventions get published, and what changes are made between yesterday and Saturday.