The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? | Edward Pentin | CWR
The release of the “explosive” interim report during last year’s synod provoked allegations of a rigged process—but that was just the beginning. An exclusive excerpt from a new investigation into what went on at the headline-making meeting of bishops.
[Editor’s note: The III Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family that took place in October 2014 was controversial not only for the subject matter it discussed, but also for the way it was run. To find out what really went on before, during, and after that heated fortnight, renowned reporter and analyst Edward Pentin spent months speaking to many of those who were there and piecing together what happened behind the closed doors of the Vatican’s Synod Hall. His findings have been published in a new book, The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation of Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, available now as an e-book from Ignatius Press.
In this exclusive excerpt, Pentin examines one of the most controversial aspects of last year’s synod: the notorious Relatio post disceptationem, or interim report, released half-way through the synod discussions.]
The Interim Report
What had provoked many to allege rigging of the meeting, both inside and outside the synod hall, was the publication on October 13 of the Relatio post disceptationem, or interim report, on the first week of the synod’s discussions.
Many synod fathers were angry that the Relatio did not represent the majority view of the synod’s participants or the discussion that had occurred during the week and was issued without them seeing it.
George Cardinal Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, was the first to protest in a debate in the aula on the day of the Relatio’s release, followed by a number of heated interventions. Concerned that the report would go out without anyone remarking on it, he pointed out what was good about the report, but he also noted some serious deficiencies in the text. The Australian cardinal had to persist in his protest in the face of the synod managers who would have liked him to be quiet, sources who were present said.
In a television interview on October 16 with Catholic News Service, Cardinal Pell said the document was “tendentious, skewed, it didn’t represent accurately the feelings of the synod fathers.” He said “three-quarters” of those who discussed it afterward “had some problems with the document”. He added that “a major absence” in the document was scriptural teaching and “a treatment of the Church tradition”.
“It was as though there was an idealized vision of every imperfect situation”, Cardinal Pell said. “One father said to me…that he wouldn’t want his young adult children to read it because they’d be confused, and that was said in some of the working groups.”
The interim report “created an impression that the teaching of the Church has been merciless so far, as if the teaching of mercy were beginning only now”, said Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan.
At issue were three controversial paragraphs the contents of which had been barely, or not at all, discussed by the synod fathers. One of these paragraphs referred to proposals, supposedly made by some of the synod participants, for readmission of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Holy Communion, and two other paragraphs dealt with the pastoral care of homosexuals and cohabiting couples.
The most contentious paragraphs were under the heading “Welcoming homosexuals”. The section started off by saying homosexuals “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community”, adding: “Are our communities capable of providing (a welcoming home), accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
It continued: “Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”
Critics pointed out that there was no reference to Catholic doctrine that sexual relations between people of the same sex are “intrinsically disordered”, that the acts are gravely sinful (or sinful at all), or that homosexual orientation was “objectively disordered”.
In an interview on October 17, Cardinal Burke described the interim report as a “gravely flawed document that does not express adequately the teaching and discipline of the Church and, in some aspects, propagates doctrinal error and a false pastoral approach”.
Trying to explain how the document came to be, Cardinal Erdö told Vatican Radio that the sixteen officials who drafted the report struggled to synthesize the positions of thirty to forty bishops on any given topic and rushed to finish it on time.