Conservative bishops say midpoint report distorted actual talks & proposes unacceptable doctrinal changes

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
Conservatives among the Synod of Bishops meeting at the Vatican Oct. 5-19, said the progressive tone in the midterm report is not a true reflection of the pastoral discussions. | Reuters

ROME (Christian Examiner) – A conservative minority of the 184 bishops present for a two-week Family Issues summit at the Vatican said the document summarizing the first week's talks did not accurately reflect the discussions and proposes unacceptable changes to fundamental Catholic doctrines.

The official midterm report Oct. 13 from the Synod of Bishops indicated a softening of rhetoric related to divorced and remarried Catholics, artificial contraceptives, cohabitating couples and same-sex unions.

One day later, media from around the world were reporting on the backlash to Monday's reports.

U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, head of the Vatican's Supreme Court, accused synod leaders of giving the public a distorted image of the proceedings.

He told the Catholic World Report that the midterm report "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 synod fathers found it objectionable."

The head of the Polish bishops' conference, Cardinal Stanislaw Gadeci, said the midterm report was "unacceptable" and a deviation from church teaching, according to a Dan Bloom article for the Daily Mail newspaper in the U.K.

"It's not what we are saying at all .... It is not a true message," said Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa, the Daily Mail reported.

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, the Vatican's highest-ranking expert on church law, said on Thursday, according to a Reuter's report, "For us, and not just for us but for human culture in general, marriage is between a man and a woman."

However, the church is not to judge homosexual couples, but to regard them as people of good faith, he added.

"But to bless this type of union ... to say that they are like [heterosexual] marriages, never," Coccopalmerio continued. "To bless them is not part of the way we see Christian doctrine."

Bishops during the first week of the discussion, which started Oct. 6, "had called for 'courageous' new ways to help families, especially those 'damaged' by divorce," according to the Daily Mail report. "And their document asked rhetorically if the church was ready to provide them a place 'accepting and valuing their sexual orientation without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony.'"

The Vatican on Wednesday said the Monday report was only a work in progress.

"In regard to homosexuality, there was noted the need for welcoming, with the right degree of prudence, so as not to create the impression of a positive valuation of that orientation," Wednesday's summary said, according to the Catholic News Service. "It was hoped that the same care would be taken in regard to cohabitation."

The controversy over Monday's report prompted the synod's General Secretariat to issue a statement Wednesday, "lamenting that a 'value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature' and emphasizing that it is a 'working document,'" wrote Francis X. Rocca for Catholic News Service.

As Napier, the South African cardinal, explained to CNS, "Individual things that were said by individuals, may have been repeated a couple of times, are put in here as if they really do reflect the feeling of the whole synod."

The South African cardinal said the midterm report accurately reflected bishops' calls to drop "very harsh language that alienates people," such as cohabitating couples who act in conflict with church teachings, but the teachings themselves would not change, Rocca reported.

The Synod of Bishops meeting, Oct. 5-19, is centered on "Pastoral Challenges to the Family in the Context of Evangelisation," according to News VA, the official Vatican television network. "The aim of the meeting is to propose to today's world the beauty and the values of the family, which emerge from the proclamation of Jesus Christ Who disperses fear and supports hope."

The final determinations of the synod will set the agenda for a larger world synod, set for Oct. 4-25, 2015 at the Vatican, which will make recommendations to the pope.

The Roman Catholic Church counts 1.2 billion people globally as adherents.