Vatican warns over ‘work in progress’

Bishops ‘surprised by stir’, suggesting the media misinterpreted synod’s document

Senior figures attending the synod on family issues in Rome said yesterday they were “surprised by the stir” their discussion document had already caused, including reports that there had been a shift in tone in the Vatican’s language about gay people.

They warned that the document was a work in progress and suggested that its contents so far might have been misinterpreted.

The daily Vatican press conference yesterday began with a statement from the Holy See, appearing to accuse the media of misinterpreting the synod's work thus far. "The Secretariat of the Synod, following the reactions and comments prompted by the release of the Relatio Post Disceptationem (discussion document) and given that those comments did not always reflect the nature of the document, wish to point out that this is a working document."

Asked if this meant that the synod fathers were formally "disowning" Monday's discussion document, which was a summary of the issues discussed last week by the bishops, South African cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier, who is among those attending the synod, said: "We are working on the document to the point where we feel we can vote for it and that is what we all want. We were surprised by the stir that the Relatio caused amongst you. We're here to listen, look and discuss."


Two of the most important recommendations which emerged from the document concerned “welcoming homosexuals” and “speeding up the procedure” of marriage annulments.

Inclusive language

Under the heading of “welcoming homosexuals”, paragraph 50 of the document used inclusive language when addressing the issue of the role of homosexuals in Christian life. Even though current Catholic teaching calls homosexuality an “intrinsic disorder” and considers the practice of homosexuality to be a sin, the document adopted an altogether different tone.

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?” it asked.

“Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

Cardinal Napier, when asked specifically where and how the media had misinterpreted this document, responded by asking questions himself.

‘Asking questions’

“If misinterpretation has occurred, that is because the subject is so interesting, people wanted to know what was going on and perhaps read more into the document than was intended. Are the expectations of the synod and what it is going to produce a little unrealistic?

“Does the misinterpretation reflect what people would like to see happening rather than what is actually happening? I’m still asking questions myself,” he said.

Both Cardinal Napier and Cardinal Ferdinando Filoni, head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, who is also attending the synod, suggested the media would do better to consider the Relatio as a working document, perhaps far removed from the final synod document due to be released on Saturday.

The cardinal added: “I read in the papers the other day that the synod was called to discuss same-sex union, marriage break-ups, divorce and abortion.

“I wasn’t called for that reason at all. This synod is about the family and the issues that face the family and [we are called on] to deal with them as honestly and effectively as we can.”

Many observers, however, feel that yesterday’s apparent backtrack was due not so much to media misinterpretation of Monday’s document as to ongoing dissension within the synod between “conservative” and “progressive” factions.