Bishops critique synod document, saying it may cause confusion

This story appears in the Synod on the Family feature series. View the full series.

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Some prelates at the global meeting of Catholic bishops have expressed concerns about the landmark document the meeting released Monday, saying that it "may give rise to confusion."

The document, which calls for the church to listen more and to apply mercy much more widely, was released by the Synod of Bishops which is meeting in Rome on the subject of family life Oct. 5-19.

It summarizes the state of the discussions at the synod so far and was read aloud Monday morning to the some 190 prelates attending the meeting by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, who is serving as the synod's relator.

Following that reading, 41 prelates at the synod made speeches about the text, suggesting additions or changes. Unlike previous synods, the Vatican is not releasing the texts of the speeches made by the prelates.

According to an unofficial Vatican summary of those remarks, released Tuesday, the prelates praised Monday's document, but also raised some concerns.

One concern raised to Monday's document, according to the summary, is that "while the Church must welcome those in difficulty, it would be useful to speak more widely about those families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, thanking them and encouraging them for the witness they offer."

The summary also states that some bishops said "it is necessary to clarify and explore more deeply the theme of 'gradualness,' that may give rise to confusion."

Gradualness is a theological notion that people can grow in their holiness or in their adherence to church teaching over time.

Monday's document devoted a whole subsection of its 12-pages to the subject, stating: "Jesus looked upon the women and the men he met with love and tenderness, accompanying their steps with patience and mercy, in proclaiming the demands of the Kingdom of God."

The prelates responding to the document, according to the Vatican summary, "also noted that the word 'sin' is almost absent from the [document.]"

"The prophetic tone of Jesus’ words was also mentioned, to avoid the risk of conformity to the mentality of today’s world," states the summary.

The summary also reports that some prelates took issue with how Monday's document addressed gay people, where the document took a tone re-emphasizing church teaching against same-sex marriage but also asking blunt questions of the wider church.

"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?" asked the document.

According to the Vatican summaries of the bishops' response to that statement: "In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with the just produced, so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation."

Prelates responding to Monday's document, according to the summary, also expressed concern with the documents suggestion that some marriage annulment cases could be handled by diocesan bishops.

"With regard to procedures for the streamlining of cases of nullity, some questions were raised regarding the proposal to entrust greater competence to the diocesan bishop, which may prove to be too great a burden," states the summary.

The prelates, according to the summary, also expressed concern about "the spread of pornography, especially on the internet, which poses a real risk to family unity."

Approximately 190 prelates are at the synod and are able to vote in the discussions. Some 60 others, mainly non-prelates, have been selected in other roles and are able to contribute to discussions but not to vote.

Following the week of meetings, Monday's document was to be prepared by Erdo; Archishop Bruno Forte, the synod's special secretary; and Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, head of the Vatican's office for the synod of bishops. But, in a sign that Francis perhaps took a personal role in the document, the pontiff late Friday assigned six other synod members to the document's drafting committee.

Through the rest of this week the synod members are to meet in small groups, divided by language, to discuss and edit Monday's document in view of creating a final document from the synod for submission to Francis.

That final document is expected to be released to the public and to be used as the blue-print of sorts for the next synod, to be held in 2015.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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