The Vatican released today the names of those who will be responsible for drafting the final document of the Synod on Youth, and although they are geographically representative, concerns surround some of them and their views on aspects of Church teaching.
The commission for drafting the final document of the Oct. 3-28 synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” consists of 12 members, five of whom were elected today by synod members, and come from the world’s five continents.
They comprise Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes, the archbishop of Mexico City and one of 41 delegates personally chosen by the Pope to attend the synod; Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne, Australia, also a papal delegate; Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, the prefect of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai, India, and a member of the Pope’s ‘C9’ Council of Cardinals advising Francis on Church reform; and Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti, Italy, a member of the synod’s organizing council.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, and Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha of Brasilia, Brazil, the general relator of the synod, automatically have places on the commission.
The Pope has personally chosen three others to help draft the final document: Brazilian Father Alexandre Awi Mello, the secretary for the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life; Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; and Father Eduardo Gonzalo Redondo, the director of vocations ministry in Cuba.
Two other priests have been chosen who have so far helped with preparations for the synod and will serve as special secretaries on the commission: Brazilian Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, one of the main authors of the instrumentum laboris, the director of the magazine Aggiornamenti Sociali, and the vice president of the “Carlo Maria Martini Foundation;” and Father Rossano Sala, the professor of youth pastoral outreach at the Pontifical Salesian University and director of the Italian magazine Note di Pastorale Giovanile.
The Pope’s personal choices are naturally well known to him: Father Mello was among those helping then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to draft the final document of the Fifth Latin American Episcopal Conference in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. The document came to be seen by some as a road map for the entire Church. The Pope also knows Archbishop Shevchuk well having mentored him when the Ukrainian prelate was a young auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires in the 2000s.
It’s not clear how the Pope knows Father Redondo, but in a 2014 interview, the Cuban vocations director said young people were the “solution not the problem.” He also said the Church is Jesus whose plan for mankind is “revolutionary and transformative” and that to “implement the kingdom, we must begin here and now.” This means “the first thing we must do is banish the old structures,” he said, adding it is “faith that moves us to realize” Jesus’ plan for us.
Among those elected to the commission, Archbishop Comensoli gave a spirited intervention today at the synod, asking whether the Church had lost her “missionary fire” and become beholden to a “fake gospel” of “religious maintenance.”
“Let a pebble of spiritual disruption be dropped into our stagnant pools, to stir us back to Pentecost!” he implored. “It is time to leave behind a Church that only sits around waiting. Our task is to rediscover a young Church that goes out; not to re-create a Church for the young to come to.”
Soft Approaches to Homosexuality?
But concerns surround other commission members elected today whose views on homosexuality appear questionable. This is particularly noteworthy given the controversy over the inclusion of the loaded acronym ‘LGBT,’ often used by the homosexual lobby, in the instrumentum laboris, the synod working document, and the strong criticism at the synod from Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia about its inclusion.
Together with outside pressure from a coalition of ‘LGBT’ groups, the concern is that the final document will include some phrasing that will amount to an acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. However, the issue has hardly been raised in discussions and has yet to be mentioned at all in the small groups, but that did not stop it being included in the discussions during the first Synod on the Family 2014.
Archbishop Forte was widely known to have been behind an attempt to introduce the issue, using the highly controversial mid-term report of that synod. Despite not figuring in the discussions, the document talked about the “precious support” homosexual couples can give each other, and the “gifts and qualities” they offer the Christian community. The document was foisted on the synod fathers by releasing it to the media before the synod fathers had seen it.
An uproar followed, especially from African delegates, but despite the developing world usually having more traditional views on the issue where it is generally still a taboo, Cardinals Turkson and Gracias have views that appear to have softened in comparison to many of their peers in both Ghana and India. In 2012, Cardinal Turkson told the Register it is important to understand the reasons behind the stigma of homosexuality in Africa. “Just as there’s a sense of a call for rights, there’s also a call to respect culture, of all kinds of people,” he said. “So, if it’s being stigmatized, in fairness, it’s probably right to find out why it is being stigmatized.”
But three years later, he told the Christian homosexual rights group, New Ways Ministry, that Western countries “have grown in regard to this issue.” He said when he studied in the United States in the 1970s, science considered homosexuality “a sickness and a disease” but that “over the years that evaluation has changed. Other countries have to grow in the same way and it can take time.”
In 2013, Cardinal Gracias opposed a ruling by India’s Supreme Court to overturn a decision taken by the High Court of Delhi in 2009, which had decriminalised homosexual acts. “For me it’s a question of understanding that it’s an orientation,” he said.
Father Costa, meanwhile, has promoted same-sex couples’ struggle for “social and civil rights.” And as vice president of the “Carlo Martini Foundation,” he is also likely to support the late cardinal’s endorsement of same-sex civil unions, as well as his opposition to Blessed Paul VI's encyclcial, Humanae Vitae.
But just how much influence these commission members will be able to have is unclear. Asked today about the challenges of drafting the final document, Cardinal Aguiar said it’s “a very taxing job” while another challenge “is time, we have to do it by midnight,” leading some to think that the bulk of the document has to have already been written.
The “biggest challenge,” he said, “is to be faithful to what was discussed, to what was agreed upon in the working groups.” As the issue of homosexuality has hardly been raised, and Humanae Vitae so far completely omitted, many will therefore be curious to see how much these topics figure in the document. Similarly, a Belgian bishop today surprised some in the synod hall by suggesting that married clergy need to be considered, but that has also been a subject hardly raised.
The Mexican cardinal, who Pope Francis raised to the College of Cardinals in 2016, said a further challenge is “not for it to be a final document but that it should reflect what was discussed by the bishops in a collegial way” and then “given to the hands of the Holy Father” who could use it for his “post-synodal apostolic exhortation,” or summary document at the end of the synod.
The document also has to be voted on by all the synod fathers, either in its entirety, or section by section, and obtain a two-thirds majority, but the synod secretariat has not been clear precisely which procedure will be used.
Cardinal Aguiar added: “What I think is going to be reiterated is that the Church has to change a lot in its way to open spaces and go to the places where young people are.” The Church must “go out on a mission,” he said, “to be present where young people are, for example the digital world.”
He also said the second aspect is to find ways to help “accompany them, always complying with their own freedom, their own decisions, while looking and trying to offer them spiritual help so they can be conscious of themselves, and can benefit from this throughout their lives.”