Are Efforts Being Made to Smuggle Rejected Topics into Youth Synod?

The controversial issue of homosexuality may be subtly introduced into the final document by means of different language, and inclusion of the much-disparaged working document.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx at a synod press briefing, Vatican, Oct. 24, 2018.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx at a synod press briefing, Vatican, Oct. 24, 2018. (photo: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

The Synod Fathers are currently examining and debating the final document of the Youth Synod, tabling amendments and propositions (modi) to the draft which will be voted on, paragraph by paragraph, on Saturday. 

The general sense among the bishops, including those from Africa (whose voice some said had been “drowned out”) is that their views have been listened to and have found their way into the document. 

But sources inside the synod hall say that efforts are currently underway to smuggle into the document by other means issues not expected to pass a two-thirds vote, and firmly opposed by a majority of synod fathers.

The most notable of these concerns the inclusion of the loaded acronym ‘LGBT’ which has been vigorously opposed by African bishops who have instead insisted on an emphasis on what the Catechism teaches and on better catechetics.   

To circumvent this, some synod fathers, understood to be largely from the German language group, are submitting modi using alternative terms to ‘LGBT’ and homosexuality, such as “quality of human relationships” or the need to “clarify anthropology,” or “new anthropology.” 

Perhaps more significantly, they are entering modi that would insert a sentence insisting that the final document be read together and in continuity with the Instrumentum laboris, the synod’s working document. 

This would be another way of ensuring the inclusion of ‘LGBT’ as that document controversially mentioned the acronym — something roundly criticized by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia in his synod intervention. The Instrumentum laboris as a whole was widely panned before and during the synod. 

Bishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Mamfe, Cameroon, told the Register Oct. 24 that a fellow African bishop told the Synod “very strongly” that the working document “is like a seed that has to die, so that the final document can germinate and grow. 

“So we are all hoping that the Instrumentum laboris will die,” Bishop Nkea said.   

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops’ conference, sought to play down the homosexual issue, saying he did not think the topic had been discussed in the German Church. “It doesn’t play a central role, although some would like to bring it right to the core of matters,” he said.

He acknowledged “different lobbies” and said he was “surprised” that he is “always asked about the same things as if these were at the core of Jesus’ message.” 

But also during the press conference, the archbishop of Munich spoke of the need to “change our attitude.” The Church “needs to change, become different,” he said, adding that young people want an “authentic Church capable of listening.” Statements, he said, “must be translated into changes.”  


Synod Hall Debates

In the debates in the synod hall, various Synod Fathers questioned why the working document should continue to be considered within the final document, with one saying it would cause confusion and that only one document should be considered official. If not, he questioned why the synod should be taking place at all. 

Various other concerns were raised during the 44 interventions this morning, including the lack of any mention of Pope St. Paul VI despite him just being canonized and also the need for his encyclical Humanae Vitae to be included. Further demands were made for references to Pope St. John Paul II who is also noticeably lacking in the document. There is apparently has no mention of his Theology of the Body catechesis, nor of Familiaris Consortio, his apostolic exhortation on the family. These will also be proposed as modi.

Other modi included requests for the inclusion of chastity, references to Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est, a greater presence of women and families in seminary formation, the need for a “classical anthropology,” and a better definition of synodality. One synod father said the concept of voting on doctrinal matters was “very dangerous” because it leads to unclear teaching. Other bishops called for a definition of “zero tolerance” as many were unclear about its meaning. 

The document has been written principally by the Synod’s two special secretaries: Brazilian Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, one of the main authors of the instrumentum laboris, and Italian Salesian Father Rossano Sala, professor of youth pastoral outreach at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome.

The Italian text of the draft final document, which reportedly received enthusiastic applause when its outline was read out yesterday, has been rapidly translated into English at the request of a number of English-speaking bishops — something the secretary general of the Synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, readily agreed to. 

The draft consists of 173 paragraphs and covers topics ranging from accompaniment and discernment, to synodality and formation. 

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, told the Register Oct. 23 that “quite a few of the concerns” raised in the small groups have made their way into the document, although he conceded that the final report “cannot possibly” cater for “everyone’s perspective.” 

“A number of things are rather weak,” he said, such as references to the Church’s moral teaching, although the cardinal said he didn’t believe there was a reluctance to discuss “moral questions or moral issues.” He said the African bishops “pushed back very hard” against any inclusion of the homosexual agenda in the document. 

The cardinal said he was generally “happy with the document” and welcomed a “noticeable absence of rancor and the bitterness” compared to the family synods of 2014 and 2015, helped in large part, he thought, by the presence of young people and a “completely new crop of bishops.”  

Perhaps the most significant element to the final document is that it will be the first of its kind to purportedly have the weight of the papal magisterium, subject to the Pope's approval — potentially a crucial move towards decentralization which significantly places more power into the hands of bishops.*

Some see such a development as a grave risk, but Cardinal Napier said this synod’s final document looks to be a “pretty good analysis” which points out “all the challenges that lie ahead.”  

“The magisterium is what each bishop takes home to his conference,” and what is “implemented in their diocese,” he said, adding he was “very hopeful that we've got a very good foundation on which to build.” 

Also revealed today was that the Ordinary Council of the Synod of Bishops, which prepares the next synod, will be elected on Friday. The Pope has decided to raise the number of members from 15 to 21 to include not only bishops but also specialists and some dicastery heads. 

The approved text of the final document is expected to be made public on Saturday evening. 

*This article has been amended to say that the final document will "purportedly" have the weight of the papal magisterium as theologians contest that a pope can make something doctrine by fiat. They argue that teaching is Catholic doctrine only if it is in continuity with the entire teaching of the Church through the centuries. Synods can be unfaithful to Catholic teaching. Even some Councils that began as Ecumenical ended up being condemned by popes for straying from teaching (e.g., the Council of Basel).