VATICAN CITY — The Catholic blogosphere exploded Monday after the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family released a document summarizing last week’s discussion.
But while the relatio post disceptationem, which means “report after debate,” has been fodder for sensational headlines claiming a major shift in doctrine, the report is only a beginning, working document of the Church.
The relatio, as it’s called, simply takes the topics and comments made during the last week of the synod and attempts to summarize and organize them into categories. The official teaching document of the synod will not be released until well after the Ordinary Synod of Bishops, which is scheduled to take place next fall. Typically after an ordinary synod, the Pope will release an apostolic exhortation regarding his conclusions after the meeting of bishops.
Still, although the relatio has “working document” status, it has received mixed reactions from several bishops present at the synod.
Some were quick to calm the storm of speculation that the Church is changing its teachings regarding homosexual marriage. Bishop Eugène Cyrille Houndekon of Abomey, Benin, said the language in the relatio simply refers to the Church’s openness to everyone, no matter where they are in their journey of faith.
“The Church opens its doors to all people — their weaknesses, their defects — and tries to help them, everybody, those who have stronger virtues ... and those who have weaknesses,” the African bishop told CNA.
The bishop was referring to the document’s position on persons with same-sex attraction and their role in the Church, which Cardinal Peter Erdo quoted in his opening speech to the synod fathers Monday morning, saying:
“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? 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?”
Concerns Over Lack of Clarity
Other bishops and cardinals are concerned with a lack of clarity in the document. In an interview with CNA, Cardinal Raymond Burke said the relatio as it stands uses “confused” and “even erroneous” language, and he hopes the final document from this synod is much clearer.
“There’s a confusion with the regard to the question of people who are living in de facto unions or people who are attracted to the same sex who are living together and an inadequate explanation of the relationship of the Church to the person,” said the head of the Apostolic Signatura.
“I certainly hope that this document will be set aside completely, and there will be an effort made to present the Church’s true teaching and pastoral practice, the two of which always go together in a new document.”
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference, also voiced concerns, saying he hopes the final synod will discuss support of families as a whole, rather than only studying special cases or exceptions to the traditional family.
“Speak about the practical exceptions, but we also need to present the truth,” Archbishop Gadecki said in an interview with Vatican Radio.
The relatio was divided into three categories that addressed the context and challenges to the family, the gospel of the family and how it fits into salvation and pastoral perspectives regarding irregular unions. Left open for more discussion was also whether divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics could receive Communion.
The document will serve as a starting point for further discussion and reflection this next week.
“The reflections put forward, the fruit of the synodal dialogue that took place in great freedom and a spirit of reciprocal listening, are intended to raise questions and indicate perspectives that will have to be matured and made clearer by the reflection of the local Churches in the year that separates us from the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops planned for October 2015,” the document reads.
“These are not decisions that have been made nor simply points of view. All the same, the collegial path of the bishops and the involvement of all God’s people under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will lead us to find roads of truth and mercy for all. This is the wish that, from the beginning of our work, Pope Francis has extended to us, inviting us to the courage of the faith and the humble and honest welcome of the truth in charity.”
The full text of the document can be found at: http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/13/0751/03037.html