Grant Gallicho

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Synod day 14 presser the second: that's a wrap.

At the conclusion of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, the Vatican released the final version of the text summarizing the discussions over the past two weeks. (At present, the text is available only in Italian.) The synod fathers voted on each of the document's sixty-two paragraphs. Three sections on controversial issues did not receive the necessary two-thirds majority to pass: two paragraphs on Communion for the divorced and remarried and one on gay people. None was particularly revolutionary. The sections on divorced and remarried Catholics simply reported that some synod fathers favored finding a way to readmit such Catholics to Communion, and others wanted to maintain current practice. Likewise, the paragraph about gay people was rather tame. It referred to a 2003 document from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which hold that there are "absolutely not grounds" for calling same-sex unions "similar or even remotely analagous" to traditional marriage, and reemphasized the obvious truth that gay people should be treated with respect.

This was the second Vatican press conference of the day, and it was delayed by a man who hasn't said much during the synod proceedings: Pope Francis. At the conclusion of the final session, he delivered a speech urging the church to find a path between rigorism and laxism (a theme Cardinal Walter Kasper has often touched on). He warned against a "hostile ridigity" that would "lock us into the letter of the law," and he complained about the "false mercy" of "progressives" who would rather bandage wounds than heal them. On the subject of the church's mission to care for its people, Francis quoted retired Pope Benedict XVI at some length. As for the well-reported disagreements between the synod fathers, the pope said he would have been" very concerned and saddened if everyone was in agreement, or if they remained silent in a false peace." Instead, Francis continued, "I saw and heard--with joy and gratitude--speech after speech full of faith, doctrinal and pastoral zeal, wisdom, frankness, and courage." When Francis finished speaking, the synod fathers gave him a five-minute standing ovation.

We know so many details about the relatio because of Pope Francis's rather stunning decision to publish the vote totals for every paragraph--and to include those sections that did not win a two-thirds majority. The relatio remains a working document. It will be sent to the world's bishops conferences for further reflection and study in advance of next October's synod on the family.

When the synod reconvenes, it won't be quite the same. Some who participated in this year's meeting won't be back (I'm thinking of papal critic Cardinal Raymond Burke). And Francis will likely select new cardinals come February. Why might a new-look synod matter? Because the sections that failed still had majority support. The paragraph on gay people, for example, failed by just six votes. But the synod fathers who want divorced and remarried Catholics to be able to receive the Eucharist have a longer row to hoe. Those sections failed by larger margins--and they did nothing more than state what had been discussed.

Whatever happens over the next year, one thing is clear: In calling for open debate among the world's bishops, and by allowing the whole church to see how that debate unfolds, Pope Francis has restored synodality to the church. Let's hope there's no going back.

The presser in tweets, after the jump.

Synod day 14 presser the first: morning message.

This morning the Vatican released the synod's final "message" to families. The text, which had input "from every continent," according to one cardinal, was approved by 158 of the synod's 174 voting members. Two things about this synod's message are unusual: First, it's quite short. Second, it's not the synod's final word. This time the synod fathers will release a final version of the report that sparked controversy earlier this week. The message does not address any of the contentious issues that draft touched on. Homosexuality is not mentioned at all. Neither is cohabitation. And as for Communion for the divorced and remarried, the message only says that the synod discussed the question.

Instead, the message acknowledges the challenges facing families today--including economic pressures, war, women who suffer violence, children who are abused, and the victims of human trafficking. It also recognizes how difficult it can be to remain faithful to a spouse. "Failures give rise to new relationships, new couples, new civil unions, and new marriages, creating family situations which are complex and problematic, where the Christian choice is not obvious." While emphasizing that the "authentic encounter" is found in the marriage "sacrament, where God sets his seal, his presence, and grace," the synod fathers express their admiration for "the fidelity of so many families who endure these trials with courage, faith, and love."

The message also focused on charity as "another expression of fraternal communion." To give to the needy is to give witness to "the truth, to light, and to the meaning of life."

Finally, the synod fathers remind families that the Eucharist is the "high point" that ties together all the "threads of communion with God and neighbor." In the Eucharist, God "gives himself to all of us, pilgrims through history towards the goal of the final encounter when 'Christ is all and in all' (Col 3:11)." This is where the synod fathers mention that they have been looking at the issue of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion. But that is all they say about it.

"We synod fathers ask you walk with us towards the next synod. The presence of the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their modest home hovers over you."

Later today the synod will vote on the final text of the relatio, which was read aloud this morning. It won't be a straight up or down vote. Rather, the synod fathers will vote on each of the three sections individually. At this morning's press conference, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, appointed by the pope to serve as one of the drafters of the document, said he expected the relatio to be approved by a considerable majority of the synod fathers, and that the pope would choose to publish it immediately.

Ravasi was asked what he made of Cardinal Raymond Burke's complaint that Pope Francis had not intervened in the synod with a firm statement of Catholic doctrine on marriage. Conservatives have been bringing up Burke throughout the synod press briefings. This time a representative of Lifesitenews cited Burke's recent complaint that the pope has "done a lot of harm to the church" by not openly stating his position. Ravasi chuckled. "Roma locuta, causa finita," he said. Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai said the notion that the pope should intervene in such a way was a misunderstanding of the synod process. The pope listens while the bishops discuss, he said.

Picking up on that theme, Ravasi praised the synod process initiated by Pope Francis. He recalled that Peter and James confronted one another at the Council of Jerusalem, with positive results. The cardinal explained that he much prefers the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" atmosphere. That openness, he continued, has produced a final relatio text that is "choral" in nature--that is, it carries many voices heard over the past two weeks. How much will it resemble the first draft? Most of the amendments from the small groups have been incorporated, but Ravasi suggested that the document's welcoming tone would remain. Jesus's approach to lepers is the model for the way the church approaches those in "irregular" relationships. The credibly of the message of the church, the cardinal said, depends on its welcome.

Come back in a few hours for news of the second of today's press conferences, which will start at 12:30 p.m. Eastern--including the final report on the synod. Today's presser in tweets, after the jump.

Synod day 13 presser: almost there.

At this morning's Vatican press conference, not much news. Notable comments came from Cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German bishops conference--and one of the nine cardinals advising Pope Francis on church governance. Marx said he was surprised by the media's response to the synod's midterm report. He said that the synod has been marked by free and frank expression, and that the contributions of Latin American and African bishops have been especially important. Marx explained that most German bishops support Cardinal Walter Kasper's proposal that the church find a way for certain divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Kasper has posed a question; he hasn't come up with a definitive plan. "But I see many people think differently." Yet, "obviously" church practice can change. And "saying that the doctrine will never change...is a restrictive view." Marx also noted that Kasper's proposal isn't the only issue facing the synod: "We don't want to speak only of this."

The cardinal remains convinced that the church needs to find new moral language to address the challenges facing families today--the language of black and white, all or nothing won't do. Human life is much more complex. For example, Marx noted that half of Catholic marriages in Germany are not sacramental because one of the partners is not baptized. This is why, in part, Marx suggested that there may be a working group to study the law of gradualism (the idea that men and woman approach a moral ideal in steps over time). The magisterium, Marx argued, is not a collection of static phrases. We must think about the relationship between docrtine and pastoral care.

On the question of homosexuality, Marx explained that the church does not condemn a sexual orientation, but "homosexual acts" remain "unacceptable." Yet he cannot say that long-term, caring gay relationships are without value. We need nuances, he said, distinctions. (Someone who changes partners daily is another matter, Marx added.) Likewise, the cardinal continued, we can't tell gay people that they cannot experience the Gospel. "Nobody is excluded" from the church, he said. "Nobody is superfluous. Exclusion is not in the language of the church."

Given the well-reported disagreements on this and other issues, will the synod fathers be able to agree on a final report? The debate "has been very intense at times," Marx said. And media coverage has influenced the small-group conversations--by making them more responsible. But "let's start from the idea that we can," Marx said, adding that he would be surprised if they couldn't reach consensus. "What is clear that we need to find common views."

The press conference in tweets, after the jump:

Synod day 12 presser: vive la différence.

What's news out of today's Vatican press conference? Plenty. First, it was announced that summaries of bishops' amendments to the synod's midterm report have been made public. (Perhaps this will calm those who hyperventilated about the "secrecy" of the synod process.) Second, it looks like the pope is assembling a team of rivals to draft the final synod report: The Vatican announced that Pope Francis has added two people to the committee that will draft the final report on the synod: Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne and Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa--who, you'll recall, criticized the initial draft of the relatio as misleadingly claiming the synod had discussed some subjects that had not actually come up. The Holy See later said in a statement that the report did in fact present an accurate picture of the conversations. (Perhaps this will quiet those who have crowed that Pope Francis is pushing his own agenda at the synod.) Third, the conservative Catholic blogosphere has been lighting up with claims that Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had decried the synod relatio as "shameful." This morning the cardinal denied that he said any such thing, claiming that La Repubblica, the outlet that first ran the explosive quote (in a strange, unsourced way), misreported him. (Looking forward to those retractions.) Fourth, the third section English version of the midterm report was edited to replace language about "welcoming" gay people with "providing for" them. The original Italian, however, remains unchanged: accogliere--which means "to welcome."** Fifth, and perhaps most interesting, were Cardinal Christoph Schonborn's comments.

He emphasized that Pope Francis is asking the church to accompany its people, to walk with them, not to judge them. He said that the tensions between doctrine and Jesus' mercy were a "permanent" reality for the church. The synod is like a family, the cardinal explained: mom says be careful, dad says be not afraid. Schonborn is the current editor of the Catechism. He predicted that John Paul II's version wouldn't last as long as the one that followed the Council of Trent. He also stated the obvious about John Paul's Theology of the Body: it constitutes a development of doctrine. The cardinal endorsed the law of gradualism, saying, "There is an ideal we want to reach. But we do it with patience, over time." And he favored looking for the positive elements even in "disordered" relationships. The church looks first at the person, not at the person's sexual orienation, he said. That's basic Christian doctrine. The church shouldn't look first to the bedrooms of its people, Schonborn continued, but to their living rooms. He spoke of gay couples he knows, praising one partner who cared for another who was seriously ill. "It was exemplary," he said. "Full stop." ***

Finally, and perhaps most important, Schonborn praised this as the first "authentic synod" he has ever attended--and he's been highly critical of previous ones. This time it's different. This synod was convened by the pope of process.

Tweet stream after the jump.

No, Cardinal Kasper is not a racist. (UPDATED)

(Cardinal Kasper now denies that anyone from Zenit asked for an interview, and that he "never spoke this way about Africans." Zenit has pulled the interview. And the interviewer has published his response, complete with a full transcript and audio. Scroll to the end of this post for more.)

Yesterday, Edward Pentin, who sometimes identifies himself as a representative of the National Catholic Register, sometimes the Catholic Herald, published a brief interview with Cardinal Walter Kasper. Apparently Pentin got hold of Kasper as the cardinal was leaving the synod hall, and asked the obvious questions about his proposal to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Kasper said he believes support for that position is growing among the synod fathers.

Then Pentin--who claims he has seen "evidence of an engineered synod"--asked about the five people Pope Francis asked to help write the interim report on the discussions, and whether the pontiff was "trying to push things through according to his wishes." Kasper denied that the pope was manipulating the process, and then he elaborated on the difficulty of writing a summary document that accounts for the many cultures represented at the synod:

The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.

Pentin had some follow up questions, naturally.

But are African participants listened to in this regard?

No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

They’re not listened to?

In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

Those comments, even though they do little more than state the obvious truth that a one-size-fits-all pastoral approach doesn't work in a global church, have occasioned much flouncery.

Synod day 11 presser: Everything is awesome.

Judging by bishops' comments at today's Vatican press conference, you'd scarcely be able to tell that yesterday a cardinal went in front of the world press and claimed their coverage of the synod's working document had put the bishops in "an irredeemable position." Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz--president of the U.S. bishops conference--did not show any displeasure with the relatio--the document summarizing the first week of synod discussions. Instead they shared some of their own small groups' amendments, while speaking more or less positively about the working text (Kurtz even called it "wonderful"). Reporters gave them ample opportunity to distance themselves from the relatio, and they passed.

The presser in tweets, afer the jump:

Synod day 10 presser: Walk back?

That didn't take very long. A mere twenty-four hours after the Vatican released the Synod on the Family's surprising document summarizing the discussions so far, Holy See spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, is trying to calm everybody down. That relatio post disceptationem shocked Vatican observes when it called on the church to "appreciate the positive values" present in "irregular" relationships--including couples who cohabitate, those who have divorced and remarried, and gay couples. As soon as today's press conference began, Lombardi emphasized that the text its merely provisional--a point he made again later in the briefing. "The contents of the document were not properly understood," he explained. It is very much a "work in progress." The smaller language groups, he continued, are revising the text, which will be released later in the week.

When it came time for Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa to speak, his comments effectively undermined the relatio. He too complained that the media "misinterpreted" the text. But he also suggested that the document misleadingly presents some subjects as though the synod had discussed and agreed on them; he claimed that simply wasn't the case. After being prompted by an employee of the website Lifesitenews, Napier shared a conversation he had with Cardinal Raymond Burke, who shared his view that the relatio had presented ideas the synod fathers had not discussed. Later in the briefing, he was asked whether he was "disowning" the text. "We are working on the document," Napier replied. And after the bishops vote on it, "that's when we own it."

A Holy See statement issued after the press conference, however, takes a different view.

Twin Cities archdiocese settles abuse suit.

At a press conference today, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota, with attorney Jeff Anderson, announced the settlement of a sexual-abuse lawsuit that has rocked the Minnesota church for over a year. Plaintiff John Doe alleged that by failing to disclose information about predator priests, both dioceses had created a public nuisance. This is the first time a diocese has settled such a suit. The full terms of the agreement remain unclear (financial terms have not been made public), but both dioceses have agreed to implement a set of seventeen protocols governing their response to cases of accused priests.

Several of the protocols simply require the dioceses to maintain policies they already have, such as not reassigning credibly accused priests and providing regular abuse-awareness training to staff and volunteers. (A credible allegation is one that is not "manifestly false.") But the protocols go further. Both dioceses agreed to make public the personnel files of accused priests (after a canonical proceeding has concluded). They also agreed to publish the names not only of accused priests, but also the names of priests who are taken out of ministry "under circumstances that arise, in whole or in part, out of accusations or risk of sexual abuse of a minor." Perhaps most surprisingly, the diocese agreed to obtain signed statements from every priest affirming that he has not sexually abused any minors, and that he has no knowledge of abuse committed by any other priest or employee of the diocese.

Synod halfway report: Tremors.

Today at the Vatican, a midterm report on the synod was read aloud to the bishops who have been meeting over the past week to discuss the challenges facing families today. While the five-thousand-word text is not a magisterial document--it's a summary of the conversations so far--many of the synod fathers were likely surprised by what they heard. The relatio post disceptationem, as the paper is called, urges the church to "appreciate the positive values" in "irregular" relationships--that is, couples who cohabitate, those who have divorced and remarried without an annulment, and gay couples. Some bishops are already asking for clarification.

While affirming Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage throughout, the text draws support for this approach from Vatican II's Lumen Gentium: “Although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure...these elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic unity.” In other words, if the church can acknowledge elements of value in other religions--even polytheistic ones--then why can't it affirm the goodness present in the "irregular" relationships of its own members?

Synod day 7 presser.

At today's Vatican press conference: Archbishop Diarmiud Martin said, among other things, that the church must find a way to explain to young people what the commitment to marriage is about, that several laypeople have asked for a reevaluation of natural family planning for economic issues, and that "there can be a development of doctrine." That a bishop would say such a thing shouldn't be terribly significant. But it is. More after the jump.