Getting lost in “sideshows” such as homosexual unions is one of the “big negatives” of the Vatican summit on marriage, according to South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier.
“You can’t be distracted by sideshows,” the Cardinal said in an interview with Vatican Radio on Friday. “It’s a sideshow whether we should be talking about same-sex unions as marriages or not marriages. That’s really a sideshow.”
Curiously, the Vatican Radio article on the interview, which faithfully transcribed much of the conversation, omitted the Cardinal’s reference to “same-sex unions” altogether, preferring instead to leave the topic of “sideshows” without any clear reference point. Fortunately, the website included a taped recording of the conversation, which allowed for fact-checking.
Tangential topics like same-sex unions take the attention away from the real issues, the Cardinal suggested. “The majority of the people who are involved in marriage…those are the ones that need us to be with them” and help find answers to their problems, he said.
“We are here to describe the problems that marriage and family life are facing. We must be clear on what those problems are,” he added.
The real problem, Napier noted, came with Monday’s publication of a summary of the bishops’ discussions.
Things were going swimmingly in the Vatican summit until then, the Cardinal said, at which point people got “very angry.”
The Cardinal said he had “never been in a Synod where there was such a good atmosphere.”
Then came the publication of the report, “and this was not to the liking of many Synod Fathers,” he said. According to Napier, the bishops took issue with the fact that the opinions of “one or two people” were presented “as if it was the considered opinion of the whole synod. And that makes people very angry about that,” he said.
He said that there were two issues in particular that got people “hot around the collar.” One was “presenting homosexual unions as if they were a very positive thing.” The second one regarded broken marriages “and the fact that people should be facilitated to get access to the sacraments,” Napier said, referring to the push to offer Holy Communion to divorced Catholics who have been civilly remarried.
The Cardinal noted that these two issues had not been properly debated, so when the bishops saw them published as if they were a consensus, “it caused a lot of hurt.” As a result, Napier said, “that beautiful spirit of openness suddenly got a little bit cloudy.”
Then the news that the group reports were not going to be published caused “much disappointment.” Why publish something that we haven’t seen, the Cardinal queried, and then not publish what we had seen and composed?
This caused “suspicion” and “loss of trust,” he asserted.
The Cardinal also said that he missed a more spiritual tone in the discussions.
He said it repeatedly occurred to him that in the documents they have been working on they are saying that these situations are difficult, and they were sympathizing and offering encouragement. “But we are not saying anything about repentance, turning around, conversion, and yet those were the very first words Jesus used when he started his mission: ‘Repent and believe the Good News.'”
This week Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Napier to the drafting committee for the final report on the synod, after continued complaints from the bishops about the quality of Monday’s text.
The appointment followed comments by German Cardinal Walter Kasper, downplaying the importance of the input from the Africans.