False hopes built up by an initial, unreviewed draft of a Vatican statement on marriage were dashed Saturday as the final document was released without earlier language on “valuing” the homosexual orientation.
The final document, or “relatio,” considerably shortened the section on homosexuality, and placed references to homosexuality in the context of the experiences that some families face, reiterating that homosexual unions cannot be compared even remotely to God’s plan for marriage and family.
A vast majority of the bishops gathered in the Vatican had expressed displeasure with the earlier draft, written by Italian Archbishop Bruno Forte, saying it did not faithfully represent their discussions and had not been reviewed by them prior to its release on the Vatican website.
The final document was substantially amended, and was voted on by all the bishops present, paragraph by paragraph.
A statement by the gay-rights organization DignityUSA said they were “deeply disappointed” by the final report. “Unfortunately, today, doctrine won out over pastoral need.”
In his blog, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, another gay-rights group, said that after “a week of anticipating that the synod of bishops would do the right thing and approve its draft statements which were so welcoming of lesbian and gay people,” he found the final negative outcome to be “disappointing.”
Mainstream media reports distorted the actual sequence of events, and sought to make it look as if the bishops had changed their minds.
An Associated Press article, for instance, begins with the line “Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday.” The bishops, however, had already made it abundantly clear that the “landmark welcome” was the work of one drafter, and was not “theirs” to begin with.
In other words, rather than going back on some former statement of theirs, the bishops are finally speaking for themselves. South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, for instance, had recently said that talk about same-sex marriage was a “sideshow” that distracted attention from the real issues at hand. The new document makes clear that this was not the focus of the summit.
The media also seem to be trying to create a narrative where the “good” liberal pope was somehow thwarted by the “bad” conservative bishops. Several mainstream outlets falsely attributed progressive opinions to Pope Francis in an apparent attempt to paint a division between him and the bishops.
A report by the Guardian newspaper was titled “Catholic bishops veto gay-friendly statements leaving Pope Francis the loser.” The article states that Pope Francis had “lost out to powerful conservatives in the Roman Catholic church,” but offers not a shred of evidence to support that version of what had happened.
A BBC report erroneously states that “Pope Francis’ proposals were rebuffed,” when in reality the Pope made no specific proposals at all, other than that the bishops should speak their minds in a spirit of freedom.
In fact, neither in his address at the synod hall Saturday, nor during his closing homily Sunday did the Pope even mention the question of homosexuality. Francis also had nothing to do with the text of the earlier draft.
The Pope expressed his joy that the synod had gone so well, and an objective reader gets no sense that the pope had been frustrated in any way.
The BBC piece selectively cites Francis’ remarks at the end of the synod cautioning against “hostile inflexibility,” but fails to mention that in the very next paragraph he was equally critical of “destructive laxity,” which, he said, “in the name of a false mercy would bind up wounds before they have been cared for and healed, treating symptoms rather than the disease.”
This, Francis said, is the temptation of “progressives and liberals.”
Francis went on to say that in the synod hall he had noted on the part of some of the bishops the “temptation to neglect the ‘deposit of faith’ [Church doctrine], considering themselves not guardians of the teaching but its owners and masters.”
These are hardly the words of a pope seeking to overthrow Church doctrine.
A New York Times piece bore the title “No Consensus as Synod Ends,” and claimed that the Vatican synod “ended on Saturday without consensus among the bishops in attendance on what to say about gays,” despite the fact that the two paragraphs referring to homosexuality received votes of 118-62 and 159-21, with the first figures representing approval and the second disapproval.
More importantly, the paragraphs that were more ambiguous about homosexuality had already been scrapped altogether by the bishops and did not even make it into the final document.
Reviewing the vote tallies for the final text, in fact, one cannot help but be struck by the remarkable consensus among the bishops.
One thing that clearly emerges with the final document is that the bishops intended to underscore marriage itself and steer attention away from the question of homosexuality, which was never meant to be the focus of the summit.
Perhaps that is what has the mainstream media so upset.