When the hastily written interim report was read aloud before all the bishops gathered for the Vatican marriage summit last October, it was met with consternation and disapproval. At the time, it was generally assumed that Pope Francis had never seen the text, but now the Cardinal in charge of organizing the summit has claimed that the document was “seen and approved by the Pope.”
The 11-page text was billed as a summary of the bishops’ discussions, but some were quick to say it was nothing of the sort. The text spoke of “positive aspects of civil unions and cohabitation” and challenged the Christian community to welcome homosexuals, “accepting and valuing their sexual orientation.”
Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s financial czar and a close adviser of Pope Francis, called the document “tendentious and incomplete” and said that it needed to be “enhanced and corrected.” According to Pell, three-quarters of the participants in the Synod hall expressed opposition to the document.
South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier said that the interim summary “is not what we’re saying at all.” He then added, “No matter how we try correcting that … there’s no way of retrieving it.”
“Whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we’re doing some damage control,” he said.
The final document had to be substantially amended, and all the bishops present voted on the new version, paragraph by paragraph. The new report removed the problematic language that had so disturbed the bishops.
This past week, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Synod, seemed to place responsibility for the infamous interim report on Pope Francis’s shoulders. “The documents were all seen and approved by the Pope,” he said, specifically mentioning “the Relatio post disceptationem” [interim report]. Baldisseri is considered a supporter of progressive trends in dealing with marriage, notably those put forward by German Cardinal Walter Kasper.
Pope Francis himself downplayed the importance of the interim report, saying there were only three official documents from the Synod, and the interim report was not one of them.
Last October’s Synod was the first of a two-part meeting, and the concluding assembly will take place in the Vatican in October 2015. The United States Bishops Conference has elected a solidly conservative team of bishops to represent the U.S. Church.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.