The official midterm report from the Synod of Bishops, which uses strikingly conciliatory language toward divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and same-sex unions, has proven highly controversial inside and outside the synod hall, with some synod fathers saying it does not accurately reflect the assembly's views.
Following a nearly hourlong speech Oct. 13 by Cardinal Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, who, as the synod's relator, has the task of guiding the discussion and synthesizing its results, 41 of the 184 synod fathers present took the floor to comment the same morning, the Vatican said.
According to the Vatican's summary of their remarks, which did not quote bishops by name in accordance with synod rules, a number of synod fathers objected that Cardinal Erdo's text lacked certain necessary references to Catholic moral teaching.
"In regard to homosexuality, there was noted the need for welcoming, with the right degree of prudence, so as not to create the impression of a positive valuation of that orientation," the summary said. "It was hoped that the same care would be taken in regard to cohabitation."
Bishops also remarked on the midterm report's scarce references to the concept of sin, and encouraged the assembly to emulate the "prophetic tone of Jesus, to avoid the risk of conforming to the mentality of today's world."
Regarding one of the synod's most discussed topics, a proposal by German Cardinal Walter Kasper to make it easier for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion, at least one bishop argued that it would be "difficult to welcome some exceptions without in reality turning it into a general rule."
Some members of the synod made their objections public.
U.S. Cardinal Raymond L. Burke, prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told Catholic World Report that the midterm report "advances positions which many synod fathers do not accept and, I would say, as faithful shepherds of the flock cannot accept. Clearly, the response to the document in the discussion which immediately followed its presentation manifested that a great number of synod fathers found it objectionable."
Cardinal Burke accused leaders of the synod of giving the public a distorted image of the proceedings, almost all of which are closed to the press.
"All of the information regarding the synod is controlled by the General Secretariat of the synod, which clearly has favored from the beginning the positions expressed" in the midterm report, the cardinal said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the approach at work, which is certainly not of the church."
Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, Poland, president of the Polish bishops' conference, told Vatican Radio that Cardinal Erdo's speech was not acceptable to many synod fathers, because it departed from the theology of St. John Paul II and reflected an ideology hostile to marriage by seeming to approve of same-sex couples raising children, among other ways.
The midterm report "should be an incentive to fidelity, family values, but instead seems to accept everything as it is," the archbishop said.
The controversy over the report prompted the synod's General Secretariat to issue a statement Oct. 14, lamenting that a "value has been attributed to the document that does not correspond to its nature" and emphasizing that it is a "working document, which summarizes the interventions and debate of the first week, and is now being offered for discussion by the members of the synod."
The bishops were to work in small groups of about 20 each, discussing Cardinal Erdo's speech and presenting their conclusions to the entire assembly Oct. 16.
Speaking to reporters Oct. 14, Cardinal Wilfrid F. Napier of Durban, South Africa, said his group had found in the midterm report "quite a lot of things which are expressed in a way which we certainly wouldn't feel that are very helpful to giving a clear idea of where the church stands on some of the issues that are being raised."
"Individual things that were said by individuals, may have been repeated a couple of times, are put in here as if they really do reflect the feeling of the whole synod. They've been picked up by the media then and made to be the message of the synod. I think that's where the upset is," he said.
The cardinal would not specify the statements or topics in question. When asked about media reports that Cardinal Erdo's speech represented a new overture to divorced Catholics and homosexuals, he said, "That's one of the reasons why there's been such an upset among the synod fathers, because we're now working from a position that's virtually irredeemable. The message has gone out, 'this is what the synod is saying, this is what the Catholic Church is saying,' and it's not what we are saying at all."
The cardinal said the midterm report accurately reflected bishops' calls to drop "very harsh language that alienates people," such as cohabitating couples, who act in conflict with church teachings, but he said Cardinal Erdo had not suggested the teachings themselves would change.
"My worry is that the message has gone out—and it's not a true message—that this synod has taken up these positions, and whatever we say hereafter is going to be as if we're doing some damage control, which is certainly not what is in my mind," Cardinal Napier said.