Was it a Backtrack or a Pushback?

Jim Burroway

October 15th, 2014

CNN says it was a “backtrack“:

Under furious assault from conservative Catholics, the Vatican backtracked Tuesday on its surprisingly positive assessment of gays and same-sex relationships.

…In response to such reactions (from Conservative clerics), the Vatican backtracked a bit Tuesday. In a statement, it said the report on gays and lesbians was a “working document,” not the final word from Rome.

The Vatican also said that it wanted to welcome gays and lesbians in the church, but not create “the impression of a positive evaluation” of same-sex relationships, or, for that matter, of unmarried couples who live together.

Calling it a backtrack is an over-reach in my opinion. To understand what happened, it’s very important to understand what the two documents were and what they mean. The first document released Monday was a Relatio, which is nothing but an interrim report released by the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. Its weight in Catholic doctrine is nil, and its authority in Catholic practices is comparably low. Like all interim reports, it includes (very) preliminary findings, asks a bunch of questions, and proposes points to consider between now and when the Bishops gather again a year from now. But also like all interim reports, it does point to some kind of a direction in terms of how Pope Francis hopes the discussions will follow. I think this is especially true given how unceremoniously he dumped Cardinal Raymond Burke as head of the Apostolic Signatura (a sort of a Vatican Supreme Court) just before the Synod’s start. You may remember Burke. He’s the one who said this during the Synod:

Burke was also among the loudest complainers on Tuesday:

He strongly criticized yesterday’s Relatio … which the Catholic lay group Voice of the Family had called a “betrayal,” saying it proposes views that “faithful shepherds … cannot accept,” and betrays an approach that is “not of the Church.” … The relatio, he said, proposes views that many Synod fathers “cannot accept,” and that they “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 the Synod Fathers found it objectionable,” Burke told Olsen.

And Maggie Gallagher was in tears:

I hope to respond intellectually to the synod report. Tears right now are streaming from my face, and it is not about objections to welcoming gay people. There is something more profoundly at stake for me.

Is this me? In the corner?

Conservatives are furious, with some yearning for the good old days of Pope Benedict XVI’s Bavarian rigidity. And in reaction to that fury, CNN saw what they thought was a “backtrack,” which brings us to the second document released Tuesday in Italian. Here’s the rushed English translation (it’s so rushed that I had to correct part of it):

In relation to homosexuals, moreover, the need for welcome was highlighted, but with just prudence [my correction], so that the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church is not created. The same care was advised with regard to cohabitation.

As for the “just prudence,” that likely refers to the second paragraph of the Relatio’s section on “welcoming homosexual persons“:

…The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.

Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions…

Quite a bit of negativity there. I don’t think “a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the Church” is possible when we’re not considered on the same footing as heterosexual couples. But again, it’s important to understand the nature of this second document. It’s title tells you the whole story: Eleventh General Congregation: Unofficial Summary of the Free Discussions in the Assembly. If the Relatio was an interim report, then the Unofficial Summary is akin to minutes of Tuesday’s meeting and nothing more. And those minutes don’t suggest a backtrack, but rather a pushback from some of the more Conservative voices. That pushback may yet force a backtrack, but it hasn’t yet. This week, the Synod is preparing the more final Relatio Synodi, which means that this Relatio is something of a first draft of a final interrim report. It will be discussed on Thursday (another summary of speeches will be published then) and voted on next Saturday. What can we expect in the next several days? It’s very hard to know. Vatican Insider’s coverage of a press briefing after the Unofficial Summary‘s release hints at all kinds of intrigue and suspicions:

Two of the men moderating the discussions spoke at today’s briefing: the South African Wilfrid Fox Napier and the Italian Fernando Filoni. The briefing illustrated further the frank and collegial nature of the Synod debates. “Some within the circle were surprised at the media’s reactions; some seemed perplexed, as if the Pope had said, as if the Synod had decided, as if…,” the prefect of Propaganda Fide said, underlining the “extraordinary richness of the debate”. Cardinal Napier was more critical. He spoke of “dissatisfaction” among Synod participants and said the text had been “misinterpreted” partly because of the media but also because many people’s expectations are perhaps a little unrealistic. Much of the content of the relatio post disceptationem is not very helpful in getting the Church’s teaching across, Napier pointed out. He said he suspected that those leading the Synod are not committed to expressing the opinions of the entire Synod but only those of a specific group. The final document should include a “clarification”. Filoni, on the other hand, said he could not give the exact percentage of Synod Fathers who expressed concern about the text yesterday and today. He underlined that the text was generally appreciated and that the reaction to the text’s approach was essentially positive. But it needs to be improved in terms of contextualization. Regarding homosexuality, Napier said his concern is that the final document will not match the media’s take on the draft, and anything said in the future will simply look like “damage control”.

…The South African cardinal expressed surprise at the decision to publish the relatio post disceptationem, while Filoni said some in the circuli minores wondered whether it had been published by mistake. But Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained that the relatio post disceptationem “is always presented the minute it is ready” and this has been the case at every Synod. What probably caused the excitement was the “nature of the issue, which attracted a great deal of attention and raised many expectations.” Fr. Lombardi announced that Mgr. Rino Fisichella and the President of the US Bishops’ Conference, Joseph Kurtz will be attending tomorrow’s briefing. The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and the Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Reinhard Marx will speak in Thursday and Friday’s briefings, respectively.

The two Cardinals given speaking allotments are interesting choices. In 2012, Cardinal Schönborn reinstated a gay man in a registered partnership to a pastoral council after his election was vetoed by the parish priest.  Last year, he earned Lifesite News’s wrath when he urged respect for same-sex relationships. Cardinal Marx has also been critical of the Church’s approach to LGBT people, even going so far as to say that he would pray for their relationships.

Ben in oakland

October 15th, 2014

Archbishop burke? Is that like cardinal O’Brien?

and wouldn’t be a hoot if it were.

Priya Lynn

October 15th, 2014

I think it was a pushback followed by a backtrack.

Timothy Kincaid

October 15th, 2014

I’ve been annoyed at the news coverage of the Relatio. A complete absence of nuance.

In a world divided sharply into good 100% gay supporters and evil vile haters, there seems to be no place for the reporting of progress without bizarre assumptions of total change. And when it’s pointed out that this is not total change, then it’s reported as backpedaling or backtracking to that evil vile hater position.

It appears to me that the Roman Catholic church took a very large step forward. It is not the step that was reported, but there has not, as best I can see, been a retreat from the real position of that step.

We’ll see if real backtrack happens, but so far I’ve only seen sloppy reporting and mindsets that cannot get beyond dichotomy.

Priya Lynn

October 15th, 2014

A backtrack doesn’t have to mean going from 100% gay supporter to evil vile hater. Its a continuum, to say this is a backtrack isn’t to say its a total retraction of the position previously taken. A backtrack like this is just a partial retreat from the previously taken position.

Rene van Soeren

October 16th, 2014

Off topic, but I thought it might interest you: PAUL CAMERON is at it again – this time in Rome during the Synod, presenting new research ‘proving’ a correlation between homosexual sex abuse against minors and acceptance of homosexuality – see LifeSiteNews: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/positive-correlation-between-homosexual-sex-abuse-and-acceptance-of-homosex


October 16th, 2014

Jim — thanks for filling in a lot of blanks. I’m still dubious about how this is going to work out, and I think the most realistic possibility is a slight softening on the Church’s attitude toward gays. It’s nice to know some rational voices are being heard — and that hard-liners like Burke are being sidelined.

Let’s face it — in terms of politics, the Vatican is still in the Renaissance.

Jerry Sloan

October 16th, 2014

Why do you continue to defend an EVIL institution such as the Roman Catholic Church.

You are an intelligent man. When are you going to conduct studies that will show you all Abrahamic religions are just fairy tales?


October 16th, 2014

Deconstructing Maggie

“I hope to respond intellectually to the synod report.”

— There’s a first time for everything, right?

“Tears right now are streaming from my face, and it is not about objections to welcoming gay people. There is something more profoundly at stake for me.”

— Of course it’s all about Maggie…

She’s crying because she’s realizing that her life’s work to deny her fellow Americans full equality has been ineffective and futile.

And now the mere idea of a softening of HER church’s stance on non-hetero/non-celibate human beings probably has her looking up condos in Moscow and exploring conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church, because Religious-Political persecution of gays is a Russian national pastime. She can think of new “intellectual” ways to attack gays over her morning borscht.

Priya Lynn

October 16th, 2014

I missed the comments by Maggie the first time around. What a B.


October 16th, 2014

I, too, wanted to comment on poor Maggie’s statements. How many LGBT people have lost their religion thanks to the hardline stances of Maggie and her church leadership; stances that deny the grace and mercy Jesus showed to his own enemies (and LGBT people shouldn’t even be viewed as enemies, so why would they receive less grace and mercy?). How many LGBT people have been rejected by their churches, so they have, in turn, had to reject the Church? How many found comfort, strength, and guidance from church teachings, only to face rejection from its members? And she has the audacity to cry about “losing [her] religion” because the RCC is suggesting that maybe LGBT people aren’t totally, 100% evil!?!

Here’s the thing. We have Undeniable Truth and we have religion. If a religion cannot accept Undeniable Truth (ex: sexual orientation is inherent and cannot be intentionally changed) and adapt to it (ex: don’t force people to be celibate because of a characteristic they cannot change), then the religion is doomed to failure, because sooner or later people will find it much easier to reject the religion than to reject the Undeniable Truth. LGBT people have been doing it for years, losing both spiritual and physical families in the process. I guess it is your turn, now, Ms. Gallagher, to consider whether your narrow, little religion is more important than Undeniable Truth. Is there any room for mercy and grace at your table, Ms. Gallagher?

Priya Lynn

October 16th, 2014

Maggie is essentially saying the most important thing in her religion is the rejection of gays. That without that she has no religion.

Priya Lynn

October 16th, 2014

That’s messed up.

Ben in oakland

October 16th, 2014

That seems to be the message of a great deal– most decidedly NOT all– of what passes for Christinanity these days. I’m not a Christian, but I cannot imagine that.

Richard Rush

October 16th, 2014

Maggie said, “Tears right now are streaming from my face, and it is not about objections to welcoming gay people. There is something more profoundly at stake for me.”

I haven’t read the full document, but perhaps Maggie’s tears stem from a lack of increased welcoming for Catholics who marry Hindus.


October 17th, 2014

Richard, that is the whole document. She was so torn up that she couldn’t write anything else.

Richard Rush

October 17th, 2014

Nathaniel, I should have been more clear. By “full document” I meant the document issued by the RCC synod. I knew there was no “document” from Maggie.

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