Lost in La Traslazione

Jim Burroway

October 16th, 2014

There are truly strange things going on at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family. On Monday, the Synod released its Relatio Post Disceptationem (literally, Report after Discussions), a sort of a first draft for an upcoming Relatio Synodi, or Report of the Synod. The Relatio Post Disceptationem contained some rather remarkable language under the heading of “Welcoming Homosexual Persons,” which began, “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? ” It also recognized that “without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.”

On the negative side, the statement also “affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman,” and denounced international efforts to tie aid to “regulations inspired by gender ideology.” But overall, as I explained on Monday, the positive aspects of the statement represented a tremendous shift in how the Church was willing to look at gay Catholics, and gay people generally.

Almost immediately, there was considerable blowback from the more conservative elements within the Church. Given that almost all of the bishops at the Synod were appointed either by Pope John Paul II or his even more conservative successor Benedict XVI, that blowback is not a small thing. Wednesday, the Synod released its Unofficial Summary of the Free Discussions in the Assembly which took place on Tuesday. That summary of discussions, which is akin to meeting minutes, revealed that one of the concerns expressed within the Synod was that the final Relatio Synodi should not leave “the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency (homosexuality) on the part of the Church.” The pushback now was well underway.

Today, that pushback gathered seam as the Vatican’s press office circulated a new English translation of Monday’s Relatio. The new translation now reads, with the substantive changes highlighted in bold:

Providing for homosexual persons

50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing […] them […] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?

51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.

52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to […] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority. [Emphasis mine]

There are the four substantive changes:

1. In the phrasing above, “Providing for” highlighted in both instances used to read “welcoming.”

2. The phrase “A place of fellowship” used to read “a fraternal space.”

3. The question, “Are our communities capable of this…” used to read, “Are our communities capable of providing that…” in referring to “offer(ing) them a welcoming home.”

4. And the phrase which speaks of couples making sacrifices which are “a valuable support in the life of these persons” used to read “”a precious support in the life of the partners.”

If you scroll to the bottom of the document, you’ll see that the original diffinatve text is in Italian. When you go to the Italian version of the Relatio, you find this (I’ve highlighted the points of contention):

Accogliere le persone omosessuali

50. Le persone omosessuali hanno doti e qualità da offrire alla comunità cristiana: siamo in grado di accogliere queste persone, garantendo loro uno spazio di fraternità nelle nostre comunità? Spesso esse desiderano incontrare una Chiesa che sia casa accogliente per loro. Le nostre comunità sono in grado di esserlo accettando e valutando il loro orientamento sessuale, senza compromettere la dottrina cattolica su famiglia e matrimonio?

51. La questione omosessuale ci interpella in una seria riflessione su come elaborare cammini realistici di crescita affettiva e di maturità umana ed evangelica integrando la dimensione sessuale: si presenta quindi come un’importante sfida educativa. La Chiesa peraltro afferma che le unioni fra persone dello stesso sesso non possono essere equiparate al matrimonio fra uomo e donna. Non è nemmeno accettabile che si vogliano esercitare pressioni sull’atteggiamento dei pastori o che organismi internazionali condizionino aiuti finanziari all’introduzione di normative ispirate all’ideologia del gender.

52. Senza negare le problematiche morali connesse alle unioni omosessuali si prende atto che vi sono casi in cui il mutuo sostegno fino al sacrificio costituisce un appoggio prezioso per la vita dei partners. Inoltre, la Chiesa ha attenzione speciale verso i bambini che vivono con coppie dello stesso sesso, ribadendo che al primo posto vanno messi sempre le esigenze e i diritti dei piccoli.

The Italian version has not changed one iota since its original release on Monday. But when comparing the authoritative Italian version to the revised English, Italian speakers would quickly observe the following:

1. Accogliere means welcoming, no ifs, ands or buts.

2. The phrase “A place of fellowship,” which used to read “a fraternal space,” is renedered in Italian as “spazio di fraternità.” It seems to me the original translation, “a fraternal space,” is far closer to the Italian. I’m not sure what that change in English might signify, but whoever inserted that change certainly had something in mind.

3. The question, “Are our communities capable of this…”, is interesting. It used to read, “Are our communities capable of providing that…” with both pronouns referring to “offer(ing) them a welcoming home.” In this case, “welcoming home” (“casa accogliente”) wasn’t changed, although the meaning of accogliente was changed elsewhere. But even more interesting is that the Italian asks whether “our coommunities are capable di esserlo accettando” — “of being accepting…” a phrase that never appeared in either English translation.

4. And the phrase that used to describe couples providing “a precious support in the life of the partners” is clearly rendered in the original Italian as providing a prezioso support in the life of dei partners.” It doesn’t take much of a translator to see that the original was far more correct.

And by the way, the French and Spanish versions continue to use the same “welcoming/fraternal/accepting/partner” terminology as the original Italian. Only the English version is different.

So what’s going on?

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said English-speaking bishops had requested the changes, arguing that the first translation was hasty and error-ridden.

When Lombardi was shown how significantly the meaning had changed, he pledged to investigate and didn’t rule out a third version.

Lombardi stressed that the original Italian remains the official text, and noted that the draft is being revised top-to-bottom for a final report which will go to a vote among bishops on Saturday.

Michelle Boorstein, the Washington Post’s religion reporter, goes a bit further:

Asked at the news conference Thursday why the document was changed — and only in English — the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said he was simply given the translation from the group of clergy who are working in English and was sharing it.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a priest-journalist covering the synod, said the clergy are “in a panic. They are afraid this welcoming language will confuse people. They’ll think the church is going to change its teaching.” None of the 190 clergy are pushing for that, he said.

“You get the impression they are very concerned, they want more theology in the document. They want more church teaching in the document. They want more encouragement to Catholics who are struggling to follow church teaching. They are very much afraid if they talk too much about what’s good in these incomplete and impartial relationships that people will say: ‘Then why should I bother doing what the church teaches?'”

What seems clear to me is that the final text will be rather different from the interim report. Gerard O’Connel, writing for the Jesuit news magazine America, spoke with American Archbishop Joseph Kurtz (President of the U.S. bishops’ conference) Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, and Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization to get a sense of what the final document might look like:

From the comments of these three prelates, and others that I have spoken to, it would seem that the section of the interim report which speaks about “welcoming homosexual persons” (Numbers: 50, 51, 52) will be considerably revised, perhaps even re-written. Sources say some statements could be eliminated as they lack nuance and give a wrong understanding of the church’s teaching and pastoral approach.

Archbishop Kurtz said that his group here made an effort “to improve and clarify the notion of welcome,” so that it is close to church teaching and pastoral practice.

Kurtz got his way with the English translation of the interrim Relato. We’ll see what happens with the final Relatio Synodi, which will be brought to a vote on Saturday. A two-thirds approval of the Synod is required for its passage.

Mary in Austin

October 16th, 2014

This new Pope is Lucy, with the football, and anyone with any hope of humane change in the Roman Catholic Church is Charlie Brown.


October 17th, 2014

@ Mary in Austin: It’s a little more complicated than that. Whatever the Pope’s motivations for his public statements, he’s pushing in the right direction, but he’s not an autocrat: he has to accommodate the bishops, and as many have pointed out, the Curia is stacked with conservatives. We’re seeing Vatican politics in action. (Think of the Borgias.) I don’t expect a major shift in doctrine to come out of this — that’s going to depend on Francis being able to do some stacking of his own and is going to take time. A lot of time. (He’s already started — Cardinal Burke has been removed from the Signatura, and Francis has appointed a moderate to replace Francis George in Chicago, who famously likened the Gay Pride parade to a march by the KKK.) We’ll just have to see how it plays out — this is just a start.


October 17th, 2014

“. . . people will say: ‘Then why should I bother doing what the church teaches?’”

It seems a majority of the American laity think that anyway. Maybe the bishops shouldn’t be fighting so hard against a change in Church teaching.

L. C. Burgundy

October 17th, 2014

Gee, what a surprise. My skepticism was certainly warranted.

Hierarchically, the RCC is probably the most hostile church to gay people (I will leave the reasons for this to your imagination) and anyone expecting a change is going to be sorely disappointed. People from congregational church experiences especially just don’t understand that the only opinion that matters a whit in the RCC is a bishop’s opinion, and bishops are totally insulated from whatever anyone in their diocese thinks. They didn’t get their episcopal sinecure from any congregation so they just don’t care or have to care. As long as they’re in good graces with Rome, they can do and say whatever they want. And American RCC bishops don’t like any non self-hating homos.

Richard Rush

October 17th, 2014

The RCC has financial problems, so all of this seems like a delicate balancing act to maximize income. If they can be effective enough in talking out of both sides of their mouths, then the conservatives primitives will continue to give, and the gays and their allies will become more generous.

Ben in oakland

October 17th, 2014

“These people” STILL!!!!!K

They can’t even say the name, can they.


October 17th, 2014

“…..homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” Gee… how much more does one need to be like Jesus before the RCC will finally accept our gifts to be used for their own advantage?

Ben in oakland

October 17th, 2014

eddie– when we all become heterosexual.

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