Synod Releases Relatio; Misinterpretations Start Confusion

by Gjergji Evangjeli


The Synod of Bishops released a Relatio post Discepationem or “Summary after the Debate” relating to the topics that the Synod Fathers discussed during this month’s gathering to talk about issues relating to the family. The 58-paragraph document is supposed to relay the different points which were brought up during debate and which should be considered in the drafting of the final document of the Synod, which came out on October 19. As soon as the document was released, however, there was some degree of confusion, as this release was interpreted as a finalized decision in regards to the Synod and some of the phrases in the English version of the document (which was originally written and relayed in Italian) were taken to mean that the Catholic Church has shifted Her views on certain matters.

Seemingly adding to the complications of the document is the fact that the English translation, which is an unofficial translation, was produced in about half an hour and was meant to be a tool for reporters who were not confident in their Italian to use as a reference. Given the rather hurried production of the English version and the fact that this document is not supposed to be seen as the final word in any of the subjects it treats, the confusion that has ensued seems to be a case of unfortunate miscommunication. In fact, the relatio ends by pointing out, “These proposed reflections, […] are intended to raise questions and indicate outlooks that will later be developed and clarified by [...] the XIV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October, 2015.”


Throughout the past week, the summary has received sharp criticism, especially by the Polish contingent of bishops, for its apparent indication that the principle of graduality can be applied to the question of couples that have since separated and are in civil marriages with other individuals. Cardinal Kasper’s initial contention has been that these couples should not be denied the Eucharist after a certain penitential period, but the relatio, while using the language of graduality concerning the divorced and remarried, positively affirmed the Catholic doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage (§ 14, 15, 46). The final version of what the principle of graduality as related to these couples and the ultimate elaboration of the Synod on this issue, however, will remain open until next year.


A mistranslation of the Italian word valutando into its English cognate “valuing” has also caused some measure of confusion. This paragraph, which considers the relationship of the Church to homosexual persons, seemed to some to be suggesting that the Church is shifting to a more positive evaluation of homosexual unions. In the midst of confusion regarding this issue, however, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, prefect for the CDF, has taken the opportunity to remind the faithful regarding their duties of love and respect toward homosexual persons, highlighting a 1986 document titled “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” which was signed by then-prefect Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and approved by Pope St. John Paul II, which states, “it is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs.” Commenting on the seeming confusion started by the relatio, Mueller stressed that, “pastoral care for homosexuals has always been part of the Church’s teaching, and the Church has never gotten rid of or dismissed homosexual from her pastoral programs.”


Nonetheless, several high-ranking Cardinals, Raymond Cardinal Burke not withstanding, have noted that the document has some deep problems and that it will need to go through some transformation before the work for which the Synod was convened can be considered complete. The group charged with compiling the final draft of the Synod document, known as a Relatio Synodi, is made up of the General Secretary of the Synod, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri; the General Rapporteur, Péter Cardinal Erdö; the president and deputy of the Commision for the message, Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi; Archbishop Victor Fernandez, rector of the Catholic University of Argentina; the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas; Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla; Donal Cardinal Wuerl of Washington; and Peter Kang U-il, Bishop of Cheju. The Relatio Synodi will be reviewed by the Odinary Assembly of Bishops in 2015, after which an authoritative document on the subject will be produced.


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