VATICAN CITY — It’s one of the great mysteries of the meeting on family life taking place behind closed doors at the Vatican this week: Just where did the authors of a draft report come up with such ground-breaking language that gays had gifts to offer the church, and that even same-sex partnerships had merit?
Officially speaking, the draft report was a synthesis of the interventions from more than 200 bishops, a starting point for small working groups to propose amendments, elaborations, additions, and subtractions to the drafting committee preparing a final report that will be released on Saturday.
But conservative cardinals have said their views were not reflected in the draft. They blasted the report as “unacceptable” and said it was in sore need of an overhaul.
US Cardinal Timothy Dolan said his fellow American, hardline Cardinal Raymond Burke, reflected the view of “a good number of people in saying, boy, this document is a rough draft, does it ever need major revisions.”
“I think he’s right, he’s picked up on the side that a lot of bishops, and I would include myself, feel that it needs some major reworking,” Dolan told “CBS This Morning.”
The most contentious passage is contained in three paragraphs of the 58-paragraph report under the heading “Welcoming homosexuals.” It starts off by saying gays “have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.”
“Are our communities capable of providing (a welcoming home,) accepting and valuing their sexual orientations without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”
And it continues: “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.”
There was no reference to Catholic doctrine that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” sinful, or that gay orientation was “objectively disordered.”
Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, the main author of the report or “relator,” defended the document, but acknowledged problems and said there was ample room for improvement.
He told Vatican Radio that the 16 officials who drafted it struggled to synthesize the positions of 30-40 bishops on any given topic and rushed to finish it on time. He acknowledged that there may have been instances when the report said “many” bishops had proposed a certain position when only “some” had.
But he said the final paper would provide “greater clarity, that doesn’t leave any doubt in any chapter because the faithful need a clear voice, an encouragement and an instruction.”
Erdo has already named the official who wrote the section on gays, Monsignor Bruno Forte, appointed by Pope Francis as the special secretary to the synod. Forte is an Italian theologian known for pushing the pastoral envelope on dealing with people in “irregular” unions while staying true to Catholic doctrine.
Technically speaking, Forte and all the members of the drafting committee had access to far more material than the bishops themselves since they had the lengthy written speeches each synod “father” submitted prior to the meeting. Those written speeches factored into the draft report, even if the bishops didn’t utter them during the four minutes each was allowed to speak.
In fact, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he recalled only one speech out of about 265 about gays during the debate.
So it’s not surprising that bishops didn’t recognize everything in the draft report since these written submissions weren’t made public or distributed to the bishops themselves, and the oral presentations only reflected a summary or particular point that a bishop wanted to make. But at the same time, there is no real way to know which bishop or bishops had proposed such ground-breaking language or whether it was more a reflection of Forte’s view.
The controversy over the document has crystalized the deepening divisions in the Church over Francis’ revolutionary agenda to make it a more welcoming place which, while keeping true to Catholic doctrine, doesn’t emphasize rules or exclude people based on them.
What remains to be seen is if Francis can ensure that the final report continues to reflect that view after all the amendments are in.
As it is, he appointed a half-dozen perceived progressives to the final drafting committee after bishops themselves elected conservatives to head the working groups. These working groups will make proposed amendments, but in the end, it’s up to the drafting committee to write the final document that the bishops will vote to accept or not.
None of Francis’ appointees are Africans, who are among the most conservative on family issues.