THIS was how Pope Francis exhorted the participants of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops during the opening session on October 5. He said: “A basic general condition is this: to speak clearly… It is necessary to say everything that is felt with parrhesia. After the last Consistory (February 2014) in which there was talk of the family, a Cardinal wrote to me saying: too bad that some Cardinals didn’t have the courage to say some things out of respect for the Pope, thinking perhaps, that the Pope thought something different. This is not good; this is not synodality because it is necessary to say everything that in the Lord one feels should be said, with human respect, without fear… Therefore, I ask you, please, for these attitudes of brothers in the Lord: to speak with parrhesia and to listen with humility.”
After the first half of the Synod, the Relator, Cardinal Peter Erdo, presented the “Relatio Post Disceptationem”, a midterm report that outlined the main questions highlighted at the general congregations from October 6 to 10. According to Vatican reports, the hour-long presentation of the Relator has made 41 out of 184 synod fathers to take the floor and comment on the presentation. Some commented that the midterm report used strikingly conciliatory language toward divorced and remarried Catholics, cohabitating couples and same-sex unions which did not reflect the general views of the participants.
The prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature told the Catholic World Report that the midterm report “advances position which many synod father 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 fount it objectionable.”
Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, when told about media reports that the synod midterm report has stirred a new overture among divorced Catholics and homosexuals, said: “That’s one of the reasons why there’s been such an upset among 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 that’s not what we are saying at all.”
Presumably, the synod fathers heeded the exhortation of the Holy Father to speak with parrhesia—and liberally at that within the confines of the synod walls. But when they did, it reportedly stirred controversy, because, aside from the fact that some contents of ‘relatio synodi” (synod’s report) were highly contentious (e.g. the report of the Holy See press office that some synod fathers complained that the word “sin” is almost not present in the relatio.), it’s handling with the media made it appear that the relatio was final, when in fact it was only a working document, and, therefore, provisional. But what’s the point of releasing it to the media if it was only a draft? It generated headlines as “Synod signals Catholic shift on gays” and “Vatican’s New Views on Gays, Divorced”.
Cardinal Napier is concerned: "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."