Conservative Cardinals Push Back Against Church’s Reported Softening on Gays

U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

As I reported yesterday, a conference of bishops is currently underway at the Vatican, the subject of which is the contemporary family. Monday saw the release of an interim report called “relatio” that, among other things, suggested the Church was considering revising its approach to homosexuals in a way that might recognize their “gifts and qualities” and offer a means of welcoming them more affirmatively into the Catholic community. Many media outlets, including Outward, presented these statements as a sign of a potential shift in tone, if not fundamental doctrine—but if the response of a number of conservative clergy today is any indication, even that is an overstatement.

The Religion News Service reports that conservative cardinals taking part in the synod are bristling at the media coverage, arguing, in the words of U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke, that the document is “being manipulated in a way that gives comment to only one theory instead of faithfully reporting the various positions expressed.” A press conference on Tuesday gave voice to the dissent, according to RNS’s Josephine McKenna:

In what looked like strenuous damage control, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told a packed media conference Tuesday that this was a “working document, not a final document.”

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier told journalists the document had been misunderstood and that’s why it had caused “such an upset” among participants because the synod had not yet ended.

“The message has gone out, it is not what we are saying at all,” Napier said of the media coverage. “Once it is out there there’s no way of retrieving it. It is not a true position. Whatever goes out after looks like damage control.”

Of course, at least some of the 200 gathered cardinals must be pushing for a thaw, but it’s true that Monday’s release is fundamentally a work-in-progress. Over at Time, Elizabeth Dias offers a helpful overview of the 2-year-long “Synod on the Family,” of which this conference is only a part. As Dias points out, “The Vatican has been repeatedly clear that this Synod will bring no changes to doctrine, or even a final document with new rites. To ‘welcome gays’ does not mean the Church is no longer equating ‘gay’ with ‘sin.’”

It’s hard to tell at this point where the synod—and eventually the Church—will land on the gay issue, but if “tone” is really all that’s up for debate to begin with, one can’t help but wonder if it really matters. Since when is politeness or condescending “compassion” a fair replacement for true acceptance and respect?