Conservative Bishops Get “Different Translation” Dialing Back Language on LGBT Acceptance

The Vatican’s extraordinary synod on the family heads into its final weekend with a level of drama and political intrigue that seems more appropriate for a medieval royal court than for… oh, wait, the Vatican is basically a medieval royal court, so the level of political maneuvering is just about right.

On Thursday, a clique of English-speaking conservative bishops threw the synod into confusion when they got the secretariat of the synod to release a new English translation of the mid-synod relatio that changed “welcoming homosexual persons” (which had been widely hailed as revolutionary) to “providing for homosexual persons.”

The change was deliberate, not a revision of an incorrect translation, as Father James Martin writes, “The original Italian ‘accogliere,’ according to an Italian I spoke with, means ‘welcome’.” Martin notes that the phrase “partners,” which was also groundbreaking as a reference acknowledging the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, is now “these persons.”

A Vatican spokesperson, confirmed, however, that the Italian translation was still the official translation, so the new version appears to be an attempt by conservatives to spin the coverage of the report in their favor. Conservative bishops had protested that the report had been hijacked by moderates who were added to the drafting committee at the last minute by Pope Francis and that the widespread, positive media coverage of the gay-friendly language made it difficult for the Vatican to retreat on the issue.

Francis’ closest ally at the synod, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, also found himself under attack for comments he reportedly made about African prelates in an interview with Zenit. When asked about reports that Francis had packed the drafting committee to “push things through according to his wishes,” Kasper replied that the “majority of these five people are open people who want to go on with this.” He then added:

The problem, as well, is that there are different problems of different continents and different cultures. Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo.

He then went on to have this exchange with reporter Edward Pentin:

But are African participants listened to in this regard?

No, the majority of them [who hold these views won’t speak about them].

They’re not listened to?

In Africa of course [their views are listened to], where it’s a taboo.

What has changed for you, regarding the methodology of this synod?

I think in the end there must be a general line in the Church, general criteria, but then the questions of Africa we cannot solve. There must be space also for the local bishops’ conferences to solve their problems but I’d say with Africa it’s impossible [for us to solve]. But they should not tell us too much what we have to do.

While Kasper clearly meant that the African bishops wouldn’t or couldn’t discuss homosexuality because of cultural taboos, leaving Western bishops to grapple with the issue in the context of their cultures’ greater acceptance of same-sex partnerships, conservative bloggers were quick to jump on this exchange as evidence of rank colonialism.

At First Things, Matthew Schmitz claimed the synod was purposely ignoring the views of the more conservative bishops to push through Kasper’s liberal agenda:

Kasper has been the main advocate for admitting to communion Catholics who are divorced and remarried—and thus living in what the Church, following the words of Christ himself, considers adultery. This would constitute an act of grave vandalism to Catholic doctrine and a serious failure in the Church’s pastoral outreach.

It would also require the silencing of the voices of Catholic leaders outside of Europe and North America, especially those from Africa, who have a very different way of seeing the tangled issues of divorce, remarriage, and homosexuality.

At Patheos, Elizabeth Scalia called it “[b]reathtaking condescension from a Western Bishop, whose German church is dwindling and headed for financial ruin, toward the African bishops whose pews and seminaries are indisputably overflowing and joyous.” She went on:

In some ways, it’s like a mask coming off. Kasper is an openly progressive Catholic who holds opinions that sometimes skirt along the very thin membrane between authentic Catholic teaching and something not-quite in line. … Most of his admirers run along a similar vein, and yet I just watched a progressive Catholic defend Kasper, and couldn’t help but see the irony: the very people who have inculcated within society the dogma that criticism of any culture (except the Western culture-and-its-traditions) is anathema, when faced with a bit of opposition, are quick to do a complete 180 and suggest that the dissenting culture lacks sufficient enlightenment and need not be listened to, or taken seriously.

While Scalia has a point about the growth of the church in Africa, it’s also true that charges of cultural imperialism are a long-standing way for conservatives in the church to foil progressive agendas. We just passed the twentieth anniversary of the landmark Cairo Conference on Population and Development, where the Vatican launched the strategy of claiming that attempts to expand access to family planning services were really just baby-hating, western feminists attempting to push their values on women in the developing world, who really, really wanted big families despite a widespread unmet need for contraception.

Regardless, Francis apparently heard the criticism—although Kasper has since denied giving the interview (Pentin is standing by his reporting)—and added South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, who has been an outspoken critic of the mid-term report, to the committee charged with drafting the final document this weekend.

The question now is will the committee add so many qualifications and exceptions to the more welcoming language obviously favored by the Francis camp that it becomes meaningless, returning the church to the doctrinal and pastoral stasis favored by conservatives, or will the Francis revolution hold sway and produce a more progressive document to set the stage for next fall’s final family synod, when the drama will resume.


  •' Frank6548 says:

    The language change is in line with Gods Will. The original not so much.

  •' RetroPam says:

    It was God’s will that conservatives rebuffed a Christ-like moment?

  •' Jim Reed says:

    And by God I guess you mean you.

  •' RetroPam says:

    God is his personal pronoun.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Some people know God’s thoughts as well as they know their own.

  •' Tony Adams says:

    What’s nice about this situation is that it harks back to the first centuries Anno Domini when bishops were free-wheeling folks who tried to noodle through the fresh tradition of Jesus and devise a theology. They fought with each other. They ex-communicated each other. They sometimes won their point by outliving each other! That is how “revelation” happened in Catholicism, and it is happening again because of our Pope Francis. This is good.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    Doesn’t that make it an upside down religion? That is a religion that goes through a process that ends in it developing the theology that it can present as the ancient theology that the religion began with. They may not be the first one to use the upside down concept, but they did it very well.

  •' Tony Adams says:

    But what I like is the acceptance of the fact that revelation is fluid and mutable. I dislike the way the conservative hierarchy says that it is frozen and immutable.
    The best families are the ones who know how to fight with and yell at each other out of love rather than hate.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    The key concept here seems to be “revelation”. I guess revelation means progressive development of society. Then the church takes it, or a part of it, and turns it into the pre existent word of God, or of Jesus. This gives the church meaning, and it might be good or bad for the rest of society depending on who currently has political power in the church. I am still struggling to understand just how this religion stuff works.

  •' Tony Adams says:

    LOL. Don’t struggle too hard because it doesn’t make sense! To be brief: the Catholic Church says that “revelation” ended at a certain point in time. Of course, they do find ways to make pronouncements after that time: things like the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the 1850s, I think. But they are careful not to name these things “revelation” or they’d have to eat crow. I think modern Catholics saw the “man behind the curtain” the day they were told that eating meat on Friday was no longer a mortal sin. One day it can send you to hell for eternity and the next day it’s no big deal. That is when the bishops lost credibility. If the pope should tomorrow say “gay ain’t no big deal” the only one whose feathers would be ruffled would be Cardinal Ray Burke. The rest of us would say “Duh. What took you so long.” The problem with all this is that the world has moved on. Catholicism is being marginalized. Young people see it as an antique. Sometimes change happens too late.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    I think the concept of revelation that ended at a certain point fits in with what I have been trying to figure out. It is a work in progress, but if it is to be religious then it can’t be questioned, and ancient revelation from God is the best way to handle this. If God was revealing things in ancient times, but not today, then people of today are not in a position to question. This might be the meaning of God. God means don’t question.

  •' Tony Adams says:

    God forbid.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    That too.

  • GMG248 says:

    Tony. Great quote I will share with friends. This quote highlights a problem I find in the rigid claims of the church that the scriptures are now immutable. This stance denies the continuing existence and power of the Spirit’s ability to reveal new insights and new directions. The thought that revelation continues unabated in this day frightens those clerics who need to coral the gospel within the fences of immutable orthodox creeds and doctrines. What I hear many fundamentalists arguing is that God is forbidden (by them) to reveal anything new to the people of God. This is a concept of an impotent and castrated Spirit of God that we cannot abide.

    I am a Baptist because I believe in the ability and desire of the Spirit to continue to reveal new things and that ecclesial authorities have no right to inhibit or discount direct revelation to any of us in this 21st century. God is not yet finished with God’s revelations. Those who fear that chaos and heresy will result from this assumption will have to take that up with God. In the end they will have decide whether they can trust the Spirit or not. I, for one, do.

  •' Tony Adams says:

    I agree with you entirely, but that is why my status as a Catholic priest is being examined at the Vatican for termination by the Congregation for The Clergy. Oh well. I trust the Spirit and cannot worry about the actions of men filled with fears.

  •' Frank6548 says:

    Of course any new revelation wouldn’t contradict the Word of God.

  •' SisterLea says:

    What is going on here is the very crisis needed for the Roman Catholic Church to realize that OTHER RITES are needed in the Catholic Church. Separate yet One-with…cultural rites. The Byzantine Catholic Church is an example of a Rite in union with the Roman Rite.

    Archbishop Quinn calls these rites “Patriarchates” in his book, EVER ANCIENT, EVER NEW: STRUCTURES OF COMMUNION IN THE CHURCH, (available on KINDLE and Amazon). Archbishop Quinn says, “these structures are not new, nor are they mechanisms to weaken papal authority since the Popes themselves used them, and the patriarchal structures, certainly as they exist in the Catholic Church, are all in communion with Rome. It should be noted as well that the theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, raised the idea of new patriarchates being created in Asia and Africa.”

    For more info………….

  • GMG248 says:

    Frank. If you mean Jesus the living Word I believe Jesus is still present and actively clarifying and revealing himself though the written word. It would be a great mistake or even heresy to equate the two. For example, the genocide passages are under the qualifying lordship of Jesus, as are all other scriptures. For this Christian, Jesus is the judge of scripture and he is not confined to heaven or to the past. The real question is what limitations are we prepared to put on God? Is God bound by our particular expositions of scripture and therefore has no real freedom? I would guess that you would agree that the answer to that question must be none. That would make God subservient to scripture rather than the other way around, unless we are prepared to add a fourth person to the trinity. The real limitation has to do with human minds and their inability to ever fully grasp the mind and heart of God. Honesty demands that we admit that we try but well all fail miserably. Tony suggests that we best grasp the message of the scriptures when we employ Jesus’ life hermeneutic of love. I concur.

  •' BeeSmart says:

    So called “direct revelation” has many issues. When any and every individual espouses his/her direct revelations it is just that; an individual interpretation having little meaning within the context of the larger Church.

    Within the Catholic Church such individual expressions are subject to a detailed process and are viewed, in the modern Church, with a skeptics eye. Ecclesial authorities have a duty to their institution to evaluate direct revelations lest their organization become subject to all sorts of chaotic and conflicting dogma, doctrines and individual revelations that are accepted or rejected by individual members of what would no longer be a Universal Catholic Church.

  •' BeeSmart says:

    I think you totally misread the Church in some aspects. Eating meat on Friday was NOT an intrinsic act of sin in and of itself. It was a violation of a Church law that was imposed to institute a universal action within the Church where everyone acted together to sacrifice something of value one day of the week. Like giving up something for Lent.

    Personal sacrifice is a part of many religions. My guess is with lobster, shrimp and many other modern foods the practice outlived its’ usefulness and was scrapped. The sin was disobedience to the lawfully authority of the Church rather then eating this or that food stuff.

    Now the fact is if this was a mortal sin, or not, can be debated but that would entail whether the Church has the authority to decide violation of its’ lawful mandates to be a mortal sin. Bishops say yes. Creditability is not the issue here.

  •' Tony Adams says:

    Sorry, but if you ask anyone who went to Catholic school in the years before the meat-on-Friday prohibition was listed, they will tell you in no uncertain terms that the teaching was that even a morsel could send you to hell for an eternity of torment. The point is that church teachings are arbitrary and mutable and flexible and relaxed and relaxing and as fluid as water, but bishops are not. They are rigid and recalcitrant.

  •' BeeSmart says:

    A simplistic view that conservatism is bad and progressivism good just reflects the modern political views that infect open and sincere debate. The coming together of people of good will who are willing to examine faith, dogma and religious ideas with an open mind would serve the truth in a better way then the currently politicalized secular method of debate.

    The Catholic Church is NOT a democracy that is a quickly self correcting institution. It moves much too slowly for the modern world where morality and social norms change as fast as the weather.

    This is both a curse and a blessing. Any institution that is over 2000 years old did not last as long as it has by acceding to popular social changes quickly. When change takes place it will be lasting and based upon solid consensus of the “Body of Christ.” Many want a swifter “righting of wrongs” and that is understandable. While societies move to and fro, hither and yon religious institutions risk their very relevance by moving too deliberately. Seems over time people like the solid rock offered by religions even when they seem “out of step.” Probably human nature.

  • GMG248 says:

    Bee. Thanks for the kind and instructive response. As a student of world religions I have learned that every faith tradition (including Judaism and Islam) has a myth of universality. I do not use the word myth here as a term of derogation. It is an ideal that is important but never substantiated by reality. All religious faith is by nature fluid, chaotic, conflicted, and prone to sectarianism. In my own Baptist tradition there is a marked tension between the voices for individual freedom and the voices for congregational constraint. I have learned that in every faith tradition there are free spirits who rejoice in paradox, diversity, and complexity and there are also those who need order, certainty, and simplicity. These two personalities and worldviews views are at work in all things human. I think of Jesus when he said, “those who are born of the Spirit are like the wind in that they are as uncontrollable as the wind.” In my particular Baptist tradition many of us have a great deal of skepticism about ecclesial authority. The church nurtures, guides, and corrects but it does not mediate or control our direct access to the divine. These two very different views of faith are hard to reconcile and perhaps may never be reconciled.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It seems that makes human nature (or a subset of human nature) ultimately in charge of the church.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    It is only universal to those who accept it as universal. Those who don’t accept it as universal show it is not really universal. Isn’t it a problem when a non-universal church claims it is universal? Or is that just what every denomination does.

  •' BeeSmart says:

    In Catholic schools religion was taught by relatively uninformed nuns who were NOT very educated in theology. They repeated simple un-nuanced renderings of Church teachings. Bishops are somewhat like regional corporate managers and tend to be more then a bit recalcitrant by nature. It is what got them the appointment in the first place. They are selected for many reasons and making waves is not one of them.

    That is how many large organizations work in the real world. For all the talk about being divinely inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit it is still an organization run day to day by humans and all that that entails.

  •' BeeSmart says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Most large institutions need central authority to administer, gate keep and run their day to day operations. With that comes a natural suppression of the “uncontrollable winds.” That is just the nature of large organizations run by men.

    Once an individual recognizes the inherent problems within both approaches to faith they can determine which fits their understanding of Christ’s teachings and follow the road that welcomes their spirit.

    After all St. Thomas was a skeptic of the first order. Ecclesial authority can protect and nurture a universal truth or obscure it and twist it for their own ends. When all is said and done individuals probably should trust their own hearts and minds. With the help and guidence of the Holy Spirit both paths will lead home.

  •' Jim Reed says:

    You can’t be given the final say. It would have to be discussed.

  •' cranefly says:

    That was then and this is now? Every Catholic is still taught loads of non-infallible and questionably-infallible doctrine as though it were infallible and non-disputable. The church uses “uninformed nuns” as a scapegoat, but as far as I can tell, they were doing the best anyone could with a tangled mess the size of a continent.

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