Conservative Catholic leaders decry draft document on gays, divorcees

Conservative Catholic leaders decry draft document on gays, divorcees
Bishops attend a session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican. (Gregorio Borgia / Associated Oress)

A draft document issued by Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops that signals greater outreach to gays, remarried divorcees and cohabiting couples has come under fire from conservatives within the church, with one cardinal calling for it to be ripped up and rewritten.

The critics, cited in a summary of comments released Tuesday by the Vatican and in interviews, included participants at the synod that produced the document who complained that it focused on "imperfect" families and ignored happy, heterosexual marriages.


One participant, who was not identified by the Vatican, said that "welcoming" gays into the church should be done prudently, "so as not to leave the impression that the church has a positive evaluation of this orientation." A complaint raised at the gathering was that the document, known as a relatio, does not mention the word "sin."

Some participants also voiced concern about a proposal made at the synod to let bishops do more to speed the annulment of marriages, arguing that it would overburden them with work.

The document, released Monday, sums up the speeches made during the first week of the two-week synod at the Vatican. It surprised many and drew widespread praise for its apparent shift in tone on several topics, including homosexuality.

Gays have "gifts and qualities" and should be welcomed into the church, it says, and heterosexual civil unions have "positive" aspects.

The 191 prelates summoned to the synod by Pope Francis to discuss family themes are now discussing the document in small groups before voting on amendments. A final version is to be released Saturday.

Speaking to journalists this week, conservative cardinals were firm in their objection to the document. The head of the Polish bishops conference, Cardinal Stanislaw Gadecki, on Monday called the report unacceptable and a deviation from church teaching.

American Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican's supreme court, told the Catholic News Agency on Monday that the relatio contained "confused" and "erroneous" language, and he said he hoped the document would be ditched.

"There's a confusion with regard to the question of people who are living in de facto unions, or people who are attracted to the same sex and are living together, and an inadequate explanation of the relationship of the church to the person," he said.

In an interview published Tuesday by Italian newspaper Il Foglio, Burke accused the Vatican of releasing "manipulated" reports of speeches at the synod, essentially censoring the "many bishops who are saying that changes cannot be allowed."

At a Vatican news conference Tuesday, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa said the media had mistakenly treated Monday's document as a final version. "The message has gone out and it is not the true message," he said.

Prelates must submit their proposed amendments to the relatio by Thursday. The final document will then be used as a working document by a follow-up synod in 2015. Francis could then change the rules on controversial issues, including the ban on giving Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry and are considered by the church to be living in sin.

Kington is a special correspondent.