Senior church figures have expressed concern about a document issued by the bishops’ Synod on the Family yesterday proposing a landmark shift in the Church’s pastoral care of gay Catholics, cohabiting couples and those in civil marriages.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, (left) Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura – the Church’s supreme court – told The Tablet the text is “unacceptable”.
The document – known as a relatio – said that the homosexual orientation should be valued, and praised elements of same-sex partnerships.
It also says there are “seeds of the Word” for cohabiting couples, civil marriages and Catholics who are divorced and remarried.
But Cardinal Burke responded: “It’s unacceptable to me in the way it’s presently worded.”
On the Church’s view of gay people, he added: “the document in my judgement is not carefully stated on the matter. First of all we don’t refer to people by their attraction to persons of the same-sex, calling people homosexual persons. That’s not their identity.”
The cardinal said it was important for the Church to offer pastoral care to gay couples, but said he could not see positive value in same-sex relationships.
“It is impossible for the Church to say that homosexual relations have a positive aspect. How can we attribute a positive aspect to an unchaste act? That has to be clear,” he said.
Cardinal Burke also suggested that information about the Synod is being “manipulated” to favour Catholics with a reformist agenda.
Unlike previous synods, the interventions by participants have not been published, supposedly because of translation costs.
He told the conservative Italian newspaper Il Foglio that he watched a television broadcast with German Cardinal Walter Kasper, who wants to see more divorced and remarried Catholics able to receive Communion, in which he said that the Synod was moving in direction of a softer stance for Catholics in such circumstances.
Burke said: "The 5,700,000 Italians who followed this broadcast have received the idea that the Church is at the point of changing its doctrine. But this simply is not possible."
"Many bishops are saying in their interventions that it is not possible to allow changes."
He questioned whether the Vatican’s daily press briefings were giving a fair account of the bishops' discussions. “It seems as if something is not working if the information is manipulated so as to give just one view instead of the various positions stated."
He said he was worried because a "substantial" number of bishops do not accept the idea of a softening [towards the divorced and remarried], and the public had been "betrayed".
He said that the public are under the false impression that doctrine has changed, adding: “Bishops and priests are telling me that already so many divorced are asking to be admitted to the Communion because Pope Francis wants it.
"In reality he has not yet expressed his view on the question."
Burke claimed that Francis would be unable to change doctrine because it "could not be changed". Francis' pronouncement “can only be in continuity with the teachings of the Church in all its history. It is a teaching that has never changed because it cannot change", he said.
It was “a contradiction” for priests to say that they will obey Pope Francis if he changes teaching, he said.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also complained about what he called “the censoring” of bishops' comments.
Meanwhile an official summary of discussions on the document at the synod yesterday said there were calls to avoid “the impression of a positive evaluation” of homosexuality and cohabitation.
On the issue of reforming the ban on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion, it was pointed out that any development in this area would be difficult without making a “common rule”. There have been a number of proposals by Synod Fathers to allow communion for divorced and remarried in certain circumstances.
Other contributions called for an emphasis on Jesus’ prophetic ministry and noted that the relatio makes little mention of sin. It also states that families who follow church teaching should be acknowledged.
“It would be useful to speak more widely about those families who remain faithful to the teachings of the Gospel, thanking them and encouraging them for the witness they offer,” the summary added.
To read Cardinal Burke's comments in more detail see this coming week's Tablet.
Above: Cardinal Burke. Photo: CNS