I have been out of the house for much of the day, doing interviews, preparing for this week’s edition of @Home with Jim and Joy, preparing future interviews, covering the press briefing in the press office and then a brief break at the end of the day, a reception this evening given by the Order of Malta at their beautiful, old and historical palace on Aventine Hill. The Grand Master, Fra Matthew Festing, whom I have met in the past, invited me to make an appointment with him to talk about the Order and prepare some stories. As soon as the synod is over I will do just that.

The hour is late but today was so important vis-à-vis the synod that I just had to write a column to clarify some of the news stories that have appeared and have many people worried about the direction the Church “might” be taking on some important issues. My advice for now, based on my interview with Cardinal Dolan, with the Vatican Radio reports and other sources is: Have a good night’s sleep.

I interviewed Cardinal Dolan of New York for “Vatican Insider” this afternoon. Our conversation will air this weekend and it is a MUST listen to if you want to understand what has transpired at the synod over the past 24 hours: Yesterday, you will recall, the mid-term report or “relatio” was released in the synod hall and to the media in a briefing. The furor that ensued from media reports on that briefing led to today’s briefing when two cardinals explained exactly what their colleagues said at yesterday’s briefing, namely, the relatio is NOT the definitive document. It is a draft, the foundation for the synod’s continuing work.

Below is the precise and succinct Vatican radio summary of today’s briefing. But first some of my own notes about what Cardinals Napier of Durban, South Africa and Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for Evangelization, said today about the relatio:

– The synod fathers and invited guests are still studying issues. This week the language groups meet to study, analyze and debate what was written in the report. Cardinal Napier said, for example, his group saw things in the relatio that they might not have expressed in the same terms.

– Cardinal Napier said many synod fathers did not know the report would be made public and their feeling now – given that the media has written about and misrepresented some of what was said – is that it will be harder to write a final message. The relatio, he stressed, is only a draft, NOT a final document. Those writing the message do not want to be seen as doing damage control when they write the final document. He said, “we own” the document when it is finished and we vote on it. All documentation will be given to the Holy Father.

– The cardinals said synod participants wish more emphasis had been placed by the media on true focus of synod – the family – not just on two of the pastoral problems (communion for the divorced and remarried and homosexual unions)

– Re: same sex unions: the two cardinals – and most synod fathers – felt the three articles on homosexuality can be much improved: the contextualization needs improvement

– While the relatio does reflect what was said in the synod hall, some of the articles or expressions are not necessarily majority statements. There are articles in the report, for example, that reflect the judgment of a distinct minority but they were nonetheless included in the relatio.

I have learned that many synod fathers did not, in fact, know the report would be made public. Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the press office, said, in all fairness to the Synod of Bishops, that both reports (last Monday’s and this week’s relatio) are always given to the media – made public – as part of synod procedures. It is obviously possible that some or many first time synod participants did not know this and, said Fr. Lombardi, had he been asked not to publish the report, he would not have done so. He did point out, however, that the proceedings were aired live via CTV so the report became public in that moment.


(Vatican Radio) The mid-term report, issued by bishops at the Synod is a “work in progress” and not a definitive document of Church teaching on family life. That was the message underlined by two Synod Fathers joining the head of the Holy See press office, Fr Federico Lombardi and his assistants, at the daily briefing for journalists on Tuesday. Those guests were South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier, representing one of the English speaking language groups, and Italian Cardinal Fernando Filoni, head of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, as Philippa Hitchen reports….

The half-way report, presented at the Synod’s General Congregation on Monday morning, reflects the rich and often heated debate that has taken place inside the Synod Hall over the past week. But clearly not all the bishops attending the two week meeting are happy with its style or its content. Some believe Church teachings are confused and presented out of context. Others are concerned with the way the media has presented it more as a definitive statement than a working document, that still needs to be reworked and voted on at the end of this week. And even that isn’t the end of the story, because the final statement from this Synod will then be revisited over the coming year and form the basis for the broader gathering that Pope Francis has called for in October 2015.

Cardinal Napier told journalists he was part of a group of bishops that has expressed concern over the report. He believes part of the problem lies in the expectations for change that are accompanying this Synod process:

“Firstly I think the subject is so interesting and people want to know what was going on and perhaps read more into the document than was intended. Secondly, are the expectations perhaps of the Synod a little unrealistic and is the misinterpretation reflecting what people would like to happen, rather than what is happening or what is going to happen?”

Cardinal Filoni, on the other hand, said expectations are rightly high that the Church is placing the needs of the family at the center of its attention. Over recent decades, he said, lay people and especially families have moved from the object of evangelization to become the subject, credible witnesses of the Church’s message to all people in all different life circumstances. The challenge facing bishops, he said, is to encourage both those living up to the Church’s teaching on the family, as well as those parents or children living in more problematic situations.