Cardinal Wilfrid Napier says the highly controversial midterm report from last year’s synod gave weight to issues discussed by only “two or three" people, and was unseen by most synod fathers until after it hit mainstream media.
He also alluded to an agenda in the writing of the final report from last year’s synod, which he was involved in drafting, saying that in the process some issues were once again “being pushed in a certain direction."
At an Oct. 20 press briefing, the cardinal was asked by a journalist if his recent endorsement of the book “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation of Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family" by journalist Edward Pentin was somehow in opposition to his assertion at the beginning of the briefing that the African bishops are “optimistic" about this year’s new methodology.
In response, Cardinal Napier said that “I think the first thing to say is that there were certain individual items that were of concern at last synod, and one in particular was the presentation of the interim report as if it had come from the synod, as if it was part of the synod’s deliberation."
“That was not true because we received the document about an hour after you guys had received it in the media, and we only then started reading it," he said.
Controversy erupted during last year’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family when halfway through the midterm report was published, containing strikingly open language in regards to homosexuality and a penitential path to the sacraments for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community," the document read, asking: “Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?"
The question of homosexuality, it continued, “leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension."
The document, which served as a basis for last year’s final report, drew stark criticism from the majority of synod fathers, particularly during the small group sessions, with many calling for drastic changes to be made for the final report.
Although the 62 paragraphs of the final report reflected some changes, including a clearer affirmation of Church teaching and doctrine on the debated issues, as well as more references to scripture, the only paragraphs not to receive the two-thirds majority in the voting process were those addressing the topics of homosexuality and communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.
In his comments at the briefing, Cardinal Napier said that when last year’s midterm report was published, it was “already saying things which I know were only said in the hall by at the most two or three people," and presenting them “as if they were the reflection of the synod."
“Now that certainly gives you the impression that the synod is being pushed in a certain direction," he said, noting that he also served on the commission charged with drafting the final document, “and there were certain issues that once again, were being pushed in a certain direction."
“So in that sense that a particular ideology or agenda, whatever you would like to call it, seemed to have been in operation."
When asked about his involvement with a letter leaked last week that was sent to Pope Francis from 13 cardinals expressing concern for this year’s synod process, the cardinal said that it was a private letter between the cardinals and the Pope.
The text of the letter as well as a list of 13 cardinal signatories, of whom Napier is said to be one, were published by Vaticanista Sandro Magister Oct. 13. In it, the signatories expressed concern that this year’s Synod on the Family lacked the “openness and genuine collegiality" needed to accomplish its purpose.
In the letter, dated Oct. 5, prelates allegedly addressed the Pope with the aim of alerting him to concerns that new procedures imposed on this year’s gathering, in contrast to previous synods, could hinder the participants in their responsibilities.
Cardinal Napier didn’t comment specifically on his involvement in the letter, but said it was “written in the spirit of what Pope Francis had said at the beginning of last year’s synod when he said please speak openly and honestly, but listen with humility. And it was said to him in that spirit."
Pope Francis responded the next day, when, addressing the synod participants on the first day of discussion, he cautioned against “a hermeneutic of conspiracy" surrounding the gathering.
“That made a huge difference then in the scale of confidence and of trust that the concerns had registered, they were being taken care of, and therefore from there on everyone was going to work in the synod with all they’ve got," the cardinal said.
“I think that’s what I’ve experienced, and that has been why I feel this synod takes up where that first week of the last one had left off, where we were all optimistic and looking forward to really working together on the issues as a team.
The synod, he said, is moving forward in a spirit of “collegiality and synodality," where participants are “walking together as colleagues in the direction of what’s best for the Church."
Others in attendance at Tuesday’s briefing were Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona and Cardinal Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia, Mexico.
Among the issues addressed by the panel were the unanimous call for a longer, more thorough marriage preparation process, the need to act more swiftly in declaring cases of marriage nullity, families who suffer due to organized crime, accompaniment of couples already married, cohabitation, single parent families, homosexuality, drug and alcohol addiction and child-headed households.
By Elise Harris