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Conservatives insist Vatican teaching won’t change

By Josephine McKenna/Religion News Service
On October 27, 2014
Raymond Burke

Cardinal Burke said the media is hijacking the Catholic Synod on the family message.

(RNS) – A day after signaling a warmer embrace of gays and lesbians and divorced Catholics, conservative cardinals hit back strongly on October 14, with one insisting that an abrupt about-face on church teaching is not what they’re saying at all.

After the release of a document with a softer tone on issues such as “welcoming homosexuals,” American Cardinal Raymond Burke and German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller complained the media was getting a biased view of the bishops’ debate.

“It seems to me that information is being manipulated in a way that gives comment to only one theory instead of faithfully reporting the various positions expressed,” Burke said in a full-page interview published by the Italian conservative daily Il Foglio.

In a separate interview Burke told the conservative U.S. outlet Catholic World Report that the bishops “cannot accept” any changes because they are not based in Scripture or church teaching.

The October 13 midpoint report was released as the nearly 200 bishops and lay delegates to the Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis broke into discussion groups.

The summary document, presented to the media by Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, immediately provoked the fury of conservatives about how he and his colleagues were interpreting the spectrum of views aired on the synod floor.

In what looked like strenuous damage control, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, told a packed media conference that this was a “working document, not a final document.”

South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier told journalists the document had been misunderstood and that’s why it had caused “such an upset” among participants because the synod had not yet ended.

“The message has gone out, it is not what we are saying at all,” Napier said of the media coverage. “Once it is out there, there’s no way of retrieving it. It is not a true position. Whatever goes out after looks like damage control.” 

Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl, widely seen as a moderate and one of the cardinals charged with writing the synod’s final report released October 18, declined to comment on the complaints but insisted the document was a “big step forward” in addressing issues concerning marriage and the family.

“What we saw in the document … was the first effort of this synod to present the issues in a way that expressed that we understand what the concerns are, what the issues are,” he said.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan also rejected claims the document’s views were an “earthquake” in the church’s approach.

“It’s not the final word and we’re going to have a lot to say about it,” said Dolan in a radio interview. “And there were some that said we probably in our final statement need to be much more assertive about the timeless teaching of the church.”

Much of the attention has now turned to Pope Francis himself, and whether or how he will work to ensure that the synod’s final report matches his own inclusive, pastoral approach.

In his daily homily last Monday, Francis said “God has often reserved surprises for his people.” Burke, in his interview with Catholic World Report, said a statement by Francis “is long overdue.”

Whatever comes out of this upcoming synod is simply a prelude to a follow-up synod in October 2015. Or, as Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle from the Philippines put it: “The drama continues.”

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