Youth Synod Slammed for Lack of Transparency

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by David Nussman  •  •  October 19, 2018   

Vatican officials refusing to announce the membership lists of synod small groups

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VATICAN CITY ( - The Vatican is keeping Catholics around the world in the dark about the inner workings of the Synod on the Youth.

LifeSite reports that the Vatican is refusing to release the names of members of the "small circles" — the discussion-based small groups consisting of synod fathers and other synod participants. These small groups function for about one week during the synod.

Synod organizers said in a press conference Wednesday that they will not release the names of the bishops in the small groups. Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, defended the decision to keep the small groups' membership lists private, owing to a desire "to not transform the synod into a debate about 'who said what,' but to tell it for what it is: a communal reflection of the Church."

Each small group is assigned a specific topic to discuss. Resulting from the discussion are summaries of what was said by group members, including if there are conflicting viewpoints. Through a process of summarizing, voting and editing, the discussion points from the various groups establish a rough basis for the synod's final document.

An early draft of the final document will be presented to the synod fathers to debate and to propose changes. The document will then be amended before a final vote. On Monday, Ruffini explained to the press that the final vote will mean voting on the document part by part instead of having a single vote on the whole document. Each section will need a two-thirds majority to pass.

Some are criticizing the synod for lacking transparency, owing to the Vatican's veil of secrecy about the small groups' membership lists.

Furthermore, it was reported earlier this week that a preliminary version of the synod's final document has already been written — leading to talk that the synod is rigged. There is speculation in Rome that Italian Abp. Bruno Forte is probably the author of that pre-written preliminary version of the final text.

The same Abp. Forte was the one who, in 2014, inserted into the Family Synod document language about "welcoming" homosexuals because they "have gifts and qualities" of benefit to the Christian community.

At a synod press conference at the time, Michael Voris challenged that phraseology, asking whether the "gifts and qualities" flow from the disordered sexual orientation.

Forte responded with a non-answer, beginning, "I want to say that is it not easy to answer such an ontological question," chuckling as he said it.

Despite synod leaders' efforts to keep things quiet, some Catholic journalists are working to piece together who's in which group. To start, the Vatican itself makes known who the moderator and relator are of each group. The Latin term relator refers to the person who takes notes on the discussion in order to report on what was discussed.

So far, the Vatican has published two sets of relationes, or reports, on the discussions in the small groups. Each relatio summarizes what a given small group talked about, frames what group members said in a topical structure and includes proposals to revise the Instrumentum laboris the "working document" written earlier this year that established a general framework for the synod.

The two sets of relationes, released on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16, correspond to the first two parts of the Instrumentum laboris.

The Oct. 9 relatio from English Group A states, "We noted that a proclamation of chastity, as achievable and good for our young people, is missing from the document."

The moderator of English Group A is Cdl. Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India.

We noted that a proclamation of chastity, as achievable and good for our young people, is missing from the document.

Meanwhile, the Oct. 9 relatio from English Group B pushed for a looser, more modern interpretation of the word "family":

We had a debate in our small group about non-ideal groupings from the Christian perspective. Does leadership in the Church require bishops and priests to proclaim the Gospel truth by denying that these are families? Or does our leadership require us to accompany the young people in the reality in which they find themselves?

The moderator of English Group B is Cdl. Blase Cupich of Chicago.

Cdl. Blase Cupich

Cupich drew the ire of many this summer when he referred to Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's allegation that Pope Francis covered for ex-Cdl. Theodore McCarrick as a "rabbit hole," and accused critics of the Pope of not liking him "because he's a Latino."

The Oct. 16 relatio of Group C challenges a section of the Instrumentum that pointed to Old Testament figures as examples of virtue and role models for youth. The discussion summary states, "Among the Biblical examples the Instrumentum laboris provided, we saw certain ones as out of place."

For example, the group objects to citing the Songs of Songs as an example of married love symbolizing the love between God and His people, pointing out that King Solomon, who is traditionally held as its author, was a polygamist.

They also question including Joshua as an example for young people taking the baton from their parents' generation: "Joshua succeeds Moses, but then he leads an army of conquest."

Elsewhere, the Group C relatio uses an ambiguous phrase some might interpret as a dig against the all-male priesthood: "We propose that the story of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who was attracted to all particular vocations (even priesthood) but found the unity of all of them in love[,] [is] a wonderful illustration of this principal [sic]."

Saint Thérèse is known to have admired all vocations as ways to love and serve God; it is unclear if this is just a poor choice of words.

Group C's moderator is Cdl. Joseph Coutts, archbishop of Karachi, Pakistan. The relator is Bp. Thomas Dowd, auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Montreal.

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