More news broke today about the way the bishops at the synod are discussing lesbian and gay people in their relatio document, the working text they are using to develop a final set of recommendations. At the same time, an Austrian cardinal, who has spoken in support of lesbian and gay couples before, gave a ringing endorsement of one such couple that he knew personally.
A new English translation has been issued which changes some of the language that had been issued earlier in the week. You can read the new translation by clicking here. (Relevant comparisons of the two translations appear at the end of this post.)
The National Catholic Reporter pointed out some discrepancy and vagueness concerning the new translation. It seems only the English version of the document was changed, not the original Italian:
“. . . [T]he Italian version of the document from the meeting, known as a synod, remains the same and does not reflect the changes in the English translation.
“Responding to questions from reporters about the change at a briefing Thursday, Vatican spokesman Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi emphasized that the official language of the synod is Italian and ‘we have said always that the text to refer to is the Italian.’
“Pressed about who had asked for the change and why the English version no longer matches the Italian, Lombardi said the Vatican press office released the revision at the request of the Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops and would not provide further details.”
While some of the changes seem to be neutral semantic choices, others may indicate that the bishops want to indicate a different direction. This second category is important to examine.
For example, in terms of gay and lesbian people’s participation in parish life, the old translation talked of “welcoming these people,” while the new translation speaks of “providing for their needs.” This could be considered not a minor change, except for the fact that it leaves open the question of who will decide what the “needs” of lesbian and gay people are. In some cases, lesbian and gay people have gone to church to develop their relationship with God and others, and they have found that parish staff determines that their “needs” are to be supported in celibacy. Such differing perspectives are problematic.
Another possibly substantial change is in paragraph 51, where the bishops stated that same-gender commitments could not be viewed as equal to heterosexual ones. In the old translation, they described such commitments as “matrimony,’ and in the new translation, they describe them as “marriage.” Since “matrimony” is generally used to describe a sacramental union and “marriage” can describe either a sacramental or civil union, it would seem that this change is intended to include the bishops’ opposition to civil marriages for lesbian and gay couples, as well as sacramental ones.
The final possibly substantial changes are in paragraph 52, in which gay and lesbian couples are discussed. The original translation defined the members of a couple as “partners,” and the new translation refers to them as “these persons.” It seems that the bishops may be reluctant to acknowledge the partnership that exists between the members of a couple.
When describing the support members of a couple offer each other, the first translation described it as “precious,” while the new translation describes it as “valuable.” Perhaps the bishops felt the first choice was too tender, though an equal argument could be made that changing it to “valuable” strengthens the bond of the relationship.
It is hard to judge these changes since no reason was offered for why new the new word choices were made. I still think that the relatio offers a more positive welcome to lesbian and gay people than such a high level Catholic Church body has ever made. The substance of such a welcome, for the most part, remains in tact.
It’s also important to remember that the relatio is an interim document. Translation changes are not as important as whatever possible changes may be coming in the final, definitive synod statement, which should be released some time on Saturday, according to press reports.
The fact remains that the original translation (and to some extent this second one, too) shows that there are many voices in the synod which want a more welcoming stances in the Church towards lesbian and gay people and couples.
In the same National Catholic Reporter article which reported on the translation changes, one such voice came through loud and clear. a statement by Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schonborn at a press conference offered some hope that voices which recognize the goodness and holiness of lesbian and gay couples do exist in the synod. Here’s the relevant passage from the article:
Although Monday’s document re-emphasizes church teaching against same-sex marriage, it also asks blunt questions about how the wider church treats gay people and if it is offering space for them in the community.
Asked about that change during the Vatican press briefing Thursday — specifically if it meant the church no longer holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” — Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said, “The basic principle is that we first look at the person and not the sexual orientation.”
“Every human person has a dignity beyond any other question,” said Schönborn, who is representing the Austrian bishops at the synod. “This does not mean and certainly will not mean that the church can say the respect for every human person means the respect for every human behavior.”
He said he thinks “the church will … always maintain that the fundamental gift of God’s creation is difference and relation between man and woman,” the cardinal also said he knows a same-sex couple in Austria that “are marvelous human persons.”
One of the partners in the couple, he said, became severely ill, and the other partner cared for them. The care, Schönborn said, “was saintly. Full stop.”
To me, Schonborn’s avoidance of discussing “intrinsically disordered” indicates that he recognizes this term as not useful. His discussion of the “basic principle” of accepting the person indicates that someone’s sexual orientation is not an issue for him. And though he supports marriage as a heterosexual-only institution, he is able to praise, in the highest terms, the love that exists between two men or two women.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s a major step.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Al-Jazeera: “Vatican waters down ‘welcome note’ to gays”
Comparison of Translations
The relevant passages of the two translations are reproduced for you here, juxtaposing the old translation with the new one. The first paragraph of each pair is the version that was released Monday. The second paragraph of each pair, in italics, is the version released on Thursday, with changes marked in boldface italics.
50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
50. Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing […] them […] a place of fellowship in our communities? Oftentimes, they want to encounter a Church which offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of this, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
51. The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. The Church furthermore affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that pressure be brought to bear on pastors or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.
51. The question of homosexuality requires serious reflection on how to devise realistic approaches to affective growth, human development and maturation in the Gospel, while integrating the sexual aspect, all of which constitute an important educative challenge. Moreover, the Church affirms that unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same level as marriage between man and woman. Nor is it acceptable that the pastor’s outlook be pressured or that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations based on gender ideology.
52. Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children who live with couples of the same sex, emphasizing that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.
52. Without denying the moral problems associated with homosexual unions, there are instances where mutual assistance to the point of sacrifice is a valuable support in the life of these persons. Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to […] children who live with same-sex couples and stresses that the needs and rights of the little ones must always be given priority.