Just days after a group of Catholic leaders made waves for publishing a report that used unusually inclusive language to refer to homosexuality, the Vatican is attempting to walk back the statements by altering an English translation of the document and editing out affirming comments about LGBT people.
On Monday, a relatio, or working paper, was released by the ongoing Extraordinary Synod on the Family — a convening of 190 prominent Catholic clergy called by Pope Francis to discuss “family” issues such as homosexuality, contraception, and unmarried couples who live together. Although the document, which is essentially a preliminary report on things being discussed at the meeting, did not affirm same-sex unions, it drew wide praise from progressives for using conciliatory language when speaking about same-sex relationships. Catholic thinkers and reporters heralded the document as a “new style of being church” and a “pastoral earthquake,” with many expressing hope that the report signaled a dramatic shift in how the church treats LGBT people.
But the Vatican reversed course at a press conference on Thursday, when officials announced the release of an edited English version of the report that alters passages that affirm gay people. For example, the new version changes the translation of the Italian phrase “Accogliere le persone omosessuali,” which was initially rendered in the English version as “to welcome homosexual persons,” a literal interpretation of the text. Although the original Italian document remains unchanged, Thursday’s revision edited the English version to read, “providing for homosexual persons,” a shift that Thomas Reese of the National Catholic Reporter said was “clearly … not an accurate translation.”
The new document includes other subtle alterations as well, although virtually all of the edits deal with the Catholic church’s position on homosexuality. Thursday’s version of the report, for instance, changed a phrase that previously referred to same-sex unions as “precious support in the life of the partners” to “valuable support in the life of these persons.”
The revisions appear to be an attempt by the Vatican — or at least English-speaking bishops — to control the media narrative surrounding the release of the original document. After various outlets and reporters heralded the inclusive stance of Monday’s document, conservative Catholics began publicly lambasting the report, with one South African Cardinal condemning some of its statements as “irredeemable.” Although there is speculation that Francis hinted at the release of the document during Mass on Monday morning, the Vatican quickly backtracked on Tuesday, explaining the report was a “working document” and saying that they did not want to give “the impression of a positive evaluation” of homosexuality, according to CNN.
Synod organizers have since offered bishops a chance to propose revisions to the document before presenting the final version of the report to Pope Francis on Sunday. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Thursday’s update occurred after attendees of the synod met in language-specific groups earlier this week to discuss potential revisions. English bishops are now calling for even broader changes to the document, insisting that the Synod offer a “fuller presentation of the church’s theology of marriage, more encouragement for those who are faithful to church teaching, and the elimination of … confusing passages in the report.”
The controversy comes as many religious progressives continue to hail the more inclusive tone on homosexuality struck by Pope Francis, who last year responded to a question about gay priests by saying, “Who am I to judge?”