The Synod of Bishops on the family is not being manipulated, rather the distortion rests in how it is being depicted or seen by a number of people, said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington.
“I don’t think the synod itself has been tainted, but the lens through which it is being seen by many, many people has been tainted, and so I suspect that that will have some impact,” he said in an interview on October 18 with the Jesuit magazine, America.
“It’s not going to be a long-term impact because you can only paint something in false tones and have it remain understood incorrectly for so long, after a while the Church wins out,” he said, adding that “the truth is great and it always wins out, even with all of this propaganda and all of this distortion.”
The cardinal said he has participated in seven synods, and he also attended the very first general assembly in 1967 as a secretary to a synod father.
He said much-welcome changes have been made to the synod on the family that “allow the bishops to come together and to speak very openly and very clearly about whatever they think needs to be said.”
The bishops themselves have long been asking for less time spent listening to written speeches being read aloud and more time for small-group discussions “because that’s where the real debate takes place,” he said.
The 13 small groups elect their own representatives who then hand in summaries that have been approved by the group to a 10-member writing committee charged with drafting a final document the synod will vote on and give to the Pope.
Cardinal Wuerl, who is on this papally appointed drafting committee, told America, “I don’t see how you can manipulate all of those groups and all of the people leading them.”
In fact, the creation of a larger drafting committee was an improvement on a previous process that was not “working very well.” During last year’s extraordinary synod, “there was this great outcry” that the first interim report drafted by two top-ranking members of the synod wasn’t done well, so the Pope added more bishops to the process.
“I don’t see any of that as manipulative. I see it as widening the participation of the bishops,” he said.
“Now there are some bishops whose position is that we shouldn’t be discussing any of this anyway. They were the ones at the last synod that were giving interviews, and denouncing and claiming there were intrigues and manipulation,” he told the magazine.
Such accusations, he said, do not have “a foundation in reality. I just think that these are people who have their own position and they just want to articulate that.”
The synod has no intention of changing Church teaching, Cardinal Wuerl said, so perhaps the charges or discontent are motivated by not liking the Pope or the way he calls people to live the Gospel.
“I wonder if some of these people who are speaking, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes halfway implying, then backing off and then twisting around, I wonder if it is really that they find they just don’t like this Pope. I wonder if that isn’t part of it,” he said.
“Pope Francis is calling for a Church that, to my mind, is much more in contact with the Gospel, with the living out of the Gospel. Not just the articulation of the Gospel, the voicing of the Gospel, the proclaiming of the Gospel, but the personal living of it,” he said. While many people find this approach “attractive,” he said, “for reasons known only to them, there are some who find this somewhat threatening.”
In the America interview, the interviewer referred to an article written by Archbishop Charles Chaput for the Wall Street Journal last week in which the archbishop wrote of “anxiety” and “worry” among some participants at what the synod’s outcomes might be.
Yet, in an interview with Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Chaput has responded by saying it would be wrong to “mischaracterise an honest difference of views among the synod fathers”.
“The Holy Father wants a collegial environment for the Church. He has explicitly invited candour and open discussion. I believe he means what he says,” he said.
“It would be very strange for any bishop to doubt that; or for anyone to discourage or mischaracterise an honest difference of views among the synod fathers. That’s especially true as it applies to cardinals. One of their main jobs is to offer their best counsel to the Pope. So I suppose you need to ask America’s editors why they ran their story. The reason escapes me.”
In reference to the Pope’s recent trip to Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput added: “If the welcome we gave Pope Francis in Philadelphia last month looked like ‘opposition’, people need a trip to a really good eye doctor.”