The Vatican clamped down Wednesday on information emerging from a meeting of the world’s bishops after some prelates said the release of details of their debates was hindering the open discussion of sensitive topics like giving communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.
The Vatican press office has arranged for daily briefings in five separate languages to give media summaries of the closed-door discussions of the Synod of Bishops, an Oct. 2-23 meeting to give Pope Benedict XVI advice on running the church.
Journalists also receive extracts of the bishops’ prepared speeches. The briefings, however, provide information about the “free discussion” period — the hour at the end of each day when bishops can take the floor to discuss certain topics.
Several issues emerged during the first such briefing Tuesday, including a request by the senior American at the Vatican, Archbishop William Levada, for the synod to discuss whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should be given Communion.
In addition, Patriarch Gregory III Laham, patriarch of Antioch of the Greek-Melkite Church, said there was no theological foundation for a celibate priesthood, according to the Italian summary of the meeting. The Eastern rite churches, which are loyal to Rome, allow married priests.
But on Wednesday, the officials who conduct the briefings said they would only give thematic highlights of the free discussion period, and not substantive details, after some bishops said too much information was getting out.
‘There's some concern’
The Rev. John Bartunek, who briefs the English-language media, said he had not received an instruction to limit what he said but that the decision had been taken based on input from Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls and the synod’s general secretary, Monsignor Nikola Eterovic.
“There’s some concern among some of the fathers” about the amount of information emerging, Bartunek said. He noted that Benedict had instituted the free discussion hour to allow for an open exchange and that it should remain open.
The Italian briefer, the Rev. Giorgio Costantino, said there was also a concern among some of the bishops that their thoughts might be misrepresented. The briefers “might get it wrong” because the acoustics in the synod hall are not always good, Costantino said.
Both Costantino and Bartunk said the free discussion period was a new feature of the synod and that the Vatican was still trying to work out the best way to handle releasing information from it.
Bartunek did say that during the Tuesday free discussion, two prelates joined Levada in asking for discussion on whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should receive Communion: Cardinal Edmund Szoka, a Vatican-based American, and Cardinal Alfonso Lopez-Trujillo, a Vatican-based Colombian. But the spokesman provided no details.
In addition, he said three prelates had affirmed the rights of Catholics to receive Communion: Bishop Jean-Louis Brugues of France, Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary and Cardinal Julian Herranz of Spain.