Headlines of stories about this fall’s synod of Roman Catholic bishops have referred repeatedly to Pope Francis’s focus on “mercy” and “compassion” and “leniency” (e.g., yesterday’s online NYT story). Enough already! No doubt it is not easy for many bishops to grasp what the synod’s special secretary, Archbishop Bruno Forte, said yesterday: “the fundamental idea is the centrality of the person independently of sexual orientation.” John Paul II spoke often of “the centrality of the person” and the “dignity of the human person” but never in the way Bruno Forte declared Monday. And I doubt Cardinal Raymond Burke intended comedy when he said that “a large number of bishops do not accept the ideas of openness, but few know that.” In fact quite a few people have noticed that many princes of the Roman Catholic Church prefer non-openness to openness.
Whatever the internal struggles and dramas in Rome may be, could independent, nonsectarian reporters please lay off the notions that the Vatican is showing “mercy”? Victims of priestly abuse and the indifference and nonchalance of higher-ups are in a position to show mercy and forgiveness–or not, as they may. Bishops and archbishops who are on the path to discover their own humanity and the positive possibilities of the religious faith they purport to promote deserve some respect and some “space,” but calling what they may be moving toward “mercy” or “forgiveness” or “leniency” is a dangerous misrepresentation.