Reports of the 12 language discussion groups at the Roman Catholic Synod on the Laity last October were "twisted" through "chicanery and manipulation," according to an analysis of the previously secret documents in the Feb. 5 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

Peter Hebblethwaite, who writes from Oxford, England, and analyzes Vatican affairs for the Kansas City-based liberal Catholic weekly, said that "the discussion group reports were 'processed' by synod organizers who twisted their contents as they boiled them down into propositions to be submitted to the pope. Eventually 54 propositions were submitted, but they no longer reflected the direction and thrust of most of the synod's thinking on key lay matters."

Hebblethwaite's detailed analysis, which quotes heavily from the reports, finds an almost universal consensus that all nonordained ministries be opened to women, cautious support for the expansion of lay ministries, and some opposition to lay movements from Third World bishops who feared they would cause loss of local control.

But the final synod proposals showed limited support for expanding the roles of women, no position on lay ministries, and considerable support for lay movements.

Hebblethwaite notes that Pope John Paul II thanked the presidents of the 12 language groups for making possible "a mature synodal consensus." But, the commentator writes, "no such consensus was reached. Or where it was, it was discarded. In any case, the synod's purpose is to give advice to the Holy Father. That advice is useful only if it is honest."

When the language groups submitted their reports, "things started to sour," Hebblethwaite says. "The reports -- hasty but not superficial -- were then subjected to homogenization, adulteration, censorship and emasculation which led to the final fiasco. Some synod fathers concluded they had been 'robbed' of their synod."

If the reports of the 12 language groups had been made public, Hebblethwaite said, "the church would have been edified, the world enlightened and the Holy Father well served. This did not happen."