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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 26: Some Would Rather Talk Than Listen; Next Synod: Same Members; No Fancy Lace Please

Some Would Rather Talk Than Listen

Christopher White of National Catholic Reporter gave us some insights into the inner workings of the synod today.  All is not harmonious.  This listening project is getting under the skin of some bishops who, truth be told, would rather preach and decree than listen.  White reported, “As the month has grinded along, there have been multiple reports of synod delegates complaining that the emphasis on listening.”

Another incident that White reported involved a priest following what a bishop, the secretary for the table, was putting to paper.

Another delegate recalled an incident at their roundtable where a priest was watching a bishop — who was serving as the roundtable’s secretary — take notes to later report back to the full assembly. The bishop, apparently irritated that a priest was looking over his shoulder, snapped that if he refused to stop monitoring him, he would throw him out.  “The bishop didn’t seem to understand that in this environment, he didn’t have the authority to do that,” the delegate said. 

But the lay participants get it.  In fact, the head of the synod office, Cardinal Grech told White some time ago that lay people are better at this.  He said, “Synodality is ingrained in the nature of the people of God,” he said. “In the laity, I felt we are not bringing something new. To the contrary, we were harping a chord in their heart and they were ready to sing and to dance to this music.”

October 26 press briefing/Vatican media

The Examination of the Draft Document Begins

There were 349 present in the Assembly in the morning session.

Sheila Pires talked about the voting process on the Letter to the People of God.  

Yesterday, in the afternoon, with 348 members.  Everyone voted on the Letter to the People of God with 336 in favor, 12 against.  After that a debate was opened on the draft synthesis report.

The pope also intervened.

Among the topics discussed were the sensus fidelium, the role of women and the women who accompanied Jesus and it was said that women must be subject, not an object in the church.  Abuse of women was also discussed.  Vatican II was also discussed, ecumenism, and forms of cultural colonialism.

Paolo Ruffini explained, “this morning, the examination of the draft Synthesis Report began by the Small Circles for the presentation of the collective ‘modi’, which can be integrations or eliminations.  “Before the start of the work in the Circles, after the prayer, the Commission for the drafting of the Synthesis Document shared with the Assembly the criteria underlying the Document that will be submitted for a vote on Saturday, and which we are now examining,” said Ruffini. After this process, the document that will be submitted to the Pope as the outcome of the Synod will be the one approved for the second Assembly in October 2024.”

Joining the press briefing were Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Opuku Onyinah, a representative of the World Pentecostal Federation and former president of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana, also present at the Synod as a fraternal delegate, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the Archbishop of Poznań and the President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, and Dr Catherine Clifford, a Canadian and a professor of systematic and historical theology at St. Paul University in Ottawa, and His Eminence Joseph (Pop) of the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitanate of Western and Southern Europe.

Several that joined were fraternal delegates, people who are invited to participate actively but who do not have a vote.  Twelve fraternal delegates from the four major Christian traditions were invited: three from the Orthodox Church, three from the Oriental Orthodox Churches, three from historic Protestant Communions, and three from Pentecostal-Evangelical communities.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, said that the  ecumenical dimension of the Synod was a centerpiece for strengthening ecumenism.

Opuku Onyinah, also present at the Synod as a fraternal delegate and member of the International Catholic-Pentecostal Joint Commission, observed that the openness of the synodal path was his is “a sign of maturity at the highest level that has been demonstrated by the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, President of the Polish Episcopal Conference seemed to be amazed that harmony was maintained even though a diverse group of those outside the Catholic tradition were participating.

A Lesson in Ecumenism

Catherine Clifford commented that, “The whole ecumenical movement is a movement of church reform.”

She gave a brilliant exposition on the powerful relationship between Vatican II, Ecumenism, and Synodality.

Pope Francis first spoke about synodality soon after his election as the bishop of Rome in 2013. He mentioned the important work contained in the Ravenna Document of the joint Orthodox Catholic Theological Commission that explored the conciliar or synodal nature of the church and the exercise of authority.  Francis observed and as Cardinal Koch just reminded us that the Catholic Church has much to receive and to learn from the Orthodox Church concerning the practice of synodality.  This perspective was repeated several months later in his apostolic exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel.  Already in 1995, John Paul II in his encyclical letter, Ut Unum Sint, On the Catholic Commitment to Ecumenism committed himself and his successors to “the request made of him“ by ecumenical partners to find a way of exercising the Roman primacy, which while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, could better serve the bonds of communion between the churches.

And in the years since 1995 many Christian communion‘s have responded with constructive observations and suggestions concerning this renewal of the exercise of primacy in response to his invitation for dialogue and study on this matter.  And I’m very aware that our colleagues in the Dicastery for Unity has been studying these suggestions.  And the work of many official bilateral dialogue’s, the work of scholars and church leaders who have been studying the question of the exercise of authority in the church, and pointing to the need for primacy to be balanced by collegiality.

The cooperation of all the bishops in church governance and synodality with the development of structures, for gathering all the baptized faithful and encouraging their full participation at every level of church life.  The desire of all the worlds’ bishops to take on the theme of synodality, as the priority, for the presents and synodal process is the fruit of decades of reflection, in a long process of maturation that has been nourished by the dialogues that go on on a regular basis between ecumenical partners.

An important feature of the synodal assembly as we’ve heard is the presence of fraternal delegates from other Christian world communions. This is not a new practice, but it is to me one the perhaps we take too much for granted.  The contributions of the fraternal delegates to reflections this past month have been very important.

Very helpful in the Canadian context when we were going through the synodal process and the consultation at the local level across Canada, important exchanges took place between representatives of other Christian churches who shared their own experiences with us concerning their practices of synodal church governance. This is an important example of what we call receptive ecumenism, learning from one another’s best practices — each church, recognizing the need for renewal and growth, so that we might all better live the Gospel.

Finally synodality has also become a preferred image or paradigm for our common journey toward becoming a church that is fully reconciled. The faith that we share in Jesus Christ, the source of salvation, for all humankind is much greater than the questions that continue to divide us. Humanity has need of our united witness, a credible witness to the possibility of healing and reconciliation.  So by walking together, sharing, God’s abundant love for all humanity and all creation, we are growing closer and learning to live again as one.  The witness of the leaders of the Christian world communions to gather together in prayer with us at the opening of the Synod was a powerful sign of our commitment to walk together, and to receive the gift of unity, so deeply desired by Christ. He’s prayed for all his followers to be made one so that we might be a prophetic sign in a divided world.

Q & A

A journalist asked Professor Clifford,

Pope Francis said that he wishes to see the church as the faithful people of God reminding us of Vatican Council too. I would like to know if this theology of the people of God refers to that ecumenical dimension which is deepened in the faculties of theology.

Clifford responded:

Your first question has to do with the importance of Pope Francis invitation for us to take more seriously the understanding of the church as the People of God. For, I think the last 30 years, there have been important conversations between theologians at the international level on the common understanding of the church. And it’s quite remarkable to see the parallels between the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that understands the church as a mystery of communion and as a People of God. This is echoed in the work of the International Faith and Order Commission in its document “The Church: Towards a Common Vision.” So I would say, it’s a very biblical ecclesiology. It’s one we certainly share with other Christian churches. So, these approaches help us to grow in a common understanding of the church.

The same journalist also asked about the priest abuse scandals and how synodality might help.

Clifford responded,

How do we help,  seminarians to become more attuned to a synodal culture in the church? I think that has been often raised in our conversations through this last month the importance of formation —  formation and education for every member of the baptized faithful.  But with special attention on the formation for candidates for ordination in the seminaries. So this notion of the church that is a synodal body and taking seriously the equal dignity of all the baptized is at the heart of this.

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poland said they have lengthened the time of formation and are including sciences in the curriculum for future priests…. In order to be synodal, the candidates must learn a, a new way of discussing and a new way of establishing relationships with other people.

No Talk on Married Priests?

Fr. Tom Reese from Religion News Service asked

In the preparation for this session of the synod in the consultations, there was a lot of concern in various parts of the world about the shortage of priests, and there was suggestions for ordaining married men. This doesn’t seem to have been discussed hardly at all at this synod, and I’m wondering why.

Ruffini gave an evasive answer saying, “We shall see because this document is still being drafted. We talked about the topic of celibacy so it wasn’t a missed debate topics.”

Koch added:

I remember that during the synod on the Amazon we spoke about priestly vocations and  we spoke about the need for celibacy. And at the end, the Holy Father did not decide wfor a very interesting reason . He said, I listened to many voices, but I did not hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. So it was an excessively political discussion and very little theological and spiritual. And that is why, um, it seems to me that I, he pointed at the way to follow, to deal with these issues in a synod and not in a political and democratic way. 

And in listening to other traditions, I am reminded how much infighting there over this issue.  For His Eminence Joseph (Pop) of the Romanian Orthodox, this is normal and he offered the wisdom of a tried and true tradition.

To answer this question, we, the Orthodox Church, after thousands of a millennium of thousands of years of priests who were married remind the Catholic church that this is a  possibility.

Finally, Clifford weighed in.

There have been wide open exchanges between Eastern Catholic bishops and bishops of the Latin church concerning married priests.  I think it’s a conversation that’s worth pursuing.  To hear the lived tradition in the Eastern churches and the gift and the ministry of married priests is something I think that’s an open question for consideration. It’s not absent from the conversation that we’ve heard in these weeks.

Next Synod: Same Members

A journalist asked if the members of the synod this year will be the same members that go to the 2024 synod.  Dr. Ruffini replied that they would be the same members.

So the people featured in the main photo for this post will be back in 2024.  That is really important to know,  especially as participants go about their business this next year while under the same restrictions about not speaking with journalists that Pope Francis called for at the beginning of the synod.

No Fancy Lace Please

Pope Francis delivered a message to synod participants.

While the metaphors about women never fail to underwhelm me, his distaste for clericalism is right on target.

When ministers go too far in their service and mistreat the people of God, they disfigure the face of the Church with macho and dictatorial attitudes (it is enough to recall the intervention of Sr. Liliana Franco). It is painful to find in some parish offices the “price list” of sacramental services in the manner of a supermarket. Either the Church is the faithful people of God on the way, saint and sinner, or it ends up being a company of various services. And when pastoral workers take this second path, the Church becomes the supermarket of salvation and the priests mere employees of a multinational corporation. This is the great defeat to which clericalism leads us. And this is very sad and scandalous (it is enough to go to ecclesiastical tailor’s shops in Rome to see the scandal of young priests trying on cassocks and hats or albs and lace-covered robes).

Clericalism is a whip, it is a scourge, it is a form of worldliness that defiles and damages the face of the Lord’s bride; it enslaves God’s holy and faithful people.

“Get Out of Class” Note

On a humorous note, Justin McLellan reported that Wyatt Olivas, the youngest synod member  at age 19 and an undergraduate at the University of Wyoming, got Pope Francis to sign a note asking that he be excused from his classes for a few days.

Now that is fun!