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SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 27: How The Voting Will Go; Revolutionary, Extremely Innovative; Better for Bishops

I remember going on a mission trip in my forties when the children were still pretty small.  I travelled with a group to Honduras visiting everyone from bishops to the people who lived in cardboard shacks in a muddy field.  I was totally transformed by the experience, a transformation that continues to stay with me today.  Yet, there is no doubt that the daily grind of regular life can blur a beautiful, transforming experience.

As I hear the accolades of so many participants at the synod testifying to the transformative power of a community who listens and participates in authentic dialogue, I like many of you wonder how this will be translated on the ground.  What structures will be put in place to make this new way of being church a reality.  It’s still early to be sure, but it is also true that if structures are not created to bring this way of being together, discerning together, deciding together, and ministering together are not formulated early on, this too shall crash under the weight of too many ordained members who’d rather smile and see it quietly sink into oblivion.  Fr. Thomas Reese has asked several times at the press briefings about how they will disseminate this work, how they will structure the practice going forward, but the answers he received did not reassure.

And I’ve also grown slightly testy with panelists responding to actual issues like women’s ordination, LGBTQ+ inclusion, clergy sex abuse, even war and peace, etc. with “this is a synod on synodality, and not a synod on ____ (fill in the blank).”   I know the experience of a deepening communion and find it beautiful too.  But, like Tom Reese, I want to see practical elements to advance this synodal process put in place.  We’ll need structure and we’ll need canon law that backs the authority of lay persons as co-equals in this process.  There is no doubt, any movement forward will be uneven at best, but, I dare say, there won’t be substantive progress without firm structures and laws in place.

How the Voting Will Go

Today at the press conference, Paolo Ruffini gave us the overview of what will happen today and tomorrow.

Ruffini offered this outline.

At the general congregation of this morning, there were 320 members. Some absences were due to other commitments and meetings.  After the prayer and before discussion in the small groups, the interventions which aimed at collecting question proposals and comments for the next stage of the synodal process up until next October took place.  Also some other information was given.

First of all, Cardinal Grech reminded us of that today’s a day of fasting and prayer for peace. 

He also gave us some information concerning the final drafting of the synthesis document.

Yesterday at the end of the discussion on the first draft of the report, 1025 amendments were collected from every small group and 126 individual amendments presented by the individual members of the synod.

Friday (today)

All the amendments were and shall be taken into consideration in order to respect those who have submitted them. And they’re still being read.

The writers and the experts were given a round of applause by the Assembly are also working in the evening to prepare the updated version of the text.  The goal is to include all the amendments that were approved.

The after receiving the amendments, the text is going to be examined this evening during the meeting of the drafting commission who is responsible for drafting the final synthesis report.  According to the instructions, the commission is going to be called upon to approve the text with an absolute majority. Afterwards, between tonight and tomorrow morning, the final version of the document will be prepared. 

Saturday

Tomorrow morning, there will not be a general congregation, but the members will receive the document mid-morning. The official versions of the document will be in English and in Italian.

In the afternoon at 3:30 there will be the general congregation to vote for the document. This is in order to ensure that everybody has enough time to read the synthesis report in advance in its final version and to prepare themselves in the best way to the afternoon vote.

The text given to the members is strictly confidential and it cannot be circulated.

In the first part of the general congregation of tomorrow afternoon, the entire synthesis document will be read out. After the members have read the text individually, it will be read again in the assembly. And after that, there will be an electronic voting, which will make it possible for persons to express themselves concerning every paragraph in the document.

This morning, at the end of the general congregation, a simulation of vote was carried out. And again, this morning we also reaffirmed the secrecy of the voting.  In fact, the data is encrypted, so it cannot be said who has voted for what. To be even clearer, on every tablet that the members of the Synod have, they will have the number of every chapter in the report and all the paragraphs marked by letters of the alphabet.

Every member will have to vote either yes or no for every paragraph to approve it or not. Based on Article 35, paragraph three of the instruction on the Synodal Assembly, abstention is not possible. And according to paragraph four of the same article 35 of the instructions,  individual paragraphs are considered approved with a majority of two thirds of the members who are voting.

Sunday

On Sunday, October 29, there will be the Eucharistic celebration at the end of the General Assembly which will be held at 10am at the Basilica of St. Peter’s.

Ruffini then reminded everyone of the time change taking place between Saturday and Sunday.

Sheila Pires reported on the topics being discussed.

This morning we did continue our work sessions in the small groups, but, obviously with the focus on the next stage of the Synod in October, 2024. So there were discussions and sharing as to what and how we can proceed between now and October 2024.

Several participants suggested that the duration of the next assembly be three weeks instead of four. There was also a proposal to have more time for personal reflection for meditation, especially during the sessions, and also to enable better participation for speeches. In the assembly hall, there was a request for more group meetings organized, not based on language, but on backgrounds. As you may know, some of the issues that we face in Africa may not be the same as in Europe. So there was that request that every now and then we can meet, as different groups just to assess where we are during that period.

Two of the spiritual leaders joined the panel, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe and Sister Maria Grazia Angelini, OSB joined the panel.  They did not join the small groups and they will not be voting, but they shared their perspective on the synod.  Brother Alois Löser, prior of Taize was also on the panel.

Revolutionary, Extremely Innovative

Sr. Angelini observed:

This event was very significant and almost, I’d dare say, revolutionary in terms of changing the pace, in the life of the church.  In terms of including, and the  openness of listening and the ability to listen to differences and the ability to look at reality.

We are in a moment in history, which is incredibly complex and difficult to understand. And this requires a faith to have a vision starting from the highest perspective, that of the presence of God. That became flesh through human flesh too. When human history and the flesh of human beings is more obscure and more tormented, the Scriptures give us luminous criteria to interpret such terrible times. So the fact that bishops, cardinals and lay persons, religious men, men and women, religious with different experiences and coming from all over the world, belonging to different cultures — the fact that they got together and got together to pray and listen to each other and to open visions for the future is something that, for me, was extremely innovative.

Better for Bishops

Fr. Timothy made some unique observations.

Synodality is part of my being. I’m a Dominican, and ever since we were founded 800 years ago, we’ve had a synodal form of government, listening and taking decisions together. This is my fourth synod of the church, my fourth synod of bishops. And it’s quite unlike any of the ones I’ve been to before. At the first synods that I went to, you had the pope in the middle, you had the cardinals around him, you had the bishops around him, and then you had the final circle of people with no hats on like me. And there was not so much real dialogue.

Most people prepared their speeches before they ever arrived at the synod. So this is an extraordinary change in how we are church together. I think the mere fact of seeing curial cardinals, young women from Latin America or Asia sitting together, talking together, is profoundly transformative in people’s experience of being church.

Now, some people have said, is it still therefore really a Synod of Bishops? And I would say very much so. I think this way of holding a synod reveals much more clearly than any previous synod I’ve been to what it means to be a bishop, because there’s a gathering of bishops, a gathering of representatives of the College of Bishops. But it also shows the bishop not as a solitary individual, but immersed in the conversation of his people, listening, talking, learning together. So I think that this synod is far more expressive of what it means to be a bishop than anyone I’ve ever been to before.

Q & A

One journalist asked Fr. Radcliffe about his influence in the synodal model.

I recently read some of your books written in the 1990s, and I found there are many pastoral ideas and also ideas for communication that Pope Francis draws inspiration from, and also many ideas on which the synod is based. Did you also notice this yourself or perhaps you personally suggested this to the Pope? I know that soon after your appointment, Pope Francis invited you at the Vatican for a long meeting. And I would like to ask you if you consider yourself one of the builders of the synod and of the method with which it has worked?

As expected, Radcliffe denied have that kind of influence.

Christopher Lamb of The Tablet asked, Brother Alois, “It’s clear that there are some inside the church who are very skeptical and opposed to the Synod reforms and the Synod.  But we saw at the beginning of this gathering, a prayer vigil with many other Christian leaders. So to what extent do you think this synod can bring about a new moment for Christian unity? And would that mean that those who resist the synod, perhaps that oppose it… just might walk away?  But there are new opportunities for relations with other Christians?

Brother Alois responded:

I can only say that during these weeks, I saw that there was an evolution and a change in people because there was true listening. And in these three weeks, yes, there was this opening. And I think that at the end of this synod, we are no longer the same persons. There was truly a transformation. And there was an opening to listening. There is a huge diversity within the church. This is clear. There are so many different cultures, and this has its impact or importance, but we need to move forward. We must try to understand each other more and more. And also we must understand the different cultures, including collegial cultures. This is a journey to be made, but we are doing this. 

Tomorrow we see the document.  Let’s pray it is worthy.

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