October 22, 2015 – Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia

“Some seem to think that decentralisation and unity are incompatible. Clearly Pope Francis doesn’t. The paradox, I think, is that ‘a healthy decentralisation’ could in fact strengthen the real unity of the Church.


Yesterday was supposed to be a free day for all but 10 of the Synod members – those chosen by the Pope to draft the final document. They were hard at it all day and (I imagine) into the night. They have a colossal job.

But a few others – myself among them – were also tied up, trying to finish our assessment of the 520 proposed amendments to Part III of the working document. My little group resumed work at 9am, with Cardinal Lacunza saying he couldn’t stay beyond 10.30. So we agreed that we would finish by then. As it turned out, we finished by 10.25, with His Eminence making a very speedy exit for a big man. For me, what was left of the day was largely absorbed by talking to journalists – four of them. This was a bit tougher than it should’ve been because my voice had turned decidedly hoarse. But I managed to croak away.

One of them asked me about the change of language which I’ve mentioned more than once during the Synod. The example I gave was ecumenism at the Second Vatican Council. The Council described Christians of others Churches and communities no longer as “heretics” and “schismatics” but as “separated brethren”, which is why at this Synod the ecumenical representatives are called “fraternal delegates”. The change of language came from a deeper consideration of the meaning of shared baptism. If they too were baptised into Christ, then in a real sense they were our brothers and sisters. Yet the communion wasn’t perfect, which is why they were called “separated”. The change of language indicated a new understanding of the relationship; and this not only changed the mood but also opened new doors and created new possibilities – like having fraternal delegates at Synods. And no core doctrine of the Church was violated.

We see a different kind of change, I said to the journalists, in the very delicate area of suicide. In his three-minute speech at the Synod, Bishop Hurley told the touching story of a man who was deeply alienated from the Church because clergy had refused a Catholic funeral to his son who had taken his own life. This was in line with a long practice that didn’t even allow those who’d committed suicide to be buried in consecrated ground. Without any big magisterial statement or public fanfare, the pastoral practice of the Church has changed, quietly but decidedly. Those who commit suicide are now treated like any other baptised person, and rightly so. This is because we’ve come to a better and more compassionate understanding of the mystery of suicide and the factors that may lead to it. Again, no core doctrine of the Church has been violated.

The journalists also keep asking: “what will be the fruits of this Synod?” Even at this late stage, it’s hard to say exactly. Certainly there’ll be no great overturning of Church teaching in key areas. But there’s likely to be a new creativity and commitment in the way we accompany married couples and families in all their diversity and at every step of their journey. There will also be an attempt to forge a new language – less negative, more in touch with reality, more comprehensible. In part, this will mean a more biblical language.


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