I offer several pieces on the synod of bishops – an overview of synods, a look at the upcoming gathering for young people that opens tomorrow, a piece by vaticannews correspondent Linda Bordoni and a sage analysis by Ed Condon for Catholic News Agency.
I find Condon’s comments very interesting especially because I covered the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family, during which (and also afterwards) there were many reports that the agenda and the observations and commentaries made by synod fathers leading to the final papal document, “Amoris Laetitia” had been “hijacked” by a small group of people. And some are already asking: will there be a repeat?
His insight into five bishops suggests there will be those who can help balance the equation, that is, distance it from a potential “hijacking.”
You may remember this article in the National Catholic Register by Edward Pentin: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/evidence-emerges-of-an-engineered-synod
And Pentin’s Kindle book: “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod: An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.”
Let’s pray the rosary daily, as Pope Francis has asked us, and put synod work high on the list of prayer intentions!
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
The Synod of Bishops was created by Pope Paul VI in response to the wishes of the Fathers of Vatican Council II to maintain the positive and collegial spirit engendered by the Council. It was formally instituted on September 15, 1965, during the last session, with the Motu proprio “Apostolica Sollicitudo.”
Even before the Second Vatican Council the idea was growing for a structure that might provide the bishops with the means to assist the Pope in a manner to be determined, in his governing of the universal Church.
However, it was Pope Paul VI who gave force to these ideas going back to when he was Archbishop Montini of Milan. In a talk commemorating the death of Pope John XXIII, he made reference to an “ongoing collaboration of the episcopate that is not yet in effect, which would remain personal and unitive, but given the responsibility of governing the whole Church.”
After his election as Pope he kept returning to the concept of collaboration within the episcopal body—the bishops in union with the successor of Saint Peter—in a talk he gave to the Roman Curia on September 21, 1963, at the opening of the second session of the Second Vatican Council on September 29, 1963) and again at its closing (December 4, 1963).
With its root in two Greek words – “syn” meaning together, and “hodos” meaning road or way, a synod is thus a “coming together,” a meeting or assembly at which bishops and the Holy Father gather to discuss problems or issues relative to the universal Church or, on occasion, to particular Churches.
Pope John Paul II referred to the Synod as “a particularly fruitful expression and instrument of the collegiality of bishops”
The synod is normally a consultative body but the Holy Father may confer deliberative powers on it. Its structure and organization are regulated by Canons 342-348, which describe it as “directly under the authority of the Roman Pontiff whose duty it is” to convoke a synod, assign the agenda, designate members or ratify those already elected and, when he desires, preside over the assembly.
The synod holds three types of sessions: general ordinary sessions deal with matters concerning the entire Church; general extraordinary sessions deal with matters “which require a speedy solution”; special sessions are called to handle matters regarding specific Churches or regions.
The first secretary general of the Synod of Bishops was Polish Archbishop Wladyslaw Rubin, whom Pope John Paul II made a cardinal in 1979. The First General Assembly was held from September 29 to October 29, 1967. On March 23, 1970, Paul VI created a permanent general secretariat in the Synod of Bishops.
YOUNG PEOPLE, THE FAITH AND THE DISCERNMNT OF VOCATION
Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3, will be a big day here at the Vatican for it is the opening of the 15th ordinary general assembly of the synod bishops since it was instituted in 1965 by Blessed Pope Paul VI following Vatican Council II. In fact, Paul VI will be canonized on October 14 during this year’s synod.
As always, the 2018 synod will open with a Mass presided over by the Holy Father. Just weeks ago, on September 15, the Vatican presented Pope Francis’ Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis communio, on the structure of the Synod of Bishops. It had a number of new elements, one of which establishes that the final document of a synod assembly, drafted and approved by a special commission, can be considered part of the ordinary magisterium – that is, the official teaching of the Church – if it receives a particular level of papal approval.
What is a synod? The Code of Canon law defines it as “a group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and meet together at fixed times to foster closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and bishops,… and to consider questions pertaining to the activity of the Church in the world.”
The theme chosen by Pope Francis for the 2018 synod is “Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocation.” It will be one of the longest in the history of synods at 25 days, ending on October 28.
We see that the theme in many ways shows a continuum with the two October synods in 2014 and 2015 on the family, as well as with Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”
An early Vatican communiqué on this year’s synod said the theme “aims to accompany young people on their way of life towards maturity so that, through a process of discernment, they can discover their life’s plan and realize it with joy.”
Saturday, October 6, starting at 5 pm, there will be a meeting of young people with Pope Francis and the synod Fathers in the Paul VI hall. Intended to allow “young people to offer concrete experiences about their life in study and work, their feelings, their future and their vocational choice,” it will feature testimonies, musical interludes and artistic performances, and will focus on three themes: the search for identity, relationships, and life as service and gift.
“Young people are particularly invited, and we hope they will be numerous in order to make their voice and their warmth heard by the Synod Assembly,” said Vatican statement. The Congregation for Catholic Education is organizing the event.
According to its preparatory document, the synod’s purpose is to reflect on the Church’s call “to accompany all young people, without exception, towards the joy of love.”
APPROACHING THE SYNOD WITH OPEN HEARTS AND MINDS
(vaticannews.va – Linda Bordoni) Pope Francis will celebrate the opening Mass for the Synod of Bishops on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” on Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops briefed the media on Synod proceedings and goals at a press conference on Monday morning.
A Synod of Bishops is a crucial moment in the life of the Church. It is a time for it to reflect on its current status and look to its future, a time to adjust to a world in the throes of change and to set itself new goals and adopt new idioms so as not to lose its footing and risk becoming irrelevant.
All that is especially true in the case of the Synod taking place here in the Vatican throughout the month of October, because it focuses on the very people who will make or break it in the future: young people.
At a press conference at the Holy See Press office on Monday morning, Cardinal Baldisseri carefully explained Synod procedures pointing out that a new Apostolic Constitution signed – significantly – by the Pope just two weeks ago, strengthens the involvement of the “People of God” and further promotes dialogue and collaboration between bishops and between bishops and the Pope.
This, he said will give even more clout to the final document Synod Fathers are called to produce, after listening to the interventions of the Synod Fathers themselves and of the so-called 49 auditors, of whom 36 are young people chosen to represent their peers from the five continents.
Bishops from China
All in all some 300 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and lay experts will be taking part, and for the very first time since Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965 to collaborate with the Pope, discuss topics and make recommendations, two bishops from mainland China have been able to accept the invitation thanks to last month’s landmark agreement between the Holy See and Beijing.
Communicating the Synod
As for communicating to the world what is going on inside the Synod Hall, the Dicastery for Communication will be on hand with reports, videos, daily multi-language briefings and lots of social media activity including a special #synod2018 hash tag on twitter.
Clerical sex abuse crisis
Asked whether the latest revelations regarding widespread clerical sex abuse may have spawned a climate of distrust and anger which could lead to a breakdown in communication between young people and the Church, Baldisseri said he is confident the Synod will provide a golden opportunity for exchange on this critical issue as well.
Pope Francis himself is expected to be present for many – if not all – the Synod sessions, but in a clear sign he it does not want it to be seen as a closed-doors event for a few privileged invitees, he has asked hundreds of young people to join him and synod participants on Saturday in the Vatican audience hall for an evening of music and some lively exchange.
The Church wants to do its part
The Church, Baldisseri highlighted again and again, wants to do its part in walking with its people, and that, he said, is what we intend to do in this Synod “with open eyes and ears, but also with open hearts and minds” accepting the challenges put to the Church through the “restlessness of young people”.
FIVE BISHOPS WHO COULD MOVE THE SYNOD
Vatican City, Oct 1, 2018 / 05:00 pm (CNA).- By Ed Condon.
This week the Synod of Bishops begins its fifteenth ordinary general session, convoked to discuss the themes of young people, the faith, and vocational discernment. The session will take place over three weeks, from October 3-28, and include bishops and other delegates gathered from around the world.
The bishops who will attend do so either by virtue of their office (as is the case for many curial prelates), through election by the local bishops’ conference or the synod’s previous session, or because they were specially appointed by the pope.
In total, more than 300 hundred participants will gather in Rome, including clerics and religious, as well as 49 auditors, among them 36 young people from the five continents.
The U.S. delegation was publicly confirmed in July. Elected to represent the American bishops were Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the USCCB; Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the conference’s vice-president; Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, chair of the USCCB committee on marriage, family, and youth; Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, who also sits on the committee; and Bishop Robert Barron, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles.
In addition to these, Pope Francis appointed Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark as delegates.
Cardinal Tobin subsequently announced he would not travel to Rome, saying he could not afford to be absent from Newark for the several weeks covered by the synod, and citing revelations concerning sexual abuse in the archdiocese over the summer, which he called a “crisis that continues to unfold.”
The working document that will form the basis for the synod’s deliberations was released in May. Drawing on responses gathered from local Churches and young people as part of the synod’s preparatory phase, the document outlined a number of themes for discussion during the general session. These include vocational discernment and the transmission of the faith, but also how the Church can better engage with young people on issues such as sexuality and gender, social justice themes including racism, migration, and economic exclusion, and the place of young people as “leaders” in their communities.
Some bishops, including Chaput, have questioned the appropriateness of continuing with the synod as planned in the wake of the sexual abuse crises which have rocked the Church in the last few months. In an op-ed published Sept. 29, Chaput noted that a meeting on young people and vocational discernment in the midst of clerical abuse scandals was poorly timed.
“A more ironic, and more difficult, confluence of bad facts at a bad time for the meeting can hardly be imagined,” he wrote.
Many concerns have also been raised that the synod itself might be pressured to focus disproportionately on so-called LGBT issues, much as the last synod, held on the family, was seen as fixating on the pastoral care of the divorced and civilly remarried.
Like all sessions, the synod will produce a final document treating the themes discussed. Traditionally, the pope issues a document of his own in response to the synod’s deliberations, called an apostolic exhortation. Recently, Pope Francis approved changes to the way the synod functions, creating the explicit possibility that he could adopt the final document as his own and incorporate it into the ordinary papal magisterium.
Looking ahead to the synod sessions, a number of bishops and cardinals from around the world are expected to figure heavily in the deliberations.
Possibly the two most influential figures will be Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri and Cardinal Sergio da Rocha.
Baldisseri is the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and has had a central role in the synod’s preparations, and he will help manage the day-to-day progress of the meetings. He has been in charge of the synod’s permanent secretariat in Rome since 2013.
During the last synod session in 2015, on the family, Baldisseri came under criticism for attempting to steer the process and content of the discussions and final document. A letter signed by 13 cardinals, including Cardinal DiNardo, was handed to the pope the day the session began complaining about shortcomings in the working document to be discussed, and of attempts to foist an agenda on the bishops before they had begun discussions.
On Oct. 1, Baldisseri publicly criticized Archbishop Chaput for raising concerns about the working document ahead of this month’s session. Chaput, who as a member of the synod’s ordinary council was involved in the preparation of the instrumentum laboris, published a theological critique of the working document Sept. 21 prepared by an anonymous theologian.
The critique highlighted “a pervasive focus on socio-cultural elements” in the working document “to the exclusion of deeper religious and moral issues.” It also said the text relegated the Church’s essential teaching function and authority in favor of a passive posture of “listening” and “dialogue.”
Baldisseri said he could not understand Chaput’s criticisms, or the need to make them publicly. Instead, the cardinal said, concerns should have been raised privately and could have been included in the document “with calm.”
Cardinal Sergio da Rocha is the Archbishop of Brasilia. In November of last year, Pope Francis named him as the relator-general of the synod, charged with outlining the synod’s themes at the beginning of the session, and summarizing the contributions of members throughout the synod’s progress. He will also play a key role in drafting the text of the synod’s final document which will be put to members for a vote.
Cardinal da Rocha has played an active role in public life in his native Brazil, chairing a debate between the country’s presidential candidates, and publicly condemning the legalization of abortion in response to the Zika virus outbreak. Da Roche was also a member of the planning committee for the 2015 synod on the family.
Another potentially crucial figure at this month’s session will be Cardinal Wilfred Napier Fox, Archbishop of Durban.
Cardinal Napier was also an active participant in the 2014-2015 sessions, where he played a vocal role in opposing what were seen by many as attempts to push through plans to admit the divorced and civilly remarried to Communion over the majority-consensus of the synod fathers.
During the last synod, Pope Francis asked Napier to join the group charged with drafting the synod’s relatio, or final document, citing concerns that the Churches in Africa and Oceania were under-represented.
During the drafting meetings, Napier recalled that he objected to the inclusion of language about same-sex couples in the section on marriage, noting that the Church does not recognize such unions to be marriages at all, and that the proposed text undermined efforts by bishops in African countries to oppose the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage.
Despite his opposition, he said, the drafting committee “just carried on discussing how the proposition should be phrased in Italian.” According to an account given by Napier, the drafting committee, led by Cardinal Baldisseri, continued to ignore his objections, prompting an angry intervention in support of him by Washington archbishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
As an outspoken defender of the Church’s teaching on life issues and a frequent presence on Twitter, and given his previous criticisms of the synod process being overly managed, many are looking to Cardinal Napier as a potential voice for synod members, and a force for “fair play” in how the final document is drafted.
Another bishop-attendee predicted to play an influential role is Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki of Poznan, president of the Polish bishops’ conference. Gądecki has shown himself to be an adept leader of the bishops of one of Europe’s most conservative, and sometimes combative episcopal conferences.
During a period in which European countries have struggled to form a common approach to the issues of increased political integration and the migrant crisis, which still dominate large parts of political debate, Gądecki authored a document contrasting the “dangers of nationalism” with the “beauties of patriotism.”
Similarly, the pastoral guidelines issued by the Polish bishops’ conference on the implementation of Amoris laetitia were widely seen as a thoughtful via media.
Emphasizing Pope Francis’’priorities like better and longer marriage formation for couples, before and after the wedding, the document stressed the need for pastoral accompaniment for couples in irregular unions, while underscoring the Church’s discipline with regards to reception of Communion.
Often seen as an agent of compromise, but unflinching on matters of doctrine, Gądecki could well emerge during the synod as a constructive force in reconciling those looking for a change of pastoral tone with others concerned with protecting the integrity of the Church’s teaching and discipline.
A final synod father likely to make an impression is Cardinal Louis Raphaël I Sako, Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad. In addition to choosing him as the first voting cardinal from the Chaldean Church, Pope Francis has asked the head of the Church in Iraq to serve as one of the synod’s four presiding delegates, charged with leading the sessions.
A tireless advocate for persecuted Christians, especially in the Middle East, Sako will provide a global perspective for the synod’s deliberations and could well serve as a vocal corrective should proceedings begin to turn too closely around what are seen as European and North American concerns.
Formed by his own experiences in Iraq and by the sufferings of Christians in that country, Sako frequently references the Christian call to heroic witness and martyrdom, something which may well feature in discussions of how the Church best expresses unpopular truths in the modern world.
Before being submitted for consideration by the pope, the synod’s final document will be voted on my members, with a two-thirds majority needed to include an item, and only a simple majority needed to strike an item.
Given the express possibility that Pope Francis may adopt the final text as a magisterial document of his own, the debate amongst delegates over the final wording could prove even more contentious than the last meeting of the synod in 2015. In such a case, figures like Baldesseri, da Rocha, Napier, Gądecki, and Sako could well prove decisive in forging not just a final document, but the support needed to pass its provisions.