What to remember from the first phase of the Synod of Bishops on the future of the Church

What to remember from the first phase of the Synod of Bishops on the future of the Church

We talked about the place of women in the Church (a lot of equality of the baptizedof the proclamation of the Gospel in diversity cultural contexts; of the sexual or power abuse, the integration of marginalized people, the ordination of married men… The assembly of the Synod of Bishops on synodality, closed on October 29 in Rome after four weeks of work, marks the history of the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.

A first in history

For the first time, around a hundred lay people, men and women who came from all over the world to talk about what is going – or not – in the Church, sat at the same table as the 270 bishops and cardinals of the assembly. With the same speaking time and, like them, the right to vote on the texts produced by the assembly. For the first time, the work program was set on the basis of broad consultation started two years ago in parishes and various communities on five continents. Finally, for the first time, the working method designated by Francis as “conversation in the Spirit” – a succession of speaking turns in groups of twelve people, without interruption or reply – was able to ensure that everyone had a word straight away. personal and free. All in a climate of listening and prayer welcomed by all the participants.

Yet he entered “backwards” at the end of 2021 into this synodal project which he considered “not very concrete”, the president of the Scandinavian Episcopal Conference, Czeslaw Kozon, confided his satisfaction to the British newspaper The Tablet. “The hot topics arose, but in a very disciplined manner,” he said. Even Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a fierce opponent of Pope Francis, acknowledged that the conversations were “good”, regretting however having had “very little influence”.

Innovative proposals

Another “first time”: the assembly voted on Saturday October 28 for a summary report highlighting precisely the points of convergence and divergence, and making proposals for each of the twenty questions addressed. All paragraphs were approved by at least two-thirds of the votes. This document of around forty pages outlines the face of a synodal Church of faithful all responsible, where the preferential option for the poor is reaffirmed, while explicitly inscribing it in the energy sown by the Second Vatican Council. It will serve as the basis for the last phase of the synod, which begins today and will continue in the local Churches until the fall of 2024. A second assembly of the synod of bishops, also consultative, will then be held. Then the pope will promulgate a text which will have the force of law.

A number of strong words emerge from the document, particularly regarding women: “It is urgent to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral work and ministry”; “Consecrated women are too often considered as cheap labor,” we can read. Concerning women’s access to diaconal ministry, two opposing positions are clearly expressed: rupture of tradition or, on the contrary, return to the primitive tradition.

More room for lay people

The assembly, however, voted for the proposal for a “ministry of the Word of God”, accessible to the laity, which could include preaching in certain contexts.. The abundant text of the synthesis also addresses numerous aspects of the organization of the institution. Thus, one proposal calls for deepening the “doctrinal nature” of episcopal conferences, suggesting freedom of interpretation of doctrine according to the local context. We are thinking in particular of the ordination of married men limited to certain territories, a proposal already formulated during the Synod on the Amazon which was held in Rome in October 2019.

Is the synodal Church desired by Pope Francis on the verge of success? The apparent inertia of the faithful – less than 1% of Catholics participated in the fall 2021 consultation – indicates the extent of the road remaining to be covered. Without forgetting the ever-deep concern of those who fear seeing the synod call into question the hierarchical structure of the Church. Optimistic but lucid, Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille, recognized on October 23: “The months to come will be those where we will reap the fruits that we have sown.”

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