“The synod is now becoming very fashionable”

Bishops © Jeoffrey Guillemard (CBA)

"National plenary council," "synodal way," or "diocesan synod". Many names have what happens in various countries and under birth pains in the church. The goal seems to be the same: trust and hope for renewal.

Can the way already be the goal? Not in this case. Catholic Church too badly off in 21st century. The Church is facing the 21st century with galloping secularization, with scandals and a lack of orientation. Pope Francis has repeatedly stated since his election in 2013 that he wants to revive the concept of "synodality" formulated at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). It has strengthened the instrument of the Synod of Bishops and promoted its secretary general, currently Mario Grech of Malta, to the rank of cardinal.

Meanwhile, synodal processes are getting underway in several countries. Recent example: Ireland. A Vatican diplomat recently put it this way: "The synod is now very much in vogue."These processes have many names: "National Plenary Council," "Synodal Way," "Diocesan Synod.".

But the goal always seems to be the same: to win new trust, to seek dialogue with those who think differently and who are distant, to renew hopes in the church.

In Ireland, the Catholic bishops announced this week that they will convene a national synod within five years. In preparation, there should be a "synodal pathway" ("synodal pathway") – a formulation that looks familiar in Germany. Among other things, Ireland explicitly wants to hear the voices of those who have left the Church. There, as hardly anywhere else, this path was born out of sheer necessity.

The extent of sexual and spiritual abuse in the realm of churches and religious houses in the 20. The nineteenth-century scandal of dead babies in the so-called Magdalene homes for unwed mothers: all this has caused a veritable avalanche of faith practice in once deeply Catholic Ireland. Irish bishops say they perceive "a call for transparency and accountability in the church". More participation of women is also an important concern for them.

What is the situation in Australia??

In Australia, the Catholic Church has long been planning its first so-called plenary council in over 80 years. Pope Francis already gave the green light for this in March 2018. But the Corona pandemic was not the last thing to throw a spanner in the works.

Actually, the two sessions of the national plenary assembly of the Catholic Church were scheduled for October 2020 and May 2021. After all, the working document has now been published recently.

An Australian plenary council had last been held in 1937. All bishops, vicars general, representatives of religious orders and the directors of seminaries are obliged to attend. In addition, lay people, clergy and emeritus bishops can be appointed as delegates. The faithful are to be involved in shaping the content via a website and events in the parishes. The organizer, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, formulated after the abuse scandals: The church wants to discuss its future in a "time of significant challenges in an open, listening, dialogical and insightful way".

And in Italy?

In Italy, it is rather the pope who carries the bishops to the chase.

There the renewal processes are rather hesitant. At least four dioceses are now moving forward synodically. Cardinal Grech, in an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA), says: "There are those who need to be encouraged to take a step forward, and there are those who need to be urged to be a little cautious. Not because someone wanted to restrict our freedom, but to help us not to lose our way."

So the synodal way must not be allowed to go astray. In this way, Grech addresses a sore point that is likely to be heard with particular attention in Germany. There, the Catholic Church embarked on a journey two years ago that is being watched internationally with great suspicion.

For example, George Weigel, a conservative theologian and book author who is influential in the U.S., fired sharply this week, calling on Pope Francis to "call the German bishops back to the faith".

The basic texts of the "Synodal Way" were "corrosive in character"; the synodals, including the bishops, were "apostate" from the true teaching of the church" and "in service to the postmodern credo that there can be 'my truth' and 'your truth,' but nothing can be described as real truth". Finally, he brings out the heaviest club a U.S. American can wield against Germans: "The instinct for totalitarian coercion," Weigel says, "is apparently dying hard in some cultures."

Cardinal Grech offers help

Curia Cardinal Grech sees it much more relaxed; at least he packages possible concerns from Rome very kindly. The German initiative is also "a positive moment for the Church," he told the CBA. Rome wants to "help with such a process, support it". He himself would even like to take part in a meeting in Germany. But with Pope Francis, he also stresses:

"A synod is not a parliament and synodality is not democracy."Rather, it is a matter of "discerning God's will" in listening to one another". This, he said, is a very exhausting and demanding process.

The synods of the 2020s, it rings through, are not meant to be political gatherings like those in that first wave of synods when, in the politicized societies of the 1960s/70s, the decisions of Vatican II were extended further and further to the left. The Dutch Pastoral Council (1966-1970), for example, demanded in a kind of Catholic cultural revolution, among other things, the release of priestly celibacy and the election of bishops by the people. The demands are however today again on the table.

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Christina Cherry
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