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Members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops started a working session in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 18.
Members of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops started a working session in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall Oct. 18.
Photo Credit: Lola Gomez | Catholic News Service

Synod looks at ways to increase participation of all in mission

Members of synod assembly began theme of ’participation’ Oct. 18 and prepared to discuss the exercise of authority in the Church

Lithuanian Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius celebrated Mass to open the fourth and final module of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 18. Concelebrating to the left is Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod assembly, and to the right is Serbian Archbishop Ladislav Nemet of Belgrade.
Photo Credits: Vatican Media
VATICAN CITY — A “synodal Church” where all the baptized participate and take responsibility for mission will need structures and processes to help Church members listen to the Holy Spirit and to one another, members of the synod on synodality were told.

While “the big media” is looking for changes in Catholic practices on just a few issues, “even the people closest to us, our collaborators, members of pastoral councils, people who are involved in parishes are wondering what will change for them, how they will be able to concretely experience in their lives that missionary discipleship and co-responsibility on which we have reflected in our work,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the synod relator general, told the assembly Oct. 18.

Those collaborators, he said, “are wondering how this is possible in a Church that is still not very synodal, where they feel that their opinion does not count and a few or just one person decides everything.”

Members of the synod assembly moved Oct. 18 on to the theme of “participation” and prepared to spend four days discussing the exercise of authority and responsibility in the Church as well as the processes and structures needed to promote greater participation in the life and mission of the Church.

The section was to include discussion about ways to encourage the development of “discernment practices and decision-making processes” that involve all Catholics in seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a look at how to harmonize “the synodal and hierarchical dimensions” of the Church. Previous sections discussed “A communion that radiates” and “Co-responsibility in mission.”

The synod working document also asked assembly members to consider how to “foster the participation of women, young people, minorities and marginalized voices in discernment and decision-making processes.”

The working document noted, “The call to reform structures, institutions and functioning mechanisms with a view to transparency is particularly strong in those contexts most marked by the abuse crisis — sexual, economic, spiritual, psychological, institutional, conscience, power, jurisdiction.”

In looking at participation, power and authority in the Church — “delicate issues,” Cardinal Hollerich said — the assembly is not being asked to come up with solutions, but suggestions, which will be studied, discussed and prayed about over the course of the next year before being presented to the synod assembly scheduled for 2024.

“These are questions that need to be addressed with precision of language and categories,” the cardinal said. “They are delicate because they touch the concrete life of the Church and also the growth dynamism of the tradition: a wrong discernment could sever it or freeze it. In both cases it would kill it.”

Father Dario Vitali, a professor of theology at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University and coordinator of the theologians assisting the synod, told members he was struck by how often participants in the hall echoed the Second Vatican Council’s description of the Church as a “sacrament,” a “sign and instrument” of unity with God and with humanity, but how seldom anyone used Vatican II’s description of the Church as “the people of God.”

In discussing “participation, responsibility and authority,” he said, synod members would do well to recognize Vatican II’s insistence that “before functions is the dignity of the baptized; before differences, which establish hierarchies, is the equality of the children of God.”

Gifts, charisms and offices in the Church — including ordained priestly ministry, the office of bishop and that of pope — are meant to serve the mission of the entire body, he said.

The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church referred to the “‘common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial or hierarchical priesthood’ as distinct forms of participation in the priesthood of Christ,” Father Vitali said. “This passage was ground-breaking because of the choice to overturn the two themes in play; placing the common priesthood before the ministerial priesthood means breaking an asymmetrical relationship of authority-obedience that structured the pyramidal Church.”

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe, the former superior of his order who is serving as a spiritual guide for the synod, told members that many people have said to him, “This synod will not change anything.”

Some of them said it with hope, while others said it with fear, he said. But to him, “that is a lack of faith in the name of the Lord,” who has promised to be with the Church and renew it, “though maybe in ways that are not immediately obvious. This is not optimism but our apostolic faith.”

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