Vatican Corner 11-11-18

The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution of the Catholic Church first established by Pope Paul VI in 1965 to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion after the close of the Second Vatican Council. It is an assembly of bishops chosen from different regions of the world to meet at a selected date in the Vatican to discuss three topics chosen from conference suggestions, reviewed and recommended by the secretariat to the Pope who sets the topics and agenda for the assembly. The bishops examine proposals put forward by its members and those that receive the assembly’s approval are passed on to the Pope. Historically, synodal documents have not been given much weight and are primarily for discussing an issue and offer the pope the fruits of that discussion. The Pope then later in a apostolic exhortation traditionally produces an authoritative document based on that discussion. The focus of the 2018 Synod which just ended October 27, 2018 was “Young People” (ages 16-29, The Faith, and Vocational Discernment. After three weeks of synodal sessions, voting and approving, a final document resulted which mostly addressed the stated topics. However much of the anticipation for the synod was about other subjects than the chosen ones. The three most prominent of these subjects were the clerical sexual abuse crises; the concept of “synodality”, and the way the Church speaks about human sexuality, especially homosexuality. Once the sexual abuse crisis began, bishops from around the world called for the 2018 Synod to be delayed or repurposed to tackle the growing crisis. In an attempt to keep the synod from being derailed from its intended purpose, Pope Francis announced that there will be a February 2019 meeting to take place with the world’s bishop conferences to treat the matter of abuse specifically. This synod’s final document did acknowledge the problem and include condemning several kinds of abuse and included praise for victims, but did not include any authoritative answer to the problem. The concept of “synodality” surprising emerged in the dra& of the final synod document. But there was little common understanding among the bishops regarding what exactly the word means. The synod text called synodality a remedy for clericalism which some have blamed for the sexual abuse crisis and it being a way of creating a more “participatory and co-responsible” Church. Although there was a broad consensus among the bishops in favor of a more engaged, responsive and interactive leadership, many of the synod fathers were caught off guard by the inclusion of the topic in a document intended to focus on youth. Before and during the synod , efforts were made to insert parts of the gay rights movement, especially the acronym LGBT, into the synod documents. But many of the synod’s fathers criticized the efforts to advance distinctly modern and Western attitudes on human sexuality in the synod’s documents. The final document made no mention of “LGBT persons” Catholic or otherwise, and called it “reductive” to define a person’s identity by their sexual orientation. At the synod the suggestion by Belgium bishops to allow young married men to become priests fell flat. There was no reaction to easing the rules on celibacy. That idea is likely to be on the table at a synod next year dedicated specially to the Amazon, an immense territory where clergy are scarce. It has been pointed out that according to the bible, Saint Peter, the Church’s first pope had a mother-in-law.