A tour de force meeting of minds, a nervous pull back, small groups and calls for greater lay involvement

Relatio post disceptationem: where it stands
The important work of the first week of the synod was captured in “Relatio post disceptationem,” a document described as “a mirror…of what we have reached so far,” by Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Philippines.
By every measurement the document indicates a church well on its way to re-imagining its relationship to those who have been previously sidelined; cohabiting, divorced and remarried and same sex couples. There is no turning back despite some strident calls to do so. While the reality of building consensus by the end of the week looms large with a chorus of synodal voices cautioning that modifications are sure to come as a result of small group interventions, there is much reason to expect the core elements of the document will arrive in Pope Francis’ lap intact.
Here’s why.
Today, Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach responded to the criticisms of Cardinal Wilfred Napier and others saying “Relatio” fairly represented the voices of those who spoke at the synod undercutting some of the criticisms being proffered that Pope Francis influenced the mid-term document by handpicking the group who drafted it.
On Monday, Cardinal Luis Tagle also defended the integrity of the document thanking Erdo, Forte and the other drafters for their “heroic act” in capturing the discussions accurately.
And while the voices of discontentment and  even suspicion are grabbing attention, the voices for change being aired at the synod are amazingly strong, unified and confident. What has been penned in this church-bending document is not the result of sudden conversions in the synod hall, but the effect of the open space created by Pope Francis. Those who had doubts about the “smaller, purer” version of church are now speaking openly in growing numbers.
And even though Francis is saying very little at the synod, it is clear he wants to see transformation. Outside the synod hall, he continues his campaign for dialogue and change exhorting synod leaders to ” . . . remember holy law is not an end in itself.”
Language Groups meet
Since Monday, the ongoing work of the synod has been carried out in small language groups where participants offer additions and amendments to the working document. According to some insiders, the work has been intense as prelates struggle to make their position dominant.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz reported today that the English language group wants to introduce three additions to the working document that would
  • Highlight the important witness of sacrificial, loving families today
  • Ensure our words are welcoming and come from the heart
  • Make sure pastoral outreach is rooted in the beauty of Scripture and Church teaching.

Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, head of the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization, said his Italian language group wants to include problematic aspects of the annulment process highlighting the need to do away with exorbinent costs.

Calls for a deeper involvement of the laity and a shift in the starting point for developing pastoral practice

Last week, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, head of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, spoke of a major shift, a new starting place for theological reflection by bishops at the synod saying, “We are finding that the lived experience of people is also a theological source…a place for theological reflection.”  Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster agreed that having married couples speaking before the prelates was new and very efficacious for the work of the synod.

On Tuesday, Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin echoed Durocher’s theological starting point saying, “We have to develop a different type of theology in which we can learn from the lived experience of families and the difficulties that they have.”

In the same vein, Capetown Archbishop Stephen Brislin, President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, gave voice to the desire to engage the laity more thoroughly and effectively.  Speaking about the testimonies of the couples last week, he said, “I think one of the great things of the synod has been to hear these testimonies. And all of them have been very moving and thought provoking. One of the weaknesses, of course, is the time limitation. The couples were limited to four minutes and a four minute input on these issues is really not very much.”

In other words, the relationship between bishops and the laity must be re-ordered, the lives and experiences of the laity must be a central starting place for all theological reflection and teaching on the family, and the laity must have a greater hand in developing the work of the synod..
Coming soon
Tomorrow, modifications of the working document, “Relatio,” will be presented to the whole synod for review with a final draft presented to Pope Francis by Sunday.But as veteran reporter Robert Mickens points out, “The real work must take place in the weeks and months ahead, between the sessions. . . .”
Like FutureChurch and other reform organizations, he calls for a widening of the circle theologians as intercessional seminars, conferences and consultations are carried out in preparation for the ordinary synod in 2015.

Over the next year, Mickens believes the bishops should include, ” . . . Catholic faithful of all walks of life and of varying experiences, not just priest-theologians.”

Going further he advocates for widespread discussions over the next 12 months saying, “Just as Pope Francis opened the current synod assembly by telling participants he wanted them to speak with parrhesia, so bishops throughout the church must allow their priests and people to engage in brutally honest conversation about the realities of family life, marriage and human sexuality in a spirit of respectful and humble dialogue.”

To that we say, “Amen.”

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