“Starting anew from local Churches”

A scholar in History of Christianity analyses the Assembly's conclusions and extends the glance to October 2015

The Synod of Bishops is “reborn” 50 years since its establishment. Never before had a Synodal Assembly raised the same amount of attention as the one on the family, held a few days ago in the Vatican. Now that the first phase has ended the journey continues with the local Churches working on the “Relatio Synodi”, the final document of the extraordinary assembly submitted to the Episcopal Conferences worldwide as “Lineamenta” for the Ordinary Assembly that will take place in October 2015. These two stages are to be placed “within a renewed synodal life of the Church”, said Massimo Faggioli, Professor of History of Christianity at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis / St. Paul. From the United States, where he lives and teaches, the historian provided to Vincenzo Corrado, for Sir Europe, an extensive reading of the””new course” initiated with this Synod. Are the various passages that have marked the extraordinary assembly – from the preparatory questionnaire to the “Relatio Synodi” – that will lead to the ordinary Assembly of 2015, contributing to reconfigure the concept of “synodality”? In this “common journey”, is there a greater involvement of all the faithful? “The Synod of Bishops is not intended as a celebratory moment of consensus that is taken for granted. Rather, it is an institution for the collegiality of bishops in a synodal Church Assembly. Collegiality is one of the modalities pertaining to the relationship of communion between the bishops with the Pope, while synodality involves all the Catholic faithful in the Church, at different times. These two realities need each other, and Pope Francis called the bishops to convene in Rome for two Synods, between October 2014 and October 2015, understood not as isolated moments, but within renewed synodal life of the Catholic Church”. In other words, a “new” path has been traced, and the one already begun is not just an ordinary passage… “It is not an ordinary passage because the issues addressed in the Synod have been raised for the first time in the history of Church, that are not Church magisterium. However, in the light of recent Church history, it is clear that the answers given in the post-Council are not exhaustive nor definitive. The Second Vatican Council was celebrated fifty years ago before these issues became part of the life of all local Churches in the global Church. From this perspective it’s a crucial passage, as the synodal debate must start with the most difficult questions, whereby pre-established consensus on the pastoral actions to be taken is still lacking”. How will the challenges of the “Relatio Synodi” be received? “I think that the ways in which the synod discussion of October 2014 took place will have a role in the debate in the universal Church that is starting now: the decision of Pope Francis to publish the ‘Relatio’ along with the votes cast for each paragraph is a decision aimed at providing an interpretive key to that document and each one of its paragraphs. As has been said many times in the press conference, the two celebrations of the Synod a year later recall the dynamics of the Council in-between-sessions, namely, the January-August period separating four sessions of the Second Vatican Council. During those inter-sessions the documents discussed by the bishops in Rome received essential contributions for their maturation. In short, what are your expectations for the second phase of the Synod on the Family? “Much will depend on the Pope, and the agenda he will set for the next twelve months: Pope Francis has a wide design in mind and the two Synods are essential aspects of this plan to reopen the Church to the world, as it is, in the sign of mercy and the poor. But much will also depend on the local Churches, especially the bishops, namely, if they intend for their local Churches to live in synodality. America, the country where I live, come mixed signals: the new archbishop of Chicago, for example, is clearly in tune with Pope Francis, but many other bishops appointed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, view this papacy as a disturbing element to a doctrine which they consider consolidated in all of its details and not subject to further development. What is surprising is that they have no qualms about openly criticizing the Pope, fomenting confusion and division in the Church (as have recently done Tobin of Rhode Island and Chaput of Philadelphia). For them synodality is synonymous with parliamentarism or ‘Protestantism’, but understood in a negative sense. The challenge awaiting Pope Francis and the Church has just begun”.

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