Synodality, Accompaniment, and Listening Characterized Synod 2015

Thursday afternoon, the Synod fathers received the draft of the Relatio Finalis – a document that consists of a synthesis of some 1,355 modi drawn from the work of the thirteen small groups. According to Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican, that document also takes into account Pope Francis’ opening address of Monday, October 5, the speeches of the members of the Synod General Secretariat, and the aula interventions of some 270 bishops. He said the first draft of the final report constitutes an attempt to represent the differing viewpoints expressed during this month’s assembly. The cardinal spoke at a briefing at the Holy See Press Office on Friday.

 At this writing, neither the original nor a translation of the text have been released to the public, including journalists accredited to the Holy See Press Office. Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Director of the Sala Stampa, suggested copies would be made available after tomorrow’s vote on the entire document and each of its numbered paragraphs. Although the document is highly anticipated, Cardinal Gerald Lacroix from Quebec in Canada told journalists at today’s briefing that the synodal process itself is likewise important and that the “Holy Father has heard the weight of all arguments and has been listening.”
Tasked with helping the Holy Father weigh and consider this month’s three-week-long discussion is the Council on the Synod. Going into today’s briefing, Fr. Lombardi announced the Council of the Synod has been elected, but Pope Francis has not made his personal appointments to it. As such, he declined to make further comment about that body.  

But, today in the synodal aula, the bishops responded to the draft of the Relatio Finalis. Fr. Lombardi observed that most fathers seemed satisfied with the document, proposing only minimal revisions of the draft. Overall, the assembly found the text more ‘coherent’ than the June 23 Instrumentum Laboris. In all, the bishops offered some fifty-one suggestions for improvement of the text in the form of short three-minute-long interventions.

This morning, many of the suggestions for textual revision concerned the ‘complex’ relationship between the natural moral law and conscience. In his remarks to journalists this afternoon, Bishop Van Looy from Gent in Belgium said conscience must be educated according to each person’s point of departure, which includes that individual’s cultural context. He said that “God loves you as you are, but he refuses to leave you as you are.” In this connection, Cardinal Oswald Gracias from Mumbai in India noted ahead of today’s briefing that he does not expect the document to propose the admission of divorced and civilly remarried persons to sacramental communion.
At yesterday’s press conference, Cardinal Gracias said the final synodal report searches for common ground, seeking consensus. And today, Cardinal Turkson said that consensus does not necessarily signify weakness. Both Cardinal Lacroix and Bishop Van Looy agreed that uniformity of thought is unhealthy and that there is richness in the ability to entertain diverse opinions.
While this year’s synodal assembly made room for divergent viewpoints, Cardinal Turkson rejected characterizations of it as a confrontation between two opposing ideological blocs. Instead, he described it as emblematic of the Church herself – an institution that is at once synodal, seeking to accompany the strong and the broken, and actively engaged in listening to the Word of God and one another. Bishop Van Looy said that ‘synodality’ was experienced this month as “listening, accompanying, and integrating the views of others.”

Both Cardinals Turkson and Lacroix and Bishop Van Looy praised Pope Francis’ deepening of the theology of ‘synodality’ at last weekend’s commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the permanent Synod of Bishops. And, Bishop Van Looy described his experience this month as a re-encounter with the catholicity of the Church. All three church leaders said the nearly month-long experience of listening to representatives from around the world proved a very educative experience.

They also situated this month’s meeting within a larger historical context. Cardinal Turkson referred to the Assisi meetings with inter-religious leaders as another example of ‘synodality.’ And, he noted the challenges confronting families in Africa today, suggesting church leaders must pay attention to these in order to offer pastoral solutions. Bishop Van Looy mentioned his experience of ecclesial accompaniment of refugees from Syria and the Middle East.

In light of the fast-approaching Extraordinary Jubilee Year, Bishop Van Looy said “mercy begins with listening to accompany and involve people,” noting that “it is our pastoral duty to walk with the families, to open ourselves to the plan that God presents.” He said that if the Church was more like the Synod, then it would be tender. Such tenderness is evangelizing, “The tenderness which we really exercise towards all those different situations of people, that’s a witness.”