Vatican Synod Symposium: Faithful Must Have Much Greater Say

Push to also give Synod of Bishops increased prominence and influence.

(photo: Screenshot)

A recent Vatican symposium hosted by the Synod of Bishops secretariat has called for much greater emphasis on the contribution of the “People of God” in the work of future synods.

According to a statement released Feb. 17 which summarized the discussions of the Feb. 6-9 symposium, there was a need to conceive episcopal authority as a “service to the People of God”, rediscovering the “subjectivity of the People of God” as well as the relationship each bishop has with the local and universal Church.

The symposium, held to examine more deeply Pope Francis’ landmark speech last October in which he called for a more collegial, decentralized and “listening” Church, was made up of ecclesiology and canon law professors from various ecclesiastical universities and faculties around the world.

The Register understands that many of the participants were already permanent consulters to the Synod of Bishops, previously appointed by the synod secretariat.

Today’s statement says the symposium participants suggested a “permanent consultation” of God’s People following the surveys that took place ahead of the last two synods on the family. In this context, it refers to paragraph 119 of Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which states that the People of God is “holy” thanks to baptism, making it “infallible in credendo [in believing]”.

The statement further calls for “greater involvement” of the faithful who participate in synods as experts and auditors. Although they cannot vote, they “can still play an important role in the process of discernment and decision-making, according to the oldest tradition of the synod,” it says.

The participants also suggested a reflection on the tasks of the synod secretariat so that a “permanent character of the synodal body” could be envisaged.

The symposium reflected on the collegial, essentially consultative, nature of bishops, saying that collegiality “invites us to overcome” the “self-referential” nature of “ordained ministers” and instead return to the concept of bishops in accordance with the Second Vatican Council dogmatic constitution, Lumen Gentium. In paragraph no. 23 of the document, bishops “individually represent their Church and collegially the whole Church, making the College of Bishops the epiphany of communio Ecclesiarum,” the statement says.

It adds that the participants reflected on the representation of the College of Bishops, and “the value of the final documents of the synod”, including the one issued “by the authority of the Pope.”

Further reflection was also made on collegiality at lower levels “among which stand out the bishops’ conferences." How much new authority will be given to bishops’ conferences is crucial to any decentralization plans. The statement says the participants reflected on how the Synod "may coordinate fruitfully" with those "peripheral to ecclesial collegiality," and calls for working with "bishops' conferences and continental groupings" as well as "synods of the Eastern Churches" to "translate, in different socio-cultural situations, decisions taken at the central level."

The statement isn't clear what those decisions entail; informed Vatican sources have told the Register that no harm has been done so far, and insist that faith and morals cannot be "nationalized".

The statement closes with an excerpt from the Pope’s October speech, given to mark the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, in which Francis said:

“A synodal Church is a Church which listens, which realizes that listening “is more than simply hearing”. It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), in order to know what he “says to the Churches” (Rev 2:7). The Synod of Bishops is the point of convergence of this listening process conducted at every level of the Church’s life.”

It’s likely that the symposium’s emphasis on the People of God, which grew in prominence after the Second Vatican Council and corresponds to all the baptized, will be the basis of significant change in the synod’s nature, according to informed sources.

But giving such weight to the sensus fidelium — or the sense of the faithful — is seen as potentially problematic given the poor level of catechesis in recent decades and the large numbers of lapsed Catholics, especially in the West.

In an interview with the Register Feb. 5, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis said that while the sensus fidelium is “important,” it is “presupposed that they are fideles who practice the faith” and this is a “serious problem” in light of how relatively few Catholics do this.

“The sensus fidelium is of practicing Catholics,” he asserted. “They know there is a magisterium of popes and of bishops. If they dissent from the Magisterium of the Pope or also from the defined Magisterium, then you cannot say this is the sensus fidelium.

“They are baptized faithful who unfortunately are not conformed to the faith as they ought to be,” he explained. “The sensus fidelium implies the gift of the Spirit that leads the faithful to give their adherence to the Magisterium of the Church.”

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