Maronite Bishop: ‘I Hope the Synod Will Focus on Servant Leadership’

‘We could study the ways Jesus led and ask ourselves if we could lead more like him,’ said Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, adding, ‘To undo the clarity of faith and morals of the Church would neither be fair nor honest.’

Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn
Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn (photo: Joe Bukuras / CNA)

As a prelate whose Eastern Church is governed by synods, Maronite Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn has offered a vision of the Synod on Synodality as a meeting on “servant leadership.”

“Imagine if the Synod on Synodality was not named such, but rather was named ‘The Synod on the Church’s Servant Leadership’ and we would address together the question: ‘How can we as a Church, especially bishops, priests and deacons in Church leadership, develop a closer following in the footsteps of Christ?’” he told CNA in an interview Sept. 28. 

Bishop Mansour added the question: “How may we as members of the Church be true servant leaders to our own baptized and to the world?” 

Bishop Mansour is not one of the 360-plus voting members in the upcoming October synod session, but several Eastern bishops will be participating, including three Maronites — Cardinal Béchara Boutros Raï, patriarch of Antioch, head of the Synod of the Maronite Church; Bishop Mounir Khairallah of Batrun, Lebanon; and Archbishop Selim Jean Sfeir of the Archeparchy of Cyprus.

“Re-imagining” the synod’s brand as one on servant leadership can help the “average layman” but also Bishop Mansour himself to better understand it “through the visionary lens of Pope Francis,” he said.

Bishop Mansour said that reflecting on some of the “signature outreaches” of Pope Francis, the synod on servant leadership might focus on how Catholic humanitarian agencies may impact service to migrants, to those trafficked, and to those in the midst of war; how the Church may better outreach to nonbelievers, Muslims, Orthodox, Protestants, the disenfranchised, to those Catholics who feel far from the ministry of the Church, to all clergy, and to women in the Church and outside the Church.

“We could study the ways Jesus led and ask ourselves if we could lead more like him,” he said. “Thus in the vision of Pope Francis, I hope the synod will focus on servant leadership.” 

Reflecting on his own experience in the Maronite synods, Bishop Mansour said discussions have included topics such as pastoral concerns, the particular law of the Maronites, liturgy, humanitarian outreach, and electing new bishops.

“But as far as doctrine, dogma or moral teachings, we don’t go there. Those are pretty much settled, and they’re not part of our synodal discussions,” he said. 

The Synod on Synodality has been a cause for concern among some Catholics for its choice of particular discussion topics — such as women deacons, priestly celibacy, and LGBTQ outreach — and certain controversial participants such as Jesuit priest and LGBT activist Father James Martin. 

For his part, Bishop Mansour shares some concerns that participants in the synod may try to influence change in matters of Church doctrine or sacramental discipline, pointing out that some participants have publicly voiced their opinions in opposition to the Church’s teaching.

One of those voting members is the Swiss Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, who said recently that he is in favor of women’s ordination and an end to mandatory priestly celibacy. 

“I am in favor of the ordination of women; it will also be a topic at the synod that will soon take place in Rome,” Bishop Gmür told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag on Sept. 24.

“To undo the clarity of faith and morals of the Church would neither be fair nor honest,” Bishop Mansour said. “In fact, it could betray the very purpose explicitly stated by those preparing the synod,” he added.

The synod might, however, suggest to Pope Francis better ways that members of the Church can serve those who disagree with Catholic teaching and are affected negatively by the present sacramental teaching on issues such as divorce and remarriage, or how to include more women in non-ordained roles in the Church, he said. 

“The synod should focus on good governance in the Church and not on controversial changes to discipline or moral teaching,” he added.

Bishop Mansour, who is supportive of Pope Francis’ decision to include the laity in the synod, noted that Pope Francis, “in his wisdom,” wants the universal Catholic Church to be governed by both a synodal approach and a hierarchical approach. 

One without the other can lead to “chaos,” Bishop Mansour said. The synodal and hierarchical approach, with the pope as the final decision-maker, is a “good and sure” Catholic approach, he said.

“One without the other would do harm to the unity and clarity we already possess in the Catholic Church,” he said, noting that the role of the pope is “essential” for unity and clarity. 

“I hope the Synod on Synodality will help us better our servant leadership as Catholics. I also hope that the synod will not be tempted to suggest changes to the unity and clarity on faith and morals that Catholics have come to treasure,” he added.

The synod can be a “source” of progress for the Church in “deepening our unity” and servant leadership “or it can set us on a course that does harm to both,” he said.

Bishop Mansour concluded, “Like everything in life, it is up to us. May we be guided by the Holy Spirit.” 

Pope Francis holds his rosary during the Mass for the conclusion of the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 29, 2023.

The Need for a Deeper Theology of Synodality

COMMENTARY: Without explicit clarification, the synthesis document of the recent Synod on Synodality seems to teeter on a Protestant understanding of ministry, where all ministry flows from baptism, and a correspondingly Protestant ecclesiology, which is essentially baptismal and only secondarily Eucharistic, if at all.