Report of Our Global Continental Synod Board
Now Renamed: Global Ecclesial Synodal Council
October 29, 2022
After the opening prayer, we had opening comments and welcomed everyone onto the call. There were 25 reform-minded people from many different countries including UK, Germany, Venezuela, Peru, Australia, Kenya, and the USA.
Template letter to go out to bishops around the world: https://catholicchurchreformintl.org/reaching-out-to-bishops-asking-to-be-included-in-their-consultation/
Bishops are being directed by the Synod office to share the DCS with their people, invite discussion over the next couple of months whether we approve the document and, if there are items missing from the DCS, we are encouraged to send to the Synod office and to our Conference of Bishops any further changes that we want to recommend be included on the agenda for the second stage of the Synod.At the encouragement of Pope Francis and the Synod office, we should not wait to receive an invitation from our bishop. Rather, we should be sending a letter to our bishop seeking to be included in the consultation process or recommending whom we want included.
Actions taken or will be taken by members:
Maggie Conway (UK) said they would be sending their letter to the UK Bishops’ Conference now that they’ve read the DCS. They’re paying special attention to the three questions being raised to direct the second phase of the synod:
- Which intuitions resonate most strongly with the lived experiences and realities of the Church in your continent? Which experiences are new or illuminating to you?
- What substantial tensions or divergences emerge as particularly important in your continent’s perspective? Consequently, what are the questions or issues that should be addressed and considered in the next steps of the process?
- Looking at what emerges from the previous two questions, what are the priorities, recurring themes, and calls to action that can be shared with other local Churches around the world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal Assembly in October 2023?
Brian Moir (US) said they sent a letter to their bishop stressing the importance of listening to the grassroots.
Nick Smith (US) said they sent a letter and got a response thanking them and saying they will “follow whatever the Vatican instructs them to do.”
Kevin Liston (Australia) said their bishops have asked for the name of those who wish to coordinate a response to the Document. How nice and somewhat of a surprise given the challenges the people faced in their Plenary Council.
We must be prepared if any of our bishops refuse to hold consultations. But it would help if each bishop first received numerous letters from the members of the diocese expressing a sincere desire to be included in the consultation. If he still chooses not to have a consultation, then we need to call together people from our parish/diocese and/or small community to discern our beliefs on our own with or without our bishop. Synods are expected to be a prayerful reflection in which diverse opinions are expressed and we are invited to listen respectfully and then take our turn to speak and be listened to in the same spirit. Many of these sessions could be happening simultaneously around dioceses. Of course, invite the bishop to join, but we must be prepared to go forward regardless of whether he accepts. This could be a formal meeting held in a parish hall or a few people you know who meet in someone’s home. Then after a one or more sessions, share your report with you Conference of Bishops (http://www.gcatholic.org/dioceses/conf-roman.htm). As a backup, you may want to notify the Synod office email@example.com and copy Sr. Nathalie firstname.lastname@example.org that you were unable to have a consultation with your bishop and would request that your report be included in the preparation for the Continental Synod.
Note: since our gathering on the 29th, we have this update for the United States. Despite the directive of the Synod office, the USCCB is not handling this as the Synod office directed. The USCCB is neither accepting nor welcoming direct written communication at all. At first, seeing this as a letdown, we learned that, in addition to the fifteen regional online gatherings planned to cover the expansiveness of the U.S., they have set up a Regional XVI group. This is a kind of catch all for those who are feeling left out of the process or perhaps don’t have a bishop doing any consultation. The staff member stressed they are not accepting written reports from individuals and prefer verbal input at these meetings to represent organizations. She said that the DCS is “pretty much done and will not change in any significant way.” As the director of CCRI, I have now been invited to participate in their Region XVI Zoom meetings scheduled for January/February with the USCCB and others. In the 2 ½ hour meeting, each of us will be asked to contribute input verbally on the reflections of U.S. participants. The good news in this is that we in the U.S. have November and December to read the report, come together in one or two or more sessions, and discern what we approve and what is omitted from our original submissions. Again, this only applies to the United States. Every bishop’s office is handling this differently. All other countries are encouraged to reach your Bishops’ Conference and learn (1) how they are handing feedback regarding the DCS, and (2) who is the coordinating team who will be making the decisions and selections of lay members to be included in the Continental Synod. Please share via email if you learn anything that would be valuable to all of us.
News out about two of the Continental Synods:
Joe Healey (Kenna and US) said the announcements are out for:
US/Canada Conference will have 10 online sessions to make it easier for people to participate.
Bishop of Armagh announced that 13 representatives from Ireland will be attending the Continental synod in Prague in February.
Check the Internet to learn more as announcements unfold.
Letter to go to U.S. Conference of Bishops
To read this letter, click: https://catholicchurchreformintl.org/letter-to-us-conference-of-bishops-re-the-continental-stage-of-the-synod65/. As other countries send in letters to your Bishops’ Conferences, please share them. And if you want the support of a larger community to sign, let us know.
The role of women in the Church is the most advanced now in Germany. In the September assembly of this year, it was clear that we understood that the synodal path could only work if we do it together. There is a majority that are ready and willing to implement changes in a credible manner in the spirit of the Gospel. Under the heading “Embarking on a Path of Change and Renewal,” after research by theologians, our assembly adopted and renewed what was already proposed in Vatican II.
To access the full document, click https://www.synodalerweg.de/english/documents. We added a foundational text, such as power and separation of powers in the Church SV-III-ENG_SynodalForumI-Foundational-text-PowerandseparationofpowersintheChurch-Second-reading.pdf (synodalerweg.de), which ultimately included women in ministry and offices in the Church, involvement of the faithful in the appointment of bishops, sustainable strengthening of solidarity, and root and evaluation of homosexuality. 82% of the assembly voted in favor of the text but the necessary 2/3 majority of the bishops was not received (only 61%). To keep dialogue between bishops and the people as an established practice, it was decided that we would establish a Synodal Council that would advise on important developments in the Church in its entirety. This would include pastoral challenges, questions concerning the future of the Church, financial and budgetary matters. In preparation for the Synodal Council, a synodal commission would be established at the last synodal assembly in March 2023. The Synodal Council will be be composed of the 27 diocesan bishops, 27 members elected by the Central Committee of Catholics (ZdK), and 20 members subsequently elected by the Synodal Assembly.
In response to a question raised about avoiding the synodal commission becoming too much like a parliamentary procedure that Pope Francis warns against, Miriam said the only practical way to represent the entirety of the People of God in Germany is to have a body, led by the Holy Spirit, who would evaluate the Synodal pathway and give concrete ideas and perspectives on the synodal quality of these assemblies.
What is happening in Latin America and all over the world is the reemergence of the People of God since Vatican II. This gives hope and inspiration to the Church in Latin America. Four years ago, in preparing for the Amazonian Synod, which is huge in geographical size but small in terms of jurisdictions, the bishops were able to listen deeply to the people and relearn what they had already heard in their own jurisdictional sessions. Two key issues resulted: (1) the impact of corporate destruction on the rainforest and on the lives of the people who live there and (2) rethinking the role of the faith, of the Church, regarding this matter. This all became clear in the final document that came out called Sinodo Amazonico. Following this, what continued were ecclesial assemblies (including all the People of God), not episcopal assemblies (bishops only) in all 22 regions. In November of last year, these ecclesial assemblies continued helping the people of Latin America experience what the listening concept was all about. Notable was the equation of the consistency of the pastoral proposals that resulted about listening to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth, to women, and to cultures who had not been previously considered. This gave new insight into the relationship of the People of God regarding authority and our understanding of leadership in the Catholic Church. There is a kind of symphony going on all over the world now. The synodal experience is bringing light to the role of the People in Apostolic times, particularly as reflected in the Gospel of Luke. There is a rootedness in the Church in Latin America stemming from Vatican II and can be seen reflected in the four major conferences held over the last 15-year period in Medellín, Pueblo, Santo Domingo, and Aparecida. Considering the urgency of such critical issues facing the Church today, what will make it effective is that it is being transformed from a preaching, teaching approach to a listening Church.
Report regarding future plans of Root and Branch: Maggie Conway, UK
Root and Branch is putting forward a proposal to establish a 1st International Ecclesial Conference that could continue annually. The People of God having already started to begin seeing themselves outside of the more rigid hierarchical structures that we have become accustomed to. We are seeing the proliferation of Small Christian Communities or Base Christian Communities. With the advent of Zoom, we now have a way to bring these groups together more easily. This assembly would be a hybrid event held October 12-14 of 2023. It will be both virtual and physically live. We envision that most attendees will be participating in a virtual capacity with representation coming from every continent. R & B will give assistance in how to manage this. They will provide the technical know-how. There will be a live participation both in Bristol and Rome. We will be sending out a consultation form to the wider group by the end of next week to get your comments and how you might contribute. After receiving the consultation forms back, we hope to have the details worked out and ready to move forward by the end of the year. By virtue of our baptism, we the People of God have the right to move forward with this without the approval or permission of the clergy.
Document for the Continental Synod: Presentation by Professor Rafael Luciani
He is a Lay Venezuelan theologian, who served on the DCS drafting team.He was appointed as an expert of the Theological Commission of the General Secretariat for the Synod. He is also an expert of CELAM (Latin American Bishops Council) and Member of the Theological Advisory Team of the Presidency of CLAR (Latin American Confederation of Religious men and women).
The challenge of this document is that it takes us to another level of listening and discernment. The responsibility of this document is to have successfully picked up what was said in the first phase with the people. Following the model adopted in Latin America, it is proposed that this next phase of consultation is asking regional groups to enter into dialogue with a diverse group of lay women and men, religious, people outside the Church, and limited to 20% clergy. The purpose is to bring together representatives of each local church to confirm that what was originally said is in fact present in the document and then put together a document that representatives that region of the world. Following these reports being sent to Bishops’ Conferences, the bishops will meet for 2 or 3 days to approve the changes. The challenge is that continents like Africa, Asia, and Europe are divided among countries and have no experience at ecclesial gatherings with such diverse views. He recommends we pay close attention to the end of the document where proposals are made about how to move forward.
Alloys Nyakundi, who coordinates the Young Adult Seekers online community, asked how do we make sure that there are representatives of different age groups? Rafael said that we need to find out who will be the coordinators in each continent and make every effort to engage with them before they move forward.
Joe Healey (Kenya) raised the question that finance committees are mandated in canon law, but parish councils are only recommended. When speaking to a group of Africans, Cardinal Grech said he has two full-time canon lawyers working on updating canon law, and one of them is researching how to change canon law to make parish pastoral councils mandatory. Rafael said this is a major focus of Cardinal Grech; in addition, he also wants to make diocesan pastoral councils mandatory but doing so represents a significant challenge, as the majority of bishops do not have/want diocesan councils. Without adequate changes to canon law, neither pastoral parish nor diocesan councils can work in an ecclesial way. Too often, as they exist now, members are just there to receive orders from the bishop or pastor. It would be very useful if we can put forth a meaningful proposal as to how to make this workable as an ecclesial body.
Joe raised a follow-up question, even if councils are mandatory, how to make them genuinely ecclesial. In most parishes, the pastor is king. Rafael said if the synod proposes making parish and diocesan synods mandatory, which appears will almost certainly happen, the challenge is to provide a procedure for how to enforce a synodal approach between clergy and laity. If in our gatherings, we could come up with a pragmatic solution, this would be a contribution that would be useful and would gain much attention.
Charlie Gibson (US) said unless canon law changes to stop giving full authority to the bishop or pastor, nothing will ever change. Even if we could get the procedure right, Penelope wondered why the word “pastoral” is used because it seems to restrict responsibility for proper governance. Rafael said “pastoral” refers to something for the good of or the use of the parish. Charlie is right that the challenge is changing a mindset that has been very clear for a long time. So, if councils are declared to be mandatory, to make them effective, canon law must also make them deliberative where the pastor or bishop must live with the decision. The culture of the early Church was first to consult with the presbyters but then, if a proposed plan is not agreed to by the whole People of God, then it does not go forward. This ecclesial culture is what we must create in a synodal Church. Consultation is one phase of pastoral activities but then you have the consensus of the whole community. That is the reason the pope extended the synod one more year to work toward building a culture of consensus-building. This raises such important topics as accountability. The challenge is how to do this without becoming dependent on bishops in each diocese. How to proceed must include both structure and culture and not just one or the other.
Maggie Conway (UK) asked: If structures have been proposed knowing that they currently don’t exist, why are these structures being recommended to engage the people in getting their feedback? And around this whole issue of discernment, when the bishops get together at the end of the process to discern, how do we know that the bishops aren’t just censoring, that they are just ensuring that this ecclesial approach is prevented from going forward? When you get a group of like-minded people together, they often recognize what they already have as good and share this in common. This seems very problematic. Rafael said that our new understanding of discernment is seen, not just an individual but a common discernment. If we don’t learn a way to do communal discernment, the whole concept of an ecclesial synodal culture will not change. As we were preparing the DCS, we used a process where a section of a document was read by groups divided by gender, by continents, by different language groups, by different cultural groups, so that was a guarantee that the topic resulted in as independent of just one perspective. In the reform of the Curia, one change that has already been implemented is that a position that previously could only be held by a bishop can now be held by a lay person. Women began to be appointed to positions of authority.
Peter said it is crucial that we have a clear understanding of discernment and what it means. Discernment is closely related to dialogue. While it involves each of us personally, it takes place in a community in which we’re convinced that we have an openness to the Holy Spirit. It leads to us learning what God has in mind for us at this time in history. It leads to a recognition that both our own point of view and the other point of view have equal value in a relationship. Pastoral councils that only feedback to the priest what he is already saying are a double-edged sword. We need to promote pastoral councils as a space where different views can be taken, and a true consensus of the discernment process guided by the Holy Spirit will emerge.
Rafael said he just came from Poland, and we all know that Polish bishops are resistant to any change or synodal approach. There is a group there made up of lay and religious women who have been working for the past four years to bring together minority groups and non-Catholics from all over Poland. It was possible for them to clear the whole movement because they did not have to have the permission of the bishops. But it was surprising to see this in a traditional Polish episcopal Church that this accomplished without a single bishop supporting their work. If they can do this, knowing that we do not the permission of the bishops to engage in encounters like this, we who have at least a couple of bishops supporting the synodal process can do the same and more.
Maree Sobolewski (Australia) said, if we are to stay unified with the hierarchy, it would have been helpful if the bishops had been prepared by Rome to embrace this sharing of their power. What preparation were they given? Rafael said there is nothing official. However, when a new bishop is appointed, he must take a course in Rome and now, a day of worship on Synodality given by Cardinal Grech and Sr. Nathalie has been introduced. It also depends upon region. Beyond this, sadly, he doesn’t see anything more than this being done. Maree responded that we speak about the formation of the laity but there also needs to be formation of the bishops into this new synodal approach.
Audrey Rogers (US) asked in the chat if he sees real change coming to canon law. Rafael said it will take years to change all of canon law but the plan is to (1) see what principles already exists that we are not using, such as a bishop can request a married man to be ordained; (2) select certain canons such as pastoral councils to move forward immediately, and (3) with more time, envision the future according to the ideology of the People of God. There is so much more that the laity can do that, even now, is not restricted in canon law. It will take a change in our mentality.
Clyde concurred that in the English tradition, law comes from what is practiced on the ground. We are too accustomed to the bishops being in power. But we must change the orientation so that the people realize they are empowered. Rafael’s example of what happened in Poland is a good model.
We know this consultation phase is very short but how do we know the deadline for getting the consultation reports back to the bishops’ conferences? Rafael said that each continent is handling this differently. Contact Cardinal Tobin for the U.S. and Canada. For Europe, while Cardinal Hollerich of Luxembourg is overseeing the European Assembly, contact the Bishops’ Conference directly for each country to learn who is on the coordinating team. The most important step he suggests we take next is to learn the makeup of the coordinating team in each continent and let them know that we want to be involved in the process. This short consultation phase is not to introduce new material but simply to confirm what was said in the diocesan phase and add anything missing. He said not to waste time having our own listening circles now. Contact the coordinating team and do what we can to be involved in the continental ecclesial assemblies. That is where everything will take place next. Applause for Rafael concluded his presentation with much gratitude.
- For those who missed Saturday’s session, here is the recording: https://youtu.be/XR7KIbrPCb4
- Renaming this Board to be inclusive of the entire Synodal process through 2024. At our steering committee meeting, it was agreed to change the name of our board to the Global Ecclesial Synodal Council. If there are no objections, we will go forward with this name.
- How we see our work going forward
- Formation of a steering committee is in process of being established.
All are asked to give this serious thought and send in suggestions via email regarding all these issues.
Thanks to Professor Rafael Luciani for providing such valuable information about the Document for the Continental Synod Stage (DCS) and how we can best follow-up to share our insights with our Bishops’ Conferences. And thanks to Miriam Pawlak (German Synodal Path), Peter Hughes (CELAM), and Maggie Conway (Root and Branch) for sharing your updates about each of your organizations.
Next session: Saturday, November 19, same time
It was agreed that this gives us enough time to complete our consultations and get a report into the Bishops’ Conference, learn the members of the coordinating team for each conference, and report back how things went and what obstacles you faced.
Recommended reading by Peter Hughes:
Report submitted by Rene