Reports of Our Global Ecclesial Synodal Council Gatherings (Gesc) November 19, 2022

Reports of Our Global Ecclesial Synodal Council Gatherings (Gesc) November 19, 2022

Participants of 1st session: Joe Sannino (Women’s Ordination Conference, U.S.), Raquel Mallavibarrena (We are Church and  Reanaise Cristianos Spain), Nick Smith (involved in reform and member of parish with a woman priest, U.S.), Bob Buchanan (retired priest, U.S.), Maggie Conway (Root & Branch, UK), Charlie Gibson (11 years with Jesuits, U.S.), Kathleen Ellertson (reformer and member of Small Christian Community, U.S.) Daniel Bartalo (active priest, Malta), Clyde Christofferson (member of NOVA community, U.S.), Luca Badini (with Winjegaards Institute, UK), Miriam Duignan (with Winjegaards Institute and Women’s Ordination Worldwide, UK), Audrey Rogers (parish project coordinator for Baltimore diocese, U.S.), Rene Reid (CCRI, U.S.)

Participants of 2nd session: Patricia Gemmell (belongs to Voices of Australian Catholic laity, GESC steering committee, Australia), Maree Sobolewski (religious ed teacher, MA in theology, GESC steering committee, Australia), Peter Johnstone (co-convenor of ACCCR, Australia), Joe Sannino (U.S.), Denise Dixon (active parishioner, member of Emmaus which is mostly ex-Catholics, U.S.), Ed Gerlock (former Maryknoll priest, deported from Philippines by Pres. Marcos, returned 1986 to work with community based programs for elderly urban poor), Peter Johnstone (set up Catholics for Renewal, co-convenor Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, M.A. Theology), Kevin Liston (former Irish Missionary priest, member of ACCCR and South Australian Catholics for an Evolving Church), Rene Reid (co-founder CCRI, U.S.)

Reports of what is happening in each Continental Synod

U.S.: Divided U.S. into 15 regions all meeting on Zoom; Region 16 has been added as a catch-all for those not included elsewhere. Rene has been included in this region to represent CCRI. For those holding consultations on the DCS without a bishop in the U.S. are welcomed to send Rene your discernment about the DCS – what you love and what needs further clarification. Also send your information to the Synod office reporting that you’ve been unable to be part of a consultation with your bishop or he appears not to be holding consultations.

Europe: Kevin reported that the European Continental Conference will be held in Czechoslovakia. Thirteen representatives from Ireland, mostly lay people, will be in attendance.

Maree noted that the representative from Northern Ireland was not known to be progressive. Kevin, born in Ireland, said this is not surprising.

Maggie said a letter went out from Root & Branch to all 22 dioceses in England and Wales, and also to the Synod office, seeking to learn more about the selection of laity. They’ve also sent their letter to the Tablet hoping to get it published in full.

Australia: Much to everyone’s surprise, the bishops sent out invitations inviting anyone who

wanted to consult with them about the DCS was welcome to sign up. Nothing more known about the Oceana Continental Synod. Kevin and Peter think the bishops have not yet decided on the laity to be invited to it. But they are hearing talk of it being strictly an episcopal gathering (bishops only) and not an ecclesial one (with the people included).

Philippines: Because the Philippines is such a Catholic center, Ed suspects that that Asian Synod will take place there. Being friends with the bishop, he will try to learn more about the details of the Asian Continental Synod: who is the coordinating team; how will the laity be selected; will the delegates be transparent?

Africa: The African Continental Ecclesial Assembly (Synodal Gathering) will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Wednesday, 1 March to Tuesday, 7 March 2023. This assembly will involve 100 delegates — bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay Catholics. The delegates will be chosen by the SECAM Office in Accra, Ghana in consultation with others.

General Discussion First Session

Charlie asked if anyone from the UK was in touch with Austen Ivereigh. Response: he does not seem to be open to interact with the lay reform community.

Joe was concerned about the creation of Region 16. It appears to be cutting the laity off more than opening things up for us.

Maggie agreed. They learned, for example, that there was a 91% call from the 22 diocesan synodal gatherings for the ordination of women both to deaconate and priesthood. But the UK national synthesis only mentioned in passing that there was a call only for greater leadership for women in the Church.

Clyde suggested we take a more process orientation to this. Joe pointed out the bishops in western cultures have proven they have no interest in going into a synodal process. Clyde said if we reformers could at least look like we’re walking together, as opposed to so many bishops walking their own way, it would move the process along.

Maggie said they’re hoping the conference that Root & Branch is kicking off next October 2023 will be the catalyst leading to something much more important that will have connected networks of people across the globe and will continue into the future. It would be wonderful if the institutional Church wanted to join.

General Discussion Second Session:

Peter in Melbourne received nothing from his bishop about the Synod nor is anything posted on the diocesan website about it. Kevin noted how much in common all continents had with the same issues coming up from all over the world in the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS).

Maree felt the bishops used the Australian Plenary Council to get ahead before people became more informed during the Synod. She received much information from the National Institute for Pastoral Research but had a strong sense of resistance from the Australian bishops. They made a strong recommendation for the Synod but there wouldn’t be any objection if you didn’t go along with it. One priest said he wouldn’t trust anything that came from the Synod. Both Peter and Maree are writing to their bishops attempting to engage. Nothing back yet. The bishops are exerting a great deal of control and prevent a lot of people from responding.

Ed said in the Philippines, his bishop sent out a letter saying they wanted not just priest and religious to participate in this Synod, but they wanted lay people as well. Ed is trying to bring in his friend Karl Gaspar, a Redemptorist brother who is deeply involved in Synodality in the Philippines. He feels certain that he will be one invited to take part in the Continental Synod. There are numerous Base Christian Communities which are mostly independent in the Philippines. Many parishes would typically have 30 or 40 outstations where the Eucharist would be celebrated, admittedly, however, with all male leadership. Typically, their liturgies would be participatory sharing reflections on the Gospel and the Eucharist would be brought in for the community. The largest part of their country is rural, and, in these substations, their communal gatherings are already quite synodal.

Joe said in his diocese in New Jersey, he senses that his bishop is shutting down. So little being communicated about the Synod. Everything is being sent to the Bishops’ Conference where bishops seem to be clinging with other bishops talking to each other but not to the people. He is concerned that the catch-all Region 16 being created in the US. Is going to further silence what the people really said. He is not hopeful.

When meeting with obstruction, i.e., bishops not open to consultation with the people, what is anyone doing to get around it?

Maggie said Root & Branch will give the bishops a week to respond to the letter each received from them. If little or nothing comes back, they’ll go to the media and, likely, hold a Zoom conference inviting people to come together and discern the DCS on their own. Then send that to each bishop’s office and to the Synod office.

Rene faced a similar obstruction from her bishop in Reno when he would not allow her a consultation with him. She dealt with the roadblock in her diocese by publishing an article in the local newspaper: To fellow Catholics in our diocese (rgj.com). This article can be an example for others to use in local papers when you have bishops not spreading the word about the Synod or the DCS. Note she didn’t attack the bishop, but let people know that they are invited to be part of this consultation phase of the DCS.

Nick said, after several written exchanges and the bishop still refused to meet, he reconvened his original synodal group and they are assembling their comments about the DCS. They’ll send it to bishop, to the Conference of Bishops, and give them to Rene to take to the Region 16 synodal gathering.

Raquel said in Spain, many people participated in synodal gatherings strongly pressing for issues of importance, such as demanding that women being treated with equality in the Church. But when the bishops issue their report, they mention in passing that something needs to be done about this but offer no solutions. Raquel would like to know what Pope Francis expects from this Synod. If he holds all these synods going back to the 2014 Synod on the Family and all those since then, and if none of these synods result in some notable change, his pontificate will seem almost like a failure. Their groups have cooperated fully in every way, but most Spanish bishops are not enthusiastic about this Synod. She is concerned: how will some deep changes come from all of this and carry on long after Pope Francis?

Clyde believes Francis is hopeful. The Spirit is at work, and it is up to us to keep walking together.

Maggie shares Raquel’s frustrations. She looks to the German Synodal Path which gives us all hope. They are moving forward synodally. If the institutional church insists on remaining a hierarchy, its relevance will inevitably diminish. It took Francis six years to get this synod off the ground because there was so much resistance. But it is going now, and it is up to us to keep it going and bring people together.

Audrey had sent a letter to Bishop Lori who has just been elected as vice-chair of the bishops’ conference, asking how the delegates would be selected. No response yet and this is still unknown. But she since learned that three meetings have been set up in the diocese to evaluate how the diocesan synthesis of each parish compared with the national synthesis and if any significant issues have been omitted. So the diocese is being responsive but it doesn’t look hopeful that they can have any influence over which delegates will be chosen.

Bob said that their group asked for transparency: which delegates were chosen by the bishops and which by the people.

Rene added if the delegates are there to represent our views, then they must be made known to us. They cannot be hidden based on protecting their privacy. As our delegates they need to hear our views and represent us at the Continental synod. This is critical.

Charlie thinks it is positive that there is Region 16. We can take heart that there is such a group.

Luca said that their U.S. branch was invited to participate in Region 16 and they received an email inviting them to participate in the debriefing after the Continental Synod.

Joe said each of us needs to get back with our original group and keep our hearts alert to the project. Politically Women’s Ordination is a key point. The things that changed our politics is reflective that similarly in the Church, women are the best source to get the Church to move forward.

Rene said that the 10 synodal gatherings that she facilitated all made one point. If something significant doesn’t change about women in the Church, this entire synod will be perceived as pointless and will implode on itself. Clyde said that the Spirit is at work and is not waiting for the bishops. Women in his Nova community are clearly moving their liturgies to a new and deeper level.

Reflecting on the questions raised at the end of the DCS

We took a moment of silence to reflect on these questions:

  • “After having read and prayed with the DCS, 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?”
  • “After having read and prayed with the DCS, 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?”

Reflections from First Session

Clyde said that the impact of the six women who presided at their recent liturgy was a “new and illuminating” lived experience.

Audrey has been looking at canon law and was struck at how often baptism was referenced as the fundamental and common denominator of all the People of God and what came out of that baptism. She resonates the disconnect of how strongly the DCS is focusing on baptism again. Our models of governance in the U.S. were formed when we had waves of immigration and the hierarchy was the only educated class and they had to take control of just about everything. That model is rooted deeply. The experience of this communion, mission, and participation which echoes through the entire document says we needs to be on mission. What was new to her was that every one of us is called to be on mission.

Rene said, with all the emphasis placed on baptism, what she found refreshing was Francis reiterating that it didn’t matter if we were practicing Catholics or fallen away out of frustration or hurt, our baptism was still the central call to sharing co-responsibility in the Church.

Maggie said the revelations of the abuse and the coverup led her to understand that clericalism must be dismantled. And that means the hierarchy must be dismantled. But we cannot look to the institutional church to change itself. As the baptized, we have a duty to act on behalf of our Church.

Nick said the inclusion promised by baptism and the outcome of the Vatican II conference are not correlated at all. Governance of parish and diocesan counsels have not worked is because the bishops expect loyalty. He feels the document says very little about clericalism and what should be done about it. The marginalized are left out and appear not to be accepted for inclusion.

Charlie said the two biggest issues are the discrimination against women and the absolute monarchy of the institutional church and both must be addressed. What must be emphasized is the preeminence of baptism and the role of the baptized as the basic source of authority guided by the Holy Spirit.

Kathleen is extremely concerned about the lack of involvement of the people with the bishops during this second phase. Let us exchange information with each other about what more we can do. Rene’s letter published in the paper was a good start and she will try to do the same in her community. She is so disillusioned by the bishops.

Audrey said that on the one hand it is shocking to hear that, yet that is what must happen. Priests have been telling themselves a story for centuries and that is that they became ontologically different when hands were laid upon them at priesthood. They believe they have the right to govern and preach and teach and the other 99% of us have nothing to say about that. In going through canon law, she was amazed to read over and over: “This is divinely ordained.” We need servant leadership and don’t need what we have now.

Maggie said Jesus told us the only way to the Father is through Him – not through the bishop or pastor– through Him. Half of humanity – the female half – has been the most abused by this Church.

Clyde said if we proceed walking together, we will little by little begin to turn this around.

Joe said we need to show compassion for the bishops. He realized that, in his study for the priesthood, he knew little about biology. And the clerics have had the same education he had. They know so little and need to be educated.

Reflections from Second Session

Maree noted that the indigenous people from Australia will need to be involved in truth-telling. We have such a denial of things in the Church that are not so good, and people have lost trust because of that.

Joe said that clericalism, the dominance of the clergy, is one of those standout issues that resonates most strongly with him. The tyranny of clericalism kills dialogue with the people. Peter supported this and said that control is inherent in how this consultation phase is being run. Bishops have been trained in autocracy and have little understanding of what Synodality actually means. Peter’s bishop refuses to have a diocesan pastoral council despite it being promoted in canon law. The Synod office needs to know that the very way this consultation phase is being run fails the test of synodality. Bishops are leaving the gathering of information about the DCS to a centralized bureaucracy thereby showing no interest in the Sensus Fidelium.

Rene noted that if Synodality does not occur to transition us from phase one to phase two, it will skew the entire remaining portion of the synod.

Patricia saw that more and more of the people are understanding synodality and are learning how to do it among ourselves. She had the good fortune to be part of a gathering of 28 people organized by the Archdiocese of Sydney. Bishop Kerry Brady began by saying that we had moved to another level since the Plenary Council to a new way of being Church. It as agreed that the DCS was already a good document and everyone worldwide loves the title: “Enlarge the Space of your Tent” Is 54:2. It is going to take decades to turn things around but already the culture, the clericalism, the sexism, the misogyny, which is deeply embedded in Church culture, is already on the way to changing. A lot of hope came out of the meeting.

Maree said the dilemma we are facing is that We are the Church, but we have to act with assertiveness and without the permission of the bishops to be the Church. Most people in the Church are not there yet. So we must lead the way.

Kevin said the people participating in the Plenary Council were forthright in not going along with the bishops and standing up for what they believe about women in the Church. Even the Catholics who’ve walked away from the Church didn’t feel the need to ask permission. Others are living their faith as Catholics without the Church. Kevin said the institutional Church will have to go through some radical change.

Patricia said it may be that the Church will have to die in order to resurrect itself.

Joe said the challenge we face is this: most of the living body of the Church is made up of people who aren’t particularly deep thinkers. They just want to get on with living day to day. Unfortunately, the bishops can count on these people to fall in line and follow their leadership. They are not absorbing the concept of our creating a healthier Church that involves their assuming some responsibility for the Church and making it more ecclesial and more ecumenical.

Ed said there is an underlying feeling about religion which is in nature itself. The challenge we have is learning how to go back to the spirituality in nature. There is a two-tier system: one brought in by the Spanish missionaries and the other that was already here in the Philippines for hundreds if not thousands of years. There is no doubt that there are people who just want to get on with living their lives but there is also an underlying rational of spirituality that we haven’t found a way to tap into.

As a follow up to what Ed said, Maree referred to a quote from a synodal gathering she participated in. “The document records the broken body of Christ. And there is so much need for healing. And if sometimes we are limping quite severely, we might be able to reach out to others even those in our own church, let alone those in the wider community, and draw them in under the tent. So I feel we need to focus on the body of Christ being more healed and whole, so they have the capacity to be outward focused.”

Next gathering: December 17, 2022

In last month’s session, Raphael Luciani said that Cardinal Grech is focused on changing canon 129 to make pastoral diocesan and parish councils mandatory with lay members having a deliberative voice. (Peter said this is no wonder as everything Pope Francis has been saying is totally against this canon. In some ways, this canon is more serious even that the exclusion of women for ordination.) Cardinal Grech has two canon lawyers on staff working on this. One of them is Dr. Myriam Wijlens who will be our guest speaker for our next session, Saturday, Dec. 17, based on the same two schedules as this month. You can read about her here: Professor Dr. Myriam Wijlens (uni-erfurt.de).

  1. Myriam has requested that she simply have a conversation as opposed to a formal presentation. Here are topics suggested to her by the steering committee:
  2. Making pastoral councils (at the parish and diocesan levels) mandatory, deliberative (as distinct from merely consultative), representative of the community, and allowing for the appointment of professionals trained in specific areas as needed on the councils.
  3. Extending the same representativeness to ecclesial bodies at the national and international levels, lest the representativeness of church structures stops at the diocesan level.
  4. Looking at what the changes would be required in canon law particularly in amending canon 129 to affirm the right of all baptized people to fully participate in the power of governance. Such a change is needed if co-responsibility is to be more than just a word; it would also be required to make sense of the novel acceptance in praedicate evangelium itself that laypeople can lead dicasteries.
  5. Looking at what other changes in canon law would be required to make women fully equal in the church.
  6. Looking at how to make Small Christian Communities a recognized part of the structure of the Church and where this would fit in canon law.
  7. Evaluating how the above changes are integrated into the Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church recently drafted by a group of 25 scholars coordinated by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, and endorsed so far by more than 60 Catholic scholars, including bible scholars, church historians, theologians, and canon lawyers.
    1. We’ll record Myriam’s part in the 1st session and replay it for the 2nd session.

Maggie closed the 1st session with a prayer. Joe closed the 2nd session with a prayer.

Submitted by Rene Reid

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