Fasting and praying for peace in the Middle East – in response to the appeal of Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa – the General Assembly of the Synod on Tuesday continued its discussions on various topics, including the role of women, the ministry of bishops, the contribution of the laity, and possible reforms of Canon Law.
Dr. Paolo Ruffini, the President of the General Assembly’s Commission for Information, reported on the work of cardinals, bishops, priests, nuns, religious, and laity, gathered since 4 October in 35 circular tables in Paul VI Hall, at the daily briefing in the Holy See Press Office.
At his side were four guests: the Archbishop of Rabat, Cristobal Cardinal Lopéz Romero; Bishop Anthony Randazzo, Bishop of Broken Bay, Australia, and President of the Federation of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of Oceania; and Professor Renée Köhler-Ryan and Nigerian Jesuit Agbonkhianmeghe Emmanuel Orobator, among the best-known theologians at the international level.
All four are attending their first Synod and said they were happy and enriched by this “experience” of listening and learning.
Revision of Canon Law
At the beginning of the briefing, Dr. Ruffini spoke about the journey of the participants at the General Assembly, who on Tuesday received a copy of the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation “C’est la confiance” on St. Therese. On Monday and Tuesday, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication said, participants discussed the topics foreseen by Module B2 of the “Instrumentum laboris” on “co-responsibility in mission”.
“Co-responsibility” is the word proposed to be introduced to replace “cooperation” in Canon Law, of which a “revision” has been requested.
The modification is not be a revolution, but an evolution. “The law itself of course can change when the needs of the Church that it has been prepared for change,” emphasized Bishop Randazzo, himself a canon lawyer. He said that some aspects of the law “can be adapted according to the needs of particular communities and situations and circumstances.”
Female diaconate and the role of women
On the subject of reforms, participants General Assembly discussed the possibility of opening the diaconate to women, first clarifying “the very nature of the diaconate”.
Concerning the role of women in the Church, Dr. Ruffini said that “it was recalled that Jesus associated women with His retinue” and “the question was raised whether it might not be possible to envisage that women, who gave the first proclamation of the Resurrection, might not also give homilies.”
“It was also said that when women are present in the pastoral councils, decisions are more practical and communities more creative,” Dr. Ruffini continued, quoting a proverb cited in the hall: “When you want something to be talked about, have an assembly of men, but if you want to do something, have an assembly of women.”
However, although the role of women in the Church was a central focus of the discussion, it was certainly not the only or even the predominant one, just as the issue of women’s priesthood has not been predominant so far.
Professor Köhler-Ryan described such questions as something of a “niche issue” that do not necessarily reflect the real needs of women today.
“I think that there’s too much emphasis placed on this question [of the ordination of women to the priesthood],” she said. “And what happens when we place too much emphasis on this question is that we forget about what women, for the most part, need throughout the world,” including housing, food, clothing, and a future for their children. “I want them to have a future, and a future where they are welcomed into the Church, and everyone they know and love is welcomed into the Church.”
Laity, priests, bishops
The reports of the working groups and of the individual interventions also focused on other issues: the importance of the parish (“which is not a service station but a place of communion”) and of the community; lay ministries, which “are not stopgaps for the lack of priests” and “should not be clericalised”; and on the service performed by priests, whom the community of the baptized cannot do without.
Similar attention was paid on Tuesday morning to the ministry of the bishop, who can be seen as a fatherly figure who accompanies the faithful and expresses love, care, and concern, according to Sheila Pires, the secretary of the Commission for information.
The bishop has to promote interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, he has to manage finances, economic and legal aspects and, precisely in order not to be burdened by such issues, Ms. Pires said, it was proposed that, in a “synodal style”, he could receive help from collaborators and experts.
“The bishop needs to understand that he alone is not the diocese. He cannot do everything by himself, that he needs assistance,” she added.
The assembly also looked at the ongoing formation of bishops, and the relationship between bishops and the clergy, and with new bishops, and stressed the fact that bishops should not avoid listening to victims of abuse. Instead, there must be time and space for this kind of listening, Ms. Pires said.
Cardinal Lopéz Romero: we are halfway there
Numerous points, therefore, and many themes were addressed. However, the Assembly did not come to conclusions on these questions, at least not in this first phase, which, Cardinal López Romero clarified, is only half of a journey that began in October 2021 and will continue in 2024.
“What we are experiencing here in Rome is not the Synod,” said the Cardinal, recalling the thousands of meetings experienced over the past two years among parishes, dioceses, and religious communities globally.
“It was worth it”, he said. “We really succeeded in working with the ashes so that a new flame can be lit.”
“At this stage, we mustn’t expect proposals,” he added. “We still have at least a year of work, and I am almost certain that we will have homework to do. Then we will draw conclusions to arrive at more concrete proposals.”
Professor Köhler-Ryan also spoke of an “interesting”, indeed “very exciting”, moment for the life of the Church.
“I think that what is happening right now at this Synod is that we have the opportunity as a universal Church to hear from very many different voices and that emphasis on listening together in a prayerful way has been very important,” she said, adding that she thinks “the involvement of the laity” is “one of the most significant points about this Synod.”
Professor Köhler-Ryan said the Synod is “a tremendous opportunity to have a sense of where we are as the universal Church, and to have a sense of how it is that in some ways we are very, very much the same across the whole world.”
“We have universal teaching, and we’re really trying in many different ways to reach out to those who might not know about Christ and His Mother and our Church,” she said. And we try to do this in various ways, she continued, including through digital technologies, while recognizing that there are populations that still do not have access to them.
Bishop Randazzo latched onto the theme: “When we talk about digital communication and the synodality of the digital world we’ve got to remember that there might be an island that a ship goes past occasionally with some fuel. If the ship doesn’t arrive, they have no fuel, their generators don’t work, they can’t plug in a computer if they have one, they are isolated.”
The bishop, therefore, urged people not to look at things “in a European way”, that is, to take it for granted that everyone has taxis and trains to get from one place to another or, for example, to go to the parish. We speak of communities even in the same region that might be a thousand kilometres apart.
Bishop Randazzo said, “One of the really wonderful experiences that I’m having at the Synod is sitting at table and also sharing the occasional coffee with people who come from all over the world, who are not just from Europe, who don’t just come from the traditional European communities of the Church.”
“It sounds very synodal to me,” he said. “And I think one of the geniuses of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, is that this is not something that is born in a vacuum.”
The richness of the process
Father Orobator agreed with Bishop Randazzo, joking that this Church event is one of the things theologians “live for”, namely to be part of a process from which to draw resources. “I remain convinced that the process is probably going to be more important than the outcome,” he said.
Fr. Orobator added, “I believe that this is the kind of framework and mechanism that would lead us as a community called Church to experience a new way of being in, where people, no matter who they are, no matter their status or station or situation in the Church, are able to be part of a process where they are not only heard, but they are also able to contribute to a process of discernment.”
At the same time, he bore witness to “the diversity of the Church and to draw from the wisdom that is so embedded in this diversity, to draw from the insights and the unique gifts that this diversity offers the Church.”
No animosity or hostility
Difference, then, can be seen as a virtue. There are many “divergences”, in fact, that emerge among the Synod participants, but, Cardinal Lopéz Romero clarified, “They are never clashes between factions” and not even “hostility and animosity”. The logic is to dialogue, not “respond to the other”.
Nor does it involve responding to journalists: “The Synod is not designed to answer the questions of one journalist or another, but it is designed for a discernment of the Church that stems from a process,” said Dr. Ruffini in response to a question from a reporter. That is, it concerns discernment “on how the Church can walk in the world.”
The assembly and the media
Precisely in speaking about the relationship between the assembly and information, a journalist in the room underlined the fact that some issues – first and foremost women and the reception of LGBT+ people – are not to be classified as merely journalistic constructions, but issues that are close to the hearts of many believing people who have “invested” time and energy during the consultative phase of the synodal process precisely in order to have a serious reflection on these topics – people who are now waiting for answers.
In this regard, Dr. Ruffini made it clear that these issues “are the subject of conversation”. He said they Synod is certainly not just “a round table” and certainly not “a talk show”, but “a conversation in the Spirit.”
He noted that the General Assembly will produce “a synthesis report that will be sent back to the People of God and then there will be another Assembly.”
It is still a long process that, as Cardinal Lopéz Romero said, requires “patience and hope”.