giovedì 21 ottobre 2021

Catholic Synod -- Eastern Orthodox should be involved "at all levels"

(Peter Anderson)
Today, October 21, the Catholic German website Die Tagespost has posted a very important interview with Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. (link) In the interview, the Cardinal discusses the next Catholic Synod of Bishops which is scheduled for October 2023 and which will deal with the subject “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.”  In connection with the Synod, Pope Francis has established a two-year period of preparation.  This preparation process is described in the following document:  (link) The first level of the preparation process is at the diocesan level and involves a listening process.  The first level began earlier this month.  The main question to be considered is:  How is our “walking together” in synodality realized today in the Church?  What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our “walking together”?  (link)  The individual dioceses will then forward the results of their consultations or listening to the respective bishops’ conference which will then prepare a document by April 2022.  The documents from the various bishops’ conferences will be considered by the Vatican’s General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops which will then proceed with the drafting of the first Instrumentum Laboris.

From the Cardinal’s interview, it is clear that it is desirable that the “ecumenical partners,” and especially the Orthodox, be involve in providing their input into the preparation process “at all levels.”  Thus, the Cardinal stated:

The basic principle of ecumenical dialogues is the exchange of gifts, in which we can learn from the other Christian churches, and indeed in the conviction that the specific gifts of the Holy Spirit are given not only to these churches but to all of Christianity.  Pope Francis gave a concrete example in his apostolic letter “Evangelii Gaudium.”  He emphasized that in conversation with the Orthodox Churches we Catholics have the enriching opportunity "to learn a little more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and its experience of synodality" (No. 246).  And in the opposite sense, one can see in the deepening and strengthening of synodality an important ecumenical contribution of the Catholic Church to the recognition of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome by other churches as well.  The theological and pastoral endeavors to shape and live a more synodal church therefore has a profound impact on ecumenism, as is particularly evident in the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, whose core theme is the relationship between synodality and primacy.  It is therefore desirable if the ecumenical partners are involved in the synodal process at all levels.

Pope Francis believes that the Catholic Church should learn from the Orthodox concerning synodality.  In fact, his great interest in “synodality” may well have stemmed from the Catholic – Orthodox dialogue.  As far as I can determine, the first time that Pope Francis ever publicly used the word “synodality” was on June 28, 2013, in an address to the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  (link)  There he stated:

It is significant that today we are able to reflect together on these areas in truth and love, beginning from what we have in common, yet without concealing what still divides us.  This is no mere theoretical exercise: it demands in-depth knowledge of one another’s traditions in order to understand them and sometimes also to learn from them.  I am speaking for example of Catholic Church’s reflection on the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality, so characteristic of the Orthodox Churches.  I am confident that the effort to reflect together, complex and laborious though it is, will bear fruit in due course.

In an interview given by Pope Francis to Father Antonio Spadaro S.J. on August 19, 2013, the Pope also referred to the Orthodox with respect to synodality.  (link)  The Pope stated:

We must walk together: the people, the bishops and the pope.  Synodality should be lived at various levels.  Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic.  This will also have ecumenical value, especially with our Orthodox brethren.  From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. 

 Thus, Catholics should learn more from the Orthodox about the “tradition of synodality.”

Hopefully, the final results of the Synod in October 2023 will bring the Catholic and Orthodox Churches closer together.  For this, it is important for those at the diocesan and conference levels to have the benefit of the Orthodox experience in a form that can be easily understood and utilized by them in preparing their documents.  It is also important that the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops be able to include the Orthodox experience in its draft Instrumentum Laboris.  In my opinion, Cardinal Koch is inviting the Orthodox to step up and to be involved in this important preparation process.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA