giovedì 27 ottobre 2022

Vatican document on synodality -- Orthodox experience ignored?

(Peter Anderson)
On October 27, the Vatican released a very important working document relating to the 2023-2024 Synod of Bishops which will be devoted to the subject, For a synodal Church: Communion, participation, mission. The popular Catholic website Crux has provided a summary of the document. (link) The summary includes the following:

On Thursday the Vatican released the working document for the next stage in Pope Francis’s ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which offered a global view of what faithful at all levels of the Church believe needs to happen for it to be a true place of inclusion.

The document, published Oct. 27 and titled “Enlarge the Space of your Tent,” is a summary of reports from national bishops’ conferences, who compiled the reports based on contributions from individual dioceses after an initial consultation phase with local parish communities.

It will serve as the working document for the next, continental stage of the synod, in which episcopal conferences on all seven continents will hold assemblies to reflect on and discuss the contents of the document.  These assemblies will then submit a new report based on that discussion, which will be used to draft the working document for the final, universal stage in Rome.

Formally called “For a synodal Church: Communion, participation, mission,” the synod was opened by Pope Francis last October and, rather than the typical month-long meeting of bishops at the Vatican that a synod usually is, this one is unfolding in a multi-stage process extending into 2024.

An initial, diocesan phase of the process lasted from October 2021 to April 2022 and was designed as a consultative process that took place according to certain guidelines issued by the Synod of Bishops.  A second, continental phase, began in September and will last through March 2023, when continental bishops’ conferences will coordinate and evaluate the results of the diocesan consultations.

A final, universal phase was set to conclude the process during next year’s Oct. 4-29 gathering in Rome, but with Pope Francis recently extended the process for a year, meaning the final universal phase will now conclude in 2024.

The entire document released today can be read in English at (link).  The comments at the press conference held at the Vatican to introduce the document can be read at (link)

Sadly, there is nothing in the document or in the comments at the press conference that would encourage bishops at the continental stage to study carefully and learn from the Orthodox experience of synodality. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis stated in 2013 that “in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality.” (link) Through this exchange of gifts, the Pope stated that “the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.”  In an interview on September 21, 2013, Pope Francis observed that from the Orthodox “we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality.” 

Prior to 2014, the word “synodality” was used by the popes almost exclusively with respect to the Eastern Churches. I have attached a study which I prepared with respect to this usage.  Searching the Vatican website for papal statements using the Italian word “sinodalità,” I found the following results:  The search showed that the first pope to use the word “sinodalità” in those documents was Pope John Paul II in April 1994. The word was used in a total of six documents for Pope John Paul II and a total of two documents for Pope Benedict XVI. With respect to the first year of the pontificate of Pope Francis, there were four documents using the word, “sinodalità.”  In all of the documents, except two documents in 1994, the word “sinodalità” was used in the context of references to the Eastern Churches. 

In view of the foregoing, it is difficult to understand why the preparation process for the Synod of Bishops now seems to forget the importance of the Orthodox experience.  However, there may be an opportunity to remedy this omission before it is too late.  On October 25, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity made an important  announcement (link).  The announcement includes the following:

An international symposium on synodality in the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches will be held at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) on 2‒5 and 23‒26 November 2022, upon the initiative of the Pro Oriente Foundation (Vienna) and of the Angelicum Institute for Ecumenical Studies.

Organized under the patronage of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, the symposium, entitled “Listening to the East”, in which more than 100 theologians will take part, is aimed at listening to the various understandings and experiences of synodality of the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

The symposium will feature a first conference on the Orthodox tradition (program), and will be opened by Cardinals Kurt Koch and Mario Grech, together with Metropolitan Job Getcha, Co‒President of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

A second conference will include a first part on the Syriac tradition (program) and will be opened by the abovementioned Cardinals, together with His Holiness Mar Awa III, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East.  A second part will be dedicated to the various Oriental Orthodox traditions (program), with the participation, in particular, of His Grace Kyrillos, Co-President of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

Hopefully, the results of this symposium will be discussed and utilized by the Catholic bishops in preparing their documents at the continental level.

Peter Anderson, Seattle USA