Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto and Australian Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, talk after an event marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Oct. 17. CNS photo

A look inside the Synod hall

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  • October 21, 2015

Inside the Synod hall, things look very different from media reports about conservatives debating liberals over communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, said theologian and Synod auditor Moira McQueen.

In e-mails to The Catholic Register from Rome, McQueen gave an insider’s view on the Synod of Bishops on the Family, revealing a complex and subtle debate around a range of issues.

“Once you are inside, you have a narrower view in some ways,” McQueen wrote in the first of three e-mails over the course of a week of Synod deliberations.

McQueen’s husband Matthew, at home in Dundas, Ont., often informs McQueen of controversies at the Synod. While she is absorbed in the work of her small discussion circle, reviewing the Synod’s working document and making contributions to the conversation, the tempests and divisions reported in the media seem quite distant, she said.

Matthew McQueen “gets the helicopter view” by following the Synod in the media, she said.

While McQueen is aware that there are strong differences of opinion among delegates, particularly over communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, an ideological or doctrinal split doesn’t define the Synod process, she said.

“I get the impression, yes, there’s a divide,” she wrote. “But people are just hashing it out in the usual way and it didn’t seem to frighten people. He (Pope Francis) asked for an open discussion.”

Politics inside the Church doesn’t shock or dismay McQueen.

“It would not surprise me if there are factions working towards trying to get people into some camp or another,” McQueen said. “I can’t vote, so I’m not worth being lobbied I suppose.”

The Scottish-born, Canadian theologian doesn’t put much stock in the theory that liberal Vatican officials have rigged the Synod to favour changes in pastoral care of the divorced and remarried.

“As to a pre-determined outcome, there are many ‘traditional’ bishops here and I don’t see that happening,” she said.

In her own small discussion circle there is a wide spectrum of opinion and the group finds itself talking and thinking about far more issues than communion for the divorced and remarried.

“There are so many issues, as you know, that really it could take a year to deal with them all,” she said. “Perhaps our minds might not move on some issues at this point. But, with the exchange of ideas and insights, our hearts will be affected.”

It’s a certainty that not all of the issues covered in the Synod’s working document will be dealt with. The important thing is the opportunity for conversation.

“I’m finding that in our small group there are good attempts at listening to the different cultural experiences of our members — mainly bishops (including three cardinals), one married couple, two auditors and one expert, 24 in all,” she wrote.

While McQueen does not vote, she does have a voice.

“As an auditor, I have the same length of time as the cardinals and bishops to speak — three minutes,” she reports. “The process in my group (discussion circle) is fairly balanced. We can speak when we want and our contributions are listened to and used in our group reports.”

For a theologian, the Synod is a delight.

“I am thoroughly enjoying the experience. Analysing documents and suggesting improvements are challenging tasks, but most of my group is pretty keen on doing exactly that,” said McQueen.

Archbishop Paul-André Durocher’s intervention on behalf of women, bringing up family violence, plus decision-making and leadership roles for women in the Church, had “quite an impact,” said McQueen.

“His suggestions that married couples might give homilies and that women could be deacons — I think those are good ideas and with some precedent,” she wrote. “Nobody fainted, nor were there audible gasps.”

Interventions from Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins and Quebec’s Cardinal Gerald Lacroix were “less surprising” but were important for the ways in which they developed Pope Francis’ idea that the Church must accompany families.

Commentary that focuses on the outcome of the Synod often mistakes the Synod for some kind of political showdown when in fact it has been part of how the Church understands and governs itself since Pope Paul VI instituted the Synod of Bishops at the end of Vatican II, 50 years ago.

Nobody really knows where the conversation might lead, said McQueen.

“There could be another Synod on some of the topics we’re dealing with. There’s nothing to say the Synod must reach a conclusion — although that could happen,” she wrote. “There will be a final document, as there was the last time, but it might not be the last word.”

From where she sits, McQueen doesn’t expect a final answer on communion for divorced and remarried Catholics.

“That has been a problem for so long that I would not have expected resolution at this Synod. I have no idea where this will go,” she said. “Let’s just say, the Holy Spirit is invoked a lot.”

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