Fr. Thomas Rosica, above in a Register file photo, told a Montreal audience Nov. 18 that the synodal process has undergone great change under the papacy of Pope Francis. “I can’t begin to tell you the difference,” he told the audience. It’s a style that has sought the voices of the many over the few, he said. Register file photo by Michael Swan

Changing journey along synodal path

  • November 23, 2023

Fr. Thomas Rosica wasn’t in Rome last month for the first session of the XVI Synod of Bishops, but to hear him tell it, it was almost as if he was there.

“I spent five months of Octobers in that Synod Hall upstairs,” Rosica told about 50 people who came to hear the former English-language attaché to the Holy See Press Office speak in Montreal on Nov. 18.

“We were not at round tables,” he added, a nod to the marked difference Rosica understands there to be between the Synod on Synodality and previous synods.

Fr. Ray Lafontaine, Episcopal Vicar for the English-speaking faithful of the Archdiocese of Montreal, told the group he had invited Rosica to speak on the recent synod because of Rosica’s coverage of the five synods held between 2008 and 2017.

“It is very apropos to what he’s going to be speaking to us about today. Fr. Tom brings a rich experience, a deep love of the Church and a deep belief in what synodality can bring to our Church,” said Lafontaine.

Drawing on a March 2022 document prepared by the Commission on Spirituality Biblical Sub-Group, Rosica addressed the “roots of synodality.”

“Pope Francis didn’t just pull the idea for synodality out of a hat. There are Biblical foundations to the Synod,” said Rosica.

“I was very happy to see that during the Synod in October each of these scriptural passages that I chose to focus on had been used by Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, by Sr. Angelina and by others who were leading the retreats,” said Rosica.

Rosica, a Basilian priest, was once a tremendous force within the ecclesiastical and media milieus, beginning with his 2002 appointment as National Director of World Youth Day in Toronto.

A year later, with the financial backing of Italian-Canadian entrepreneur Gaetano Gagliano, Rosica founded Salt + Light Television.

In 2019, Rosica resigned his position at Salt + Light, as well as his positions on the governing boards of several Catholic universities, including the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, due to multiple accusations of plagiarism.

Despite that precipitous fall from grace and standing, Rosica retains strong alliances and friendships within both the media and the Church.

Bishop William McGrattan, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and one of the two English-sector bishop delegates from Canada to the Synod, is one such friend.

Rosica secured the presence of McGrattan at Presentation Manor in Toronto for the “first major public address to Canada on what really happened at the synod of bishops” on Oct. 31.

“Bishop Bill and I have been good friends for nearly 30 years and have collaborated together on many projects for the Canadian Church,” Rosica told his fellow residents.

Other men that Rosica named as friends in his Montreal presentation were journalist Austen Ivereigh, “a friend and a colleague, we worked together for several years,” and Fr. Thomas Reese S.J., former editor-in-chief of the weekly Catholic magazine America, “my colleague and friend.”

Those alliances extend to the Vatican Press Office. Rosica said that during the 2023 Synod he “no longer had any official role, but I was kept on the inside mailing list from the Synod secretariat” and his “friends in the Vaticanista group were calling me.”

In his remarks about the five synods he had covered, Rosica described a sharp divide between those under Pope Benedict XVI and those convened by Pope Francis.

Rosica described the Synods of the Word of God in 2008 and New Evangelization in 2012 as being heavily scripted affairs. According to Rosica, the narrative was controlled by the Synod office, “a team of young priests and seminarians” who told the bishops and cardinals “what questions they could or could not raise in the Synod hall, especially involving the Eucharist, the divorced and remarried.”

“I found that very odd. Pope Benedict was presiding. He was gracious, listening to everything, but there was a whole different mood that was going on. When I came back in 2012, there was even greater tension about what they could say and what they could not say, and there was a frustration about that,” said Rosica.

The first synod convened during the Francis papacy was in 2014, the Synod on the Family.

“I can’t begin to tell you the difference,” said Rosica.

“Pope Francis is newly elected. The first thing he said was, ‘You are here to speak with boldness, to speak with courage, to disagree with me. Nothing will be prevented from being discussed in this room.’ ”

Rosica said, “For the 2008 and 2012 synods, I noticed that I would have 40 or 50 journalists at the press conferences but for the Synods on the Family in 2014 and 2015, I would have 300 to 400.”

“The Synod of Bishops was coming back to life. It was no longer going to be a talk fest. It was no longer going to be canned speeches, a prepared document that would be ratified. There was a certain openness and a freedom.”

According to Rosica, the Synod on Synodality is the fruition of 10 years of labour that began with then-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio’s address to the Cardinals before they entered the conclave that would elect Bergoglio as Pope.

The “journey” of synodality is that which, as Bergoglio said in 2013, “must give light to the possible changes and reforms which must be made for the salvation of souls.”

Perhaps as a way of addressing the huge amounts of controversy surrounding the Synod, Rosica chose to end the Nov. 18 conference pointing to the words that Radcliffe addressed to Synod delegates.

“The cry is: On whose side are you? When we go home, people will ask, ‘Did you fight for our side? Did you oppose those unenlightened other people?’ We shall need be profoundly prayerful to resist the temptation to succumb to a party-political way of thinking. That would be to fall back into the sterile, barren language of much of our conflictual society. It is not the synodal way. The synodal process is organic and ecological rather than competitive. It is more like planting a tree than winning a battle.”

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