Pope Francis prays with participants in the assembly of the Synod of Bishops before making a rare speech to the gathering Oct. 25, 2023, in the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Synod unity sustained despite deep differences

By  Fr. Damien MacPherson, Catholic Register Special
  • October 26, 2023

Fr. Damien MacPherson is monitoring the Synod on Synodality in Rome for The Catholic Register. This is his Week Three synopsis.

The presence of confidentiality was briefly interrupted when, quite by accident, information from table discussions became accessible to the public. The event was caused when information was posted to a cloud serve accessible to the public. The incident was quickly corrected without revealing enough pertinent information to make a serious difference. In response, Pope Francis again called for prudence and confidentiality.

The week also saw formation of a 13-member commission whose difficult task will be to eventually provide a representative synthesis, reflecting the concerns arising especially from the topics dealt with by the 35 table discussion groups. Ensuring such a mark of inclusion also increases the level of anxiety surrounding the anticipation of that event.

Perhaps with some measure of surprise, it was noted that only certain tables will focus on particular topics. The methodology raised some concerns that the table reports on a particular topic will not be reflective of the entire assembly. Nonetheless, assurance was given that time will be made available to each participant who feels the need to make a further response.

An important phase of discussions centred around the themes of authority, decentralization and co-responsibility of the laity. It is the informed view of some that once these topics are viewed with the understanding that we are a synodal Church, substantial change will need further discussion. The ingredients required to establish a synodal Church are believed to be do-able, but monumental.

Going forward, discussions around the sensitive topics of LGBQ+ and the ordination of women gave way to a certain division among table discussions within the assembly. Some felt the need for more clarification on the teaching of the Church on human sexuality, while others seemed sufficiently satisfied. There also was supposed concern that the topic of women was being given too much attention. We are left with the assumption that such lack of common agreement on what are difficult topics for some, more so than others, did not compromise the spirit of unity that underlines the assembly. The summary of these and other discussions including, for example, ecumenism, interfaith affairs and reception of the Eucharist by divorced and remarried Catholics, will constitute an important place in the final synthesis report of the commission.

Whether outside or within the synod confines, it is vital that the common focus around the theme, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission not be limited to one or two individual agenda items of the Synod. In this respect, Pope Francis —  one might say, slavishly so — has put forward his best efforts to ensure all members of the synod have qualified access and opportunity to share their discussed comments on each of the issues raised. As the first phase of the Synod on Synodality is drawing closer to an end, it is vital to all to recognize that one should not expect final decisions, especially since a second phase of the Synod on Synodality is yet to even begin.

The Holy Father hardly needed to remind synod members that “we are celebrating this synod in a time of war,” meaning Israel and Hamas. Not surprisingly some assembly participants voiced their concern, urging the assembly to issue a formal statement on the conflict. Due to the diversity of synod participants, this prospect never took place, as opinions on how best to respond to the war remained divided.

The final week of this first phase of the Synod on Synodality will be marked by a high degree of interest and hopefulness.

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