Saturday, November 3, 2018

A Church for all


From the editor's desk
The Tablet

31 October 2018

A Church for all

The Synod of Bishops which has just ended could have been retitled the Synod of Bishops and Young People, for though the latter did not vote on the final document, they contributed eagerly to the debates. Their presence, representing young Catholics from all over the world, was a significant precedent but also marked a stage on a journey. The next step must surely be a Synod of Bishops, Clergy and People, for the emerging theory of synodality – a favourite theme of Pope Francis – is about participation by the whole People of God and the sharing of responsibility at all levels.
The days of confining church government only to bishops have to be over. Confidence in bishops acting alone has been severely undermined by their role in the scandal of child abuse by clergy, particularly by covering it up rather than straining every episcopal muscle to stamp it out. The agreed final text of the Synod now goes to the Pope for his response, and the document he issues will range wider than questions of church government. He can be expected to appeal to the world’s young Catholics to rediscover the excitement of the Gospel and fulfil their vocation to spread the Word, whatever their ecclesiastical status.

The Church is being reminded by Pope Francis of the insight of the Second Vatican Council, that the fundamental Christian sacrament is not ordination as priest or bishop, but baptism. All the baptised are responsible for the welfare of the household of the faith. So the Church’s missionary and pastoral priorities can no longer be imposed from above, but discerned by consultation with the faithful down to parish level. Nor can there be discrimination in those processes on the basis of gender, race, age, sexual orientation or any other grounds, for there is no discrimination in baptism itself.
Synodality, the word that describes all this, now has to be taken into the Church’s structures at national, diocesan and parish level. That is an immense challenge. Rising to it will be helped by a prophetic statement by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Theological Commission (Arcic) three months ago, Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church – Local, Regional, Universal. So there is no need to reinvent the wheel. But when the Catholic Church looks at the Anglican model of synodality, it may find it too parliamentary and legalistic, with too much attention to the counting of votes, not enough to the creation of consensus. But that type of synod system is not the only one.
So how to proceed? The last exercise in synodality by the Catholics of England and Wales was the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool in 1980. That movement of the Spirit was stopped in its tracks when it became clear it did not fit the programme pursued by Pope John Paul II. Since then, bishops and people have drifted apart, with loss on both sides. Synodality is the healing remedy for this disconnection.