Friday, October 23, 2015

As the Synod Winds Down

We won't know until the Synod Fathers release their final document, what if any consensus has developed and what if any priorities the Synod Fathers plan to propose to the Pope. Since the Synod itself is a consultative, advisory body not a legislative one, we will also have to wait to see what the Holy Father does with whatever recommendations the Synod gives him, whether he will issue an Apostolic Exhortation, as has been the custom after past synods, or what other actions he may choose to take.

So the Synod as an ecclesial event, as a chapter in the Church's history, may yet surprise us. That said, I am already surprised at how little the Synod seems to have focused on the kinds of concerns that one might have expected Pope Francis to want it to address. Instead, the emphasis - at least as filtered through the obviously 1st-world media - seems to have been not on the suffering, poor, and war-ravaged 3rd-world "peripheries," but on concerns characteristic principally of the 1st-world, the rich world. Perhaps the predictable preoccupations and obsessions of the secular 1st-world/rich world media made that inevitable. Perhaps the Pope's having earlier offered a very visible forum for the distinctive preoccupations and concerns of the (super)rich German Church also made that outcome almost inevitable. But it still surprises me that an assembly of bishops representing the entire world has become so entangled in the preoccupations and concerns of primarily this part of the world. Well, we await the synod's final words and, more importantly, what the Holy Father chooses to do with them. And then we will all be better positioned to evaluate this Synod's significance as an event in the Church's contemporary history.

It also occurs to me, from reading the reports of the English-language groups, that the Synod Fathers seem to have had to digest and process an enormous amount of material in a relatively short span of time. I wonder whether the whole format for such synods might well be rethought. Perhaps synods might meet less frequently but for a longer time - with substantial interludes for committee work and discussion. The Synod of Bishops is a relatively new institution in the church's life - just barely 50 years old. Its long-term value as a serviceable institution has yet to be determined by experience. But, if it is to serve its presumed purpose as an effective advisory body, assisting the Holy Father in his ministry in service to the Universal Church, then some future rethinking of its structure and processes may be helpful. 

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