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Synod, October 19: Cardinal Czerny says ‘identification’ between Holy Orders and Church offices is being ‘overcome’

October 20, 2023

On October 19, participants in the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops continued their discussion of the Synod’s fourth topic: “Participation, governance and authority. What processes, structures and institutions are there in a missionary synodal Church?”

Each of the 35 working groups (circuli minores) is discussing one of five worksheet questions:

  • B 3.1 How can we renew the service of authority and the exercise of responsibility in a missionary synodal Church?
  • B 3.2 How can we develop discernment practices and decision-making processes in an authentically synodal manner, that respects the protagonism of the Spirit?
  • B 3.3. What structures can be developed to strengthen a missionary synodal Church?
  • B 3.4 How can we give structure to instances of synodality and collegiality that involve groupings of local Churches?
  • B 3.5 How can the institution of the Synod be strengthened so that it is an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church?

Press conference

The daily press briefing, led by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, emphasized ministry to migrants and refugees.

Ruffini and some of the other participants in the press conference also discussed Synod procedure and matters involving the Church’s governance.

Ruffini told journalists that the Synod’s expert theologians will share their reflections on B 3.3, B 3.4, and B.3.5 with all of the Synod’s participants—suggesting that the Synod’s leadership wants the discussion of these three items to be steered in a certain direction. Vatican News reported:

The Prefect recalled the fact, made known yesterday by the Relator General Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, that “three working groups of expert theologians and canonists have been set up that will share with the General Congregations, in three reports, their reflections on the points” of Instrumentum laboris B3/3 (“What structures can be developed to consolidate a missionary synodal Church?”); B3/4 (“How can instances of synodality and collegiality involving groupings of local Churches be configured?”); and B3/5 (“How can the institution of the Synod be strengthened so that it is an expression of episcopal collegiality within an all-synodal Church?”).

Cardinal Hollerich’s decision to have the Synod’s expert theologians influence the discussion of B 3.3, B 3.4, and B.3.5—coupled with his announcement the previous day that the Synod’s final report will not be the working document of the October 2024 Synod session, as Ruffini had previously implied—suggests that the Synod is not proceeding entirely according to its organizers’ plans. On October 16, a laywoman’s intervention (speech) against women’s ordination “received loud applause,” the National Catholic Register reported.

Holy Orders and Church governance

In perhaps the most significant comment at the press conference, Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said, “I think that the identification between orders and offices is something that is being overcome.”

He continued:

In other words, we’re understanding orders not to be necessary for every office, which until now has been headed by a cleric and in fact a hierarch and in some cases even a cardinal. There’s no danger to the nature of the Church because there are responsibilities which are already being, and which perhaps increasingly will be entrusted to non-cardinals, non-bishops, non-priests.

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville (TX) said that “the exercise of any structure or ministry or authority of the church must be based on a fundamental conversion of heart.” Bishop Flores added that rather than beginning with institutional reorganization, “I’m more worried about how it is that we will inaugurate a deep thirst to become a people, baptized and ordained, who are focused on serving one another in the heart of Christ.”

Bishop Flores was also asked about a “conspiracy” theory in which “the bishops are being manipulated by a liberal cabal.”

Bishop Flores replied, “I do not see a conspiracy. I have simply heard honest, sincere, faithful, charitable conversations under, shall I say, sub tutela Petri, under the care of Peter. That is not a threat to the faith.”

Earlier coverage


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