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Synod, October 20: participants discuss authority and authoritarianism

October 23, 2023

On October 20, 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?

The synthesis report of the Synod’s first session (October 4-29) will influence the agenda of the Synod’s second session (October 2024).

341 of the Synod’s 364 voting members attended the meetings on the afternoon of October 19; 343 attended on the morning of October 20.

During the press conference, Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, said that “the General Secretariat is giving precedence in taking the floor to those who have not taken part in the work so far.” This announcement was consistent with the Synod’s rules, which provide that “those who have already spoken and request to speak again—in the same General Congregation, or in a subsequent one, within the same Module, or in a subsequent one—will be given the floor only after the conclusion of interventions of those who speak for the first time, if there is still time available” (Art. 21.4).

Press conference

Participants in the October 20 press conference said that the following topics were being discussed:

  • authority as a “service” that is exercised “barefoot”
  • “authority is not domination but service”
  • a bishop “has the last word but not the only word”
  • the person with authority “must not control everything but have the ability to delegate”
  • “the role of pastors in the service of the poor”
  • “the bishops must call for conversion of heart so that feelings of humanity are rekindled in those who, by trafficking in arms, contribute to the ‘third world war’ that causes suffering for millions of people”
  • “corresponsibility”: “the involvement and coordination of charisms,” with an emphasis on “the importance of valorizing figures, competences, and in particular, the commitment of the laity”
  • “changes needed to achieve greater transparency in financial and economic structures; the revision of canon law and also some titles that have become anachronistic”
  • “abuses of power, conscience, economic and sexual,” linked to “clericalism, even among the laity”
  • “the urgency of reinforcing already existing structures, such as pastoral councils, was noted, taking care not to give in to parliamentarist drifts”
  • “being present alongside young people in the digital environment, a true place of mission to bring those on the far peripheries closer”; “meeting these young people where they already are, namely in the various social networks”

Participants in the press conference shared their experiences of synodality in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. What they characterized as “synodality” was sometimes simply consultation and listening—practices discussed fifteen centuries ago in the Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter III).

Archbishop Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi of Tokyo spoke of the challenges of fostering synodal discussions in an Asian context, where people are used to being silent. He said that “synodality does not mean uniformity, but requires respecting individuals and cultures appropriately,” according to Vatican News’s paraphrase of his remarks.

Female diaconate

Sister Mary Teresa Barron (Ireland), president of the International Union of Superiors General, “noted that the issue [of a female diaconate] is on the table for synodal discernment,” according to Vatican News. “It is characteristic of the beauty of the Catholic Church that there are different opinions, but while they are being discussed, she added, it would not be right to speak out of this space.”

Two days after he preached of the need to receive the Gospel “on God’s terms, not man’s,” Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius (Lithuania) said “that the debate on the various ministries in the Church is part of this very broad exchange at the Synod.”

“Usually, he noted, one seeks an answer like yes or no, black or white,” Vatican News reported. “It is clear that there are differences of opinion that also depend on cultural background, so it is too early to make a decision at this stage.”

“I do not believe that at this stage, or even before 2024, there will be final decisions,” added Archbishop Grušas, the president of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) and the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference. “But if we grow and live in synodality they will come, as we do not seek dogmatic conclusions, there is no preconception about what this Synod should be. Although everyone would like decisions, the process is more important than the decisions.”

Earlier coverage


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