Action Alert!
Catholic World News

Synod, October 23-24: Father Radcliffe compares year between Synod sessions to pregnancy; Cardinal Schönborn speaks

October 24, 2023

On October 23, at the beginning of the final week the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, participants gathered for Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon (Myanmar), president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference (FABC), was the principal celebrant and homilist.

“Human greed has already inflicted deep wounds upon our planet and stripped millions of their dignity, as Pope Francis emphasized in his recent significant documents,” Cardinal Bo preached. “These documents call for a threefold reconciliation to save humanity and the planet: Reconciliation with God (Evangelii Gaudium), Reconciliation with nature (Laudato Si’), and Reconciliation with one another in Fratelli Tutti.”

“Our synodal journey is about healing and reconciling the world in justice and peace,” he continued. Extending the concept of synodality beyond the Church to the world, the prelate said that “the only way to save humanity and create a world of hope, peace, and justice is through the global synodality of all people.”

Speaking of the dire situation of the faithful in Buddhist-majority Myanmar following the 2021 military coup, Cardinal Bo added:

Nowhere in Asia is the Christian faith journey more challenged than in Myanmar. Our small flock is currently scattered due to both natural disasters and man-made crises, causing multidimensional crises and immense suffering. Our people are on an Exodus. Homes have vanished, and churches have borne the brunt of cruelty, and the Way of the Cross is a painful reality in many parts of Asia.

However, like the faithful women who followed Jesus along the Way of the Cross, the Church in Myanmar and Asia invests in the hope of reconciliation. We continue our tear-filled Synodal journey, believing that, like those women, we will see all wounds healed, and a new dawn of hope, peace, and justice will shine upon every long-suffering nation. We pray that the Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope Francis, will bring the entire human family into the long march of healing our world and our planet, ultimately leading us to a new heaven and a new earth.

Spiritual reflections: pregnancy and sowing

The Synod’s participants then gathered in Paul VI Audience Hall to listen to “spiritual input“ from Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP; “spiritual insights“ by Sister Maria Grazia Angelini, OSB; and a presentation on the Synod’s synthesis report by Father Ormond Rush, an Australian theologian. 350 of the Synod’s 364 voting members were in attendance—significantly higher than the 310 in attendance two days before.

In his spiritual input, entitled “The seed germinates,” Father Radcliffe compared the months between the Synod’s first session (October 2023) and the Synod’s second session (October 2024) to a pregnancy.

In the upcoming eleven months, “if we keep our minds and hearts open to the people whom we have met here, vulnerable to their hopes and fears, their words will germinate in our lives, and ours in theirs,” Father Radcliffe said. “There will an abundant harvest, a fuller truth. Then the Church will be renewed.”

Sister Angelini’s spiritual insight was entitled “Narrating parables rather than issuing proclamations.” Sister Angelini proposed that the Synod be interpreted in light of Christ’s parable of a tiny seed growing into a large tree:

The parable thus gives us the language to interpret the itinerary of this month of sowing. Today—in a culture of striving for supremacy, profit and followers, or evasion—the patient sowing of this synod is, in itself, like a profoundly subversive and revolutionary act. In the logic of the smallest of seeds sinking into the ground. Thus, the synod seems to me to find itself called to dare a synthesis-as-sowing, to open up a path towards reform—new form—, which life requires. It is a matter of seizing—among the many words heard—“the smallest”, full of the future, and daring to imagine how to deliver it to the earth that will make it mature and become a hospitable place.

Sister Angelini also called for the “formation of the conscience of the baptized” while “decisively disassociating pastoral work from any statistical, efficientistic, procedural perspective erected as a system.”

“I pray that this Synod will receive the art of new narratives, the radical humility of those who learn to recognize the likeness of the Kingdom in the truest, most vital dynamisms of the human, of the primary bonds, of the life that pulses mysteriously in all the worlds and spheres of human existence, in an admirable hidden harmony,” she concluded. “With such patience. The ability to peer into the night.”

Father Rush selectively interprets Dei Verbum

“I have had the impression that some of you are struggling with the notion of tradition, in the light of your love of truth,” Father Rush said at the beginning of his address. “You are not the first to struggle with this. It was a major point of discussion at the Second Vatican Council.”

Citing Father Joseph Ratzinger’s Theological Highlights of Vatican II, originally published in 1966, Father Rush contrasted a “static” and “dynamic” approach to tradition: the former purely propositional, the latter more imbued with an historical sense.

Father Rush then offered his personal (and highly selective) interpretation of Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. The Australian theologian said:

In Dei Verbum—and this is important for understanding synodality and the very purpose of this Synod—this divine revelation is presented as an ongoing encounter in the present, and not just something that happened in the past. The event of God’s self-revealing (always in Christ, through the Holy Spirit) and God’s offer of relationship, continues to be a living reality here and now. That doesn’t mean there can be some new revelation of who God is. But, the same God, in the same Jesus Christ, through the enlightenment and empowerment of the same Holy Spirit, is forever engaging with, and dialoguing with, human beings in the ever-new here and now of history that relentlessly moves humanity into new perceptions, new questions and new insights, in diverse cultures and places, as the world-church courses through time into an unknown future until the eschaton.

After partially quoting from Dei Verbum 8—Father Rush did not quote the Council Fathers when they taught that “the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3)”—Father Rush concluded:

Discernment of the signs of the times in the present seeks to determine what God is urging us to see—with the eyes of Jesus—in new times; but also urging us to be attentive to the traps—where we could be being drawn into ways of thinking that are not “of God”. These traps could lie in being anchored exclusively in the past, or exclusively in the present, or not being open to the future fulness of divine truth to which the Spirit of Truth is leading the church.

Press conference

At the October 23 press conference, the most significant theological comments came from Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, OP, of Vienna, who from 1987 to 1992 served as secretary of the commission that drafted the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Schönborn appeared to call for a “rethinking” of Lumen Gentium (the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church) and stated that the Synod remained a Synod of Bishops despite the inclusion of so many lay voting members. When given the opportunity to criticize the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality, he declined to do so.

Vatican News, operated by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, reported:

With regard to the fundamental concept of communion, he said he had the impression that ‘what we are doing now, after the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Synod’, is precisely asking ‘how to live communion in the Church. It is communion of faith; communion with the one and triune God; communion among the faithful and communion open to all men’. How to live it? ‘Synodality is the best way’ is Cardinal Schönborn’s answer. It is a matter of rethinking the vision of Lumen gentium, where it speaks of the great mystery of the Church. So the Church is mystery, then it is the people of God, and only then does it speak of the hierarchical constitution of its members ...

In response to criticism questioning the integrity of the Synod of Bishops because it includes lay people as delegates, Cardinal Schönborn pointed out that in his opinion this is not a problem, as it remains an episcopal Synod even though it has a real participation of non-bishops. It constitutes a body that serves to exercise collegial responsibility. Its nature has not changed; it has only been enlarged and the experience is definitely positive. On the other hand, said the Cardinal, there have always been lay experts, with some very important interventions, but now there is a much closer relationship: a Synod of Bishops with enlarged participation ...

Regarding the fact that some lgbt people may feel hurt by the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church referring to moral ‘disorder,’ Cardinal Schönborn recalled that he was secretary of the drafting of the Catechism itself. It, he said, is the work of the Church, promulgated by the Pope. And since then there has only been one change, when Pope Francis intervened on the death penalty. Whether there will be others depends solely on the Pontiff’s decision. The Cardinal then recommended always reading the texts as a whole. These are issues, he added, that concern moral theology, but the principle is that there is an objective order and there are human persons. They always have the right to respect, even if they sin, and the right to be accepted, as they are by God.

Synod participants did not assemble on October 24.

Earlier coverage


For all current news, visit our News home page.

Further information:
Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.