Is a small group of former Anglicans fueling fear of the Church’s synodal process?

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Bishops at a meeting of the Second Vatican Council. While “synodalism” was not a term used by the council, supporters say it reflects the council’s view of the church.

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It is a remarkable document. The synthesis published last week which brings together the results of the unprecedented exercise of listening and discernment in the Catholic Church over the past year does not hide the difficulties encountered by the synod process nor does it offer a “last word” on each contested topic. Instead, it attempts to capture the “sense of faith” of an extraordinarily diverse, dynamic, and multicultural universal Church. The report is not an opinion poll or a sociological exercise but an exercise in listening to the Holy Spirit who exhorts the People of God – laity, clergy and bishops – to continue to “walk together” on the synodal path. , despite the pitfalls.

The synod process has met with resistance and, in some cases, rejection. Several reports from local churches spoke of “fear and resistance” from some clergy. This is probably a factor that motivated Francis’ decision to extend the process for a year, until October 2024. The more synodal Church, bringing together all the People of God in communal discernment, is still in its stammering.

One of the strongest currents of resistance comes from a relatively small group of former Anglicans, including some former Anglican clergy who are now Catholic priests. Their animosity is rooted in their experience of the Church of England synod, which brought about reforms they deeply opposed, including the ordination of women priests and bishops. In its submission to the synod, the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, set up for former Anglicans, expressed concern over anything that “resembled synodal government”, which had not been “an experience satisfying” for them. According to 2019 figures, 1,850 Catholics and 97 priests belong to the ordinariate; data from 2014 shows that one in 10 Catholic priests in England and Wales are former Church of England clergy. “The synodal process in England and Wales has shown that many Anglican elders struggle to grasp the nature of Catholic synodality, which is more akin to processes of ecclesial discernment than to church governance. of England, which has delegated powers from the British Parliament,” Austen Ivereigh, who helped draft the latest synod document, tells me.

While Church of England synods are “deliberative,” he said, in the Catholic tradition synods are advisory, with decisions being made by bishops with and under the pope “after listening carefully the Spirit speaking through the sensus fidelium”. A strong warning about synodality was voiced by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who was received into the Catholic Church and ordained a priest for the ordinariate last year. Addressing the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Oct. 28 in Bangkok, Thailand, Bishop Nazir-Ali suggested that synodal consultations have their limits, noting that those consulted “need to be catechized, perhaps even evangelized”. This seems to contradict the notion of the “sense of faith” of ordinary believers, which the International Theological Commission defined in 2014 as a “supernatural instinct for the truth of the Gospel”.

Born in Pakistan, the 73-year-old former Anglican bishop of Rochester, Kent, is a strong advocate for persecuted Christians and an authority on Christian-Muslim dialogue. He quickly found his voice and his niche as a Catholic. In his address from Bangkok, Bishop Nazir-Ali said that the renewal of the Church would not come through structures but through “movements of faith and a deeper experience of God”. Ultimately, he warned, the synod process must mean that “bishops will have to say certain things are excluded.”

Nazir-Ali did not mention the word “discernment”, nor did he refer to Pope Francis. “The Catholic Church has a way of settling these issues,” he told the bishops, referring to disputes within Anglicanism over homosexuals and women, “and you must not give that up. that the lesson of what has happened to the Anglican Communion and also to certain Liberal Protestant Churches is that in this way confusion and chaos lurk.The Catholic Church has been greatly enriched over the years by those who “crossed the Tiber” from the Anglican Communion, the most eminent, St John Henry Newman, providing some of the key theological underpinnings of the synod process.

But could an “anti-synodal” mindset among some ex-Anglicans – nurtured by unfortunate historical associations – fuel fear of the Church’s synodal process among those taking their first steps down this path?

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