Solutions Sought for “Church on the Move”

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Canadians want a synodal Church, a listening Church, an active Church, a welcoming Church, a Church full of hope, according to the “National Synthesis” of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The 10-page synod summary document – ​​assembled from conversations and surveys conducted at the parish and diocesan level during the second half of 2021 and through 2022 and now deposited with the Dicastery of the Synod of Bishops in Rome – has was compiled and written by an Ottawa-based committee that included two bishops, a priest, a nun and two lay people. There are only two phases left in the three-year synod process – a continental phase which will see the bishops of Canada meet their American counterparts to discuss and produce a new synthesis, then the final meeting of bishops and experts from around the world in Rome in October. of 2023.

Through parish and diocesan forums and surveys, lay Catholics told their bishops that they loved the synod and wanted more of it.

“Synod participants expressed a deep desire to continue the experience of the synodal process in the Church,” reads the National Synthesis. “Having had this experience, they want it to continue in the future.”

This enthusiasm is counterbalanced by a certain amount of cynicism and mistrust.

“Some have expressed doubts about the outcome of the synodal process due to their perception of the Church as a rigid institution that does not want to change and modernize, or due to a suspicion that the synodal outcome had been predetermined “, reported the committee of bishops.

Elsewhere in the report, the hierarchy stepped in for more reprimand.

“While many noted their appreciation for the freedom to speak during synod sessions, some indicated a more general difficulty in speaking freely and authentically in the Church, whether for fear of being “closed.” or out of fear that their contributions will have no effect,” the report found.

However, attendees didn’t want to continue meeting just to have someone to talk to on Zoom. There are challenges before the Church which, according to these ordinary Catholics, can only be met head-on by the whole Church in synod.

Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, the continuing crisis of clerical sexual abuse, the graying and thinning of the pews, the welcoming of LGBTQ people, and the leadership roles given to women, including their exclusion from ordained ministry, all require synodal solutions, according to the report.

“In general, the synodal reports affirmed the importance of ecclesial governance formulated in terms of co-responsibility: between clergy and laity; and also between men and women,” the report says. “Complaints have often been heard that clericalism is still very present, marginalizing the laity, and women in particular, in the exercise of the co-responsibility of the Church.”

When it comes to reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians, the theological instincts of ordinary Catholics are correct, said Regis College president and professor of systematic theology Fr. Gordon Rixon.

“That (synodality) will surely be the best context to address the really difficult issues of reconciliation with Indigenous communities in Canada… The concept of synodality would simply be dead compared to what we have been talking about here — walking with others, listening with respect, drawing deeply on our tradition to light the way,” Rixon said. The Catholic Register. “It’s synodality in his performance.”

To doubt the priority of reconciliation would be to doubt the centrality of the Eucharist as the ordinary sacrament of reconciliation, Rixon said.

“The key to that is going back to the performance of faith – how we experience the Eucharist as source and summit – and trying to walk with that in a life-giving way,” he said.

Ecumenism was repeatedly emphasized in the National Synthesis.

“It was noted that the Catholic Church could learn from the experience of other Churches and ecclesial communities with regard to their life outside of synodality,” the report states.

Again, the instinct of ordinary Catholics in synod gets an A+ from seasoned and credentialed ecumenists and theologians.

“By its very nature the Church is synodal and by its very nature our ecumenical work is synodal,” said Fr. Luis Melo, professor of systematic theology at St. Augustine Seminary and head of the Office of the Archdiocese of Toronto for the promotion of Christian unity and religious relations with Judaism.

Melo believes that continued adherence to synodality can only advance the cause of ecumenism.

“If we have a synod on synodality, it is a wake-up call to live this synodality at this particular moment in history. It’s not about whether we have it or not,” he said.

Anglican ecumenist, Archbishop Linda Nichols, Primate of Canada, said the synod simply made sense from an ecumenical perspective.

“Every bishop knows that the fullness of ministry must include the voices of laity and clergy and synodal processes create space for this to happen,” she wrote in an email.

Nichols highlighted Canadian Roman Catholic Anglican Official Dialogue Manual New stories to tell as an example of how synodality finds practical application in ecumenism.

“Canadians are already engaged in the ecumenical field,” she said. “It is not about doing ecumenism differently, but simply about deepening and strengthening the bonds we already have.”

The National Synthesis reveals that many Catholics still view the Church as a simple hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons and find it difficult to think of it in terms of the ‘people of God’ as a whole, the Catholic theologian says independent Christopher Duncanson-Hales of Sudbury, Ont. Hales collected reports from diocesan and parish synods to establish a detailed overview of the Church in Canada now.

“Being a Synodal Church means we are the Church,” Duncanson-Hales said, referring to the Vatican II Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which called the Church the “People of God.”

Instead of fully embracing that vision, synod responses often focus narrowly on Sunday Mass and the workings of the local parish, Duncanson-Hales said.

“It’s about the people who don’t come into our space, because we’re not welcoming or we don’t do that,” he said. “But it’s not about going out and meeting people where they are.”

Duncanson-Hales finds the most relevant image of a synodal Church in the Gospel of Luke.

“The road to Emmaus is the animating image of synodality,” he said.

“It’s a Church in motion.”


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