Grech aimed to temper the zeal for change at the synod’s onset. At this historical juncture, he articulated that the Church is beckoned to embody and convey God’s love for all humanity, transcending theological or ecclesiological quandaries.
In a bid to deflect the anticipations set by various pressure groups, both internal and external to the Church, Hollerich honed in on the methodology, stating: “We are called to learn the grammar of synodality. Just as the grammar of our languages evolves over time, so does the grammar of synodality: It changes with time. Hence, discerning the signs of our time should aid us in unveiling a contemporary grammar of synodality. And in grammar, some fundamental rules remain unchanged.”
The synod is not a parliament, but what about the votes?
During the opening Mass on Oct. 4 and on numerous other occasions, Pope Francis reiterated that the synod is not a parliament; decisions are not to be cast in votes; instead, there’s a divine discourse to be heeded.
In essence, there’s a palpable papal concern that public opinion might overshadow the synodal process, with disseminated information potentially swaying the synod fathers’ interventions, thus jeopardizing the synodal discernment process.
Synod’s hot-button topics and agendas
The Roman pontiff reminisced about the Synod on the Family, where public opinion, shaped by worldly concerns, clamored for Communion for the divorced. He pointed out that the Synod for the Amazon faced similar pressures regarding the ordination of married men, “viri probati.” Now, as speculations swirl around “What will they do?”, “maybe the priesthood for women”, conjectures from outside circles portray bishops as hesitant to share the unfolding events.
The spiritual retreat for synod participants — held Oct. 1–4 — commenced with a meditation by Father Timothy Radcliffe, who reflected: “During our synodal journey, we may fret over our tangible achievements. The media might deem it a futile endeavor, solely words. They will adjudicate if bold decisions are made on about four or five hot-button topics.”
Such fears echoed those prevalent during and after the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict XVI, conversing with Swiss bishops on Nov. 9, 2007, reminisced: “When I visited Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, I was solicited for interviews, and the questions were predictably about women’s ordination, contraception, abortion, and other recurrent issues.”
The late pontiff added: “Engaging in these discussions portrays the Church as merely a moralist entity with antiquated convictions, obscuring the true magnificence of faith.”
Today’s synod organizers strive for equilibrium amid the various agendas intersecting at the gathering. Hollerich, envisioning the future, points to a “road map” for the upcoming year, delineating areas of consensus and those necessitating deeper reflection, to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call. Yet, the road map also acknowledges the need for further contemplation along this reflective journey.
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Dubia on the synod and what to expect
Pope Francis again reiterated in this context: “The synod is not a parliament.” Nonetheless, this synodal gathering ideally will link up with responses to the dubia of five cardinals by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), endorsed by the pope. In the face of inquiries regarding possible doctrinal alterations, reinterpretations, and sacramental discipline for the divorced and remarried, the dicastery abstained from a mere “yes” or “no.” Instead, it sought to provide reasoned, comprehensive responses to specific situational analyses.
There may be concern over public debate and media framing, but such concern also points to other agendas. DDF prefect Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández emphasized that “if reinterpreting implies a better understanding, then it’s the Church’s calling.”
However, the question of how to determine a “better” interpretation remains contentious, extending beyond merely changing the grammatical rules described by Hollerich.
For now, it may well be that it is not the Church’s doctrine that is being examined but primarily its perception.
Cardinal Zen’s disquiet over synod tactics and agenda