Much anticipation surrounds what is happening on Monday afternoon, as the synod commission designated for drafting the summary document will cast votes. These results — revealing the names of commission members — could provide a sneak peek into the document’s formulation or, at the very least, hint at the overall tone of the papers and, therefore, the whole synod.
As per the official calendar, two key points from the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document, are slated for discussion this week:
Section B1: “How can we be more fully a sign and instrument of union with God and unity of the human race?”
Section B2: “Co-responsible for the mission” with a central inquiry: “How to share tasks and gifts in the service of the Gospel?”
The small working groups — “circoli minori” — are set to present their interventions on Oct. 11 followed by finalizing and submitting their reports to the General Secretariat on Oct. 12.
The process culminates in a free afternoon earmarked for a pilgrimage, presumably to the Roman catacombs. From Oct. 13 onward, section B2 of the Instrumentum Laboris will undergo scrutiny.
Two afternoons this week are allocated for the “conversation of the Spirit,” described as a time of common discernment for the synod. Outlined in sections 37 to 39 of the Instrumentum Laboris, this process encompasses three phases: profound deliberation before speaking in the assembly, a spell of silence and prayer to resonate with others’ requests, and a session to pinpoint key issues and forge a common consensus.
The “conversations of the spirit” aim to craft a document that embodies consensus and communal spirit. Whether this objective will be met is yet to be seen. The fact that Cardinal Hollerich has already hinted at a road map for the ensuing year implies a cautious dip into the waters for now.
Come next year, these “conversations” might hone in on specific topics with a sharper focus, although that remains speculative terrain.
A reform agenda beyond the synod?
At the synod’s inception, the emphasis on confidentiality — expressed by Pope Francis, Cardinal Mario Grech, and Hollerich — showed concern over media-driven agendas. However, there are apparent attempts underway this week by certain interest groups to drive their respective agenda, hoping to change the very essence of the Catholic Church.
Self-appointed reformers are spearheading a conference called Spirit Unbounded, scheduled for Oct. 8-14 and accessible online. Two documents framing this event are the “Bristol Text” and a proposal for a constitution for the Catholic Church.
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Exploring the Bristol text unveils a clear agenda: The document portrays the Church as a “secular” entity, clamoring for “democratic structures at all levels,” advocating for canon law to align with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and urging a revamp of the liturgical ministry.
Similarly, the proposal for a constitution for the Catholic Church echoes a secular tone as it delineates a human-authored constitution. However, it reaffirms the Gospel as the prime reference for every Christian.
The push for a democratized Church is familiar to observers of the German Synodal Way and other initiatives.
The program also lists theologian Rafael Luciani, who is among the experts/facilitators of the synod. Luciani has repeatedly underscored his view that Church structures need a synodal overhaul.
The program features controversial liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and former Irish President Mary McAleese. She has used strong language to criticize the Catholic Church, using expressions like “channels of homophobia” and claiming that baptizing babies infringes on human rights.
Another speaker is Cherie Blair, spouse of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Her topic is Catholic attitudes and teachings about women.