Synod document calls for ‘participatory, co-responsible’ Church

Synod 2018 October 3, 2018 - The opening day of the 15th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. | CNA

The final document of the Synod of Bishop's fifteenth general session was approved by the members and released late Saturday. While the session was convened to discuss the topics of young people, the faith, and vocational discernment, the concept of "synodality" itself emerged as a key subject in the final text.


In the past, Pope Francis has spoken of synodality as a "constitutive dimension" of the Church, though the meaning of the term has been open to broad and narrow interpretations. The synod's final document repeated the pope's words but, while calling for the Church to become more synodal at all levels, it offered more description than definition.


The document was approved by paragraph-by-paragraph vote of the synod members Oct. 27, with a two-thirds majority needed to adopt a passage into the final text.


The third section of the document, headed "They set out at once," aligns the concept of synodality with the Church's universal character and constitution as the Mystical Body of Christ.


"Synodality characterizes both the life and the mission of the Church, which is the People of God formed of young and old, men and women of every culture and horizon, and the Body of Christ, in which we are members of each other, starting from those who are marginalized and downtrodden,' the document reads.


The text says that one of the results of the synod sessions has been emergence of "some fundamental features of a synodal style" which the wider Church is called to adopt.


This new "style" is presented as a Church defined by relationships.


"The Church is called to assume a relational face that focuses on listening, welcoming, dialogue, and common discernment in a process that transforms the lives of those who participate in it." It is through relationships characterized like this, the document says, that the faith is transmitted.


The final document speaks of the Church as a venue for dialogue and collaboration between the pope, the bishops, and the faithful, and underscores the diversity of charisms within it. The goal of synodality is "to move towards a participatory and co-responsible Church capable of enhancing the richness of the variety of which it is composed."

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The synod document specifically calls for the inclusion of young people in positions of "co-responsibility" at all levels of the Church, including in dioceses, at the level of bishops' conferences, and the universal Church. How exactly a "participatory and co-responsible Church" functions is not defined at each level, though there is a specific call for the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life to establish a international representative body.


The common experience of "walking together" as a synodal Church is presented as a remedy for clericalism, which some bishops have blamed for different problems in the Church, including the sexual abuse crises which have erupted in different parts of the world in recent months.


The document stresses that in valuing the unique contributions of lay men and women, including religious brothers and sisters, "no one must be put aside." This, the synod document proposes, "is the way to avoid clericalism, which excludes many from the decision making process," and also prevents the "clericalization of the laity" which diverts them away from their missionary role in the wider world.


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The document's discussion of synodality suggests that, properly deployed, it increases the understanding of "authority in terms of service." The report calls on pastors to increase their collaborative efforts at every level of the Church "to accompany processes of community discernment to interpret the signs of the times in the light of faith and under the guidance of the Spirit, with the contribution of all the members of the community."


The report also advances the recommendation of "common training" for young lay people, young religious and seminarians, "in particular as regards issues such as the exercise of authority or working as a team."

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