Highlights of the Synod From Vatican Observer Sandro Magister


by Sandro Magister

VATICAN CITY, November 5, 2012 – The 13th synod of bishops, dedicated to the new evangelization, has concluded with the delivery of 58 "propositiones" to Benedict XVI.

The "propositiones" are an outline that the pope will be able to use in order to write the apostolic exhortation that will constitute the effective fruit of the assembly.

The "propositiones" were approved by a large majority of the synod fathers, and United States cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the relator general of the synod, has revealed that there was never more than 10 percent of "non placet" in the voting on each of these.

"the new evangelization should strive to address significant pastoral problems concerning marriage, the case of the divorced and remarried, the situation of their children, the fate of abandoned wives, the couples that live together without being married, and the trend in society of redefining marriage."

Proposition 48

Up until the current pontificate, the "propositiones" voted on at a synod were under secrecy, but because they were in the possession of hundreds of persons it regularly happened that they were released to the media very quickly.

Benedict XVI, for the sake of transparency and out of realism, from the very first synod celebrated in his pontificate, that of 2005, decided that an "unofficial" translation in current language of the "propositiones," the "typica" version of which is always in Latin, should be officially released to the media in real time.

This is what happened this time as well.

 

The "propositiones" of this latest synod are above all exhortative, and on the whole fairly generic.

But there is no lack of concrete indications, as for example:

  • the request to the pope (no. 16) to create a specific commission of representatives of the various parts of the Church in the world, or to entrust this task to the pontifical council for justice and peace, in order to address the question of attacks on religious freedom.
  • the observation (no. 18) that beyond the importance of the media, "the most effective form of communication of the faith remains that of sharing the witness of life, without which no effort in the media can lead to an effective transmission of the Gospel."
  •  the caution of the "necessity" (no. 20) that the Church be "vigilant in attending to and promoting the quality of the art that is permitted in the sacred spaces reserved for liturgical celebrations."
  •  the request (no. 33) that each priest should "consider the sacrament of penance as an essential part of his ministry and of the new evangelization," and that in every parish community there be given "adequate time to hear confessions." Leaving in place the necessity of being faithful to the "specific norms that regulate this sacrament," which, as is well known, provide only for individual confession and absolution, not collective, except in the most extraordinary cases such as that of war.
  • the call for dioceses and episcopal conferences (no. 38) to study what may be the best order to follow in the administration of the sacraments of communion and confirmation. At the synod, in fact, especially in the open discussions, there was talk of whether it might be preferable to retain the praxis that sees the celebration of confirmation after communion, or whether instead to reverse the order.
  • the emphasis (no. 55) that the promotion of dialogue through the initiative of the "Courtyard of the Gentiles" "is never separate from the first proclamation" of the Gospel.

The rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, the Salesian Bishop Enrico dal Covolo, used no uncertain terms to decry that "the Trojan horse through which States appropriates the intelligence of students is the formation of professors.  … As a consequence an ecclesial community committed to a New Evangelization will have to face, as a matter of urgency and priority ,the good functioning of schools and universities in general, and the Catholic ones in particular."

As for the divorced and remarried – an issue very much present in the media – the synod limited itself to suggesting (no. 48) that "the new evangelization should strive to address significant pastoral problems concerning marriage, the case of the divorced and remarried, the situation of their children, the fate of abandoned wives, the couples that live together without being married, and the trend in society of redefining marriage. With maternal care and an evangelical spirit, the Church should seek appropriate responses for these situations, as an important aspect of the new evangelization."

No appeal, therefore, in favor of a change of the discipline concerning access to the Eucharist for the divorced and remarried.

*  *  *

This is what emerges from the "propositiones." But the synod, in its internal debate, was more rich than what the "propositiones" themselves or the final message to the people of God might lead one to believe.

In the assembly, in fact, almost all of the more than 250 synod fathers spoke. Among the "big shots," the only one who turns out not to have spoken was the cardinal of Vienna,  Christoph Schönborn, who was also among those voted to be part of the post-synodal council, an organism of fifteen churchmen – twelve of them elected and three designated by the pope – that meets periodically to contribute to the compilation of the apostolic exhortation and to prepare the following synod.

Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney in Australia, denounced the attacks on the freedom to profess the Christian religion "in some European and English-speaking countries," where this freedom is "being limited by the Courts, by regulations, sometimes by parliaments." And he did so while positively recalling the fact that "next year will be the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, when Emperor Constantine promulgated religious freedom in the Roman Empire."

The following is a selection of the most significant remarks – or the most curious – made in the assembly during the course of the twenty-two general congregations, at twelve of which Benedict XVI was present.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council for interreligious dialogue, raised the alarm against bad supporters of interreligious dialogue. "Christians," he said, "often ignorant of the content of their own faith and incapable because of this of living of and for it, are not capable of interreligious dialogue that always begins with the assertion of one’s own convictions: there is no room for syncretism or relativism! Faced with adepts from other religions with a strong religious identity, it is necessary to present motivated and doctrinally equipped Christians. This makes the new evangelization a priority to form coherent Christians, capable of demonstrating their faith, with simple words and without fear."

The archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Bruno Forte, made a proposal that in its juridical component seems to have received no follow-up. After recalling "how dramatic the situation is for the offspring of divorced and remarried parents, who are often rendered strangers to the sacraments by the non-participation of their parents," he called for "a decisive turning point . . . in terms of pastoral care, as Pope Benedict XVI has affirmed several times (for example at the World Meeting of Families in Milan)." And he made the following proposal: "It will also be necessary to initiate reflection on the methods and time necessary for the recognition of the nullity of the matrimonial bond: as a Bishop and moderator of a Regional Ecclesiastical Tribunal, I must admit that some requirements (such as the need for the conforming double sentence, even if there is no appeal) seem to many people with problems who wish to resolve their situation to be difficult to comprehend."

The rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, the Salesian bishop Enrico dal Covolo, used no uncertain terms to decry that "the Trojan horse through which States appropriates the intelligence of students is the formation of professors." And he added: "In many countries professors are trained solely in the State Universities and in any case those who wish to teach must have the State qualification conferred in accordance with the training course established by the States and by State examination. The Progressive de-Christianization of the West has occurred in this way through the de-Christianization of schools and universities. Now a New Evangelization may take place only in the recognition of persons, of their conscience and their rights. If the States, as often they have done and continue to do, appropriate the personal project of learning, they remove from the persons the freedom to fulfill themselves depriving them of a basic and constitutive right. As a consequence an ecclesial community committed to a New Evangelization will have to face, as a matter of urgency and priority ,the good functioning of schools and universities in general, and the Catholic ones in particular."

One of the rare references to the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, and to how to face the new evangelization in contexts particularly affected by this sad phenomenon, was made by the bishop of Antigonish in Canada, Brian Joseph Dunn. His predecessor in the diocese was recently reduced to the lay state – a very rare provision for a bishop – after being found guilty of possession of child pornography.

Indian cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, raised an alarm on the situation of the religious orders. "I would like to make a humble appeal to the religious orders to become missionary again! In the history of evangelization, all the religious orders led by the Holy Spirit have done outstanding and marvelous work. Can we say the same of the Religious Congregations today? Could it be that they have begun working like Multinationals, doing very good and necessary work to meet the material needs of humanity, but have forgotten that the primary purpose of their founding was to bring the kerygma, the Gospel, to a lost world? We must appreciate many Youth Groups and new Ecclesial Movements who are taking up the challenge. But, in my opinion this Synod must appeal to the Religious men and women to explicitly and directly take up the work of evangelization and transmission of faith in collaboration with the local bishops! I would also like to call upon the Sacred Congregation for Consecrated life to be pro active in promoting the sensus ecclesiae among all religious."

The prefect of the congregation for bishops, Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, also expressed criticisms with regard to religious, when he noted that "in the relations between the hierarchy and consecrated life a certain unease has arisen: at times due to ignorance of the charismas and their role in the mission and in ecclesial communion: at other times due to the inclination of some religious to contest the Magisterium."

But a diametrically opposite judgment seemed to be formulated by the superior of the largest religious order, the superior general of the Society of Jesus, Adolfo Nicolas, a Spaniard who lived for a long time in Asia. Reading his account of the synod in the Jesuit magazine "Popoli," it is easy to note the difference of accent with respect to the Indian Toppo, above all where Fr. Nicolas insists on the "holiness" and "salvation" already present outside of the visible Church more than on the primary duty of propagating the Christian faith, as urged by the cardinal.

The Dutch bishop Everardus Johannes de Jong expressed a hope that in other times could be taken for granted, but not today: "We should promote the prayer to the angels and archangels in the new evangelization. Many Popes and saints have practiced this devotion, and promoted it."

The bishop of Atakpamé in Togo, Nicodème Anani Barraigah-Bénissan, looked in a completely different direction when he denounced the fact that "secret and esoteric societies, especially the freemasons reign as masters at the head of the State, in the most important institutions and in all the intellectual circles of our country."

Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney in Australia, denounced the attacks on the freedom to profess the Christian religion "in some European and English-speaking countries," where this freedom is "being limited by the Courts, by regulations, sometimes by parliaments." And he did so while positively recalling the fact that "next year will be the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, when Emperor Constantine promulgated religious freedom in the Roman Empire."

Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, president of the prefecture of economic affairs of the Holy See, dedicated to the scorching issue of misgovernance on the part of churchmen a set of remarks that the media turned back against the Church. "In cases of the possible bad administration of ecclesial goods," he said, "as therapy, the evangelical medicine of fraternal correction must be applied. Before denouncing to the authorities, personal confrontation must be applied to give the possibility of reformation and repairing. Transparency does not automatically mean the publicizing of evil which leads to scandal. Only if conversion is not there, the proper authorities must be called, who have the task of verifying the accusations without them being already considered proof of misgovernment." "Don't go airing your dirty laundry in public" was the sneering translation in the Italian media.

Not a few synod fathers cited and praised Vatican Council II and its fruits in the life of the Church. But there was no lack of detailed critical references to what happened in the years following the council.

United States cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura, emphasized how "excitement following the Council, linked to the establishment of a new Church which teaches freedom and love, has strongly encouraged an attitude of indifference towards Church discipline, if not even hostility. The reforms of ecclesial life which were hoped for by the Council Fathers were therefore, in a certain sense, hindered, if not betrayed."

Another American cardinal, Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York, bitterly recalled: "The second Vatican Council called for a renewal of the sacrament of penance, but what we got instead, sadly, in many places, was the disappearance of the sacrament."

Polish cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the congregation for Catholic education, noted how "despite having, as regards this, the indications of Vatican Council II and the post-Council Magisterium . . . in practice there still remains little clarity about the relationship between the role of theology and the Magisterium of the Church. Jesus did not leave our understanding of Sacred Scripture and Tradition in the care of various opinions, which clearly might be very diverse and extravagant as well as continually sowing uncertainty and confusion, but he left us the great treasure of the Magisterium," which unfortunately however "is often frustrated." And so it happens that "the obsession with becoming great, original, important, reduces more than a few to being 'shepherds who feed themselves and not the sheep' (Ez 34: 8: cf. Saint Augustine, To Pastors), in reality becoming largely irrelevant in the Kingdom of Heaven, and counterproductive for the growth of the Church and evangelization."

*

Finally, here are three contributions for which it is useful to present in full the summary released from the synod.

The first is the one that, according to multiple witnesses, received the strongest round of applause of the entire synod. And its author is a young lay catechist from Rome, appointed by the pope among the observers.

The other two are those that Benedict XVI, participating in the synod on October 27, said that he had particularly appreciated as testimonies of a Church that "is growing and living" precisely where it is small and poor. They are those of the Croatian bishop of Tromso, in Norway, and of the bishop, of French origin, of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

TOMMASO SPINELLI, catechist of young catechumens at the catechetical office of the diocese of Rome, Italy:

"The new evangelization needs substance: it needs catechesis of a certain depth that is able to say something serious to our lives, but also and above all it needs lives of substance that demonstrate through actions the solidity of the Christian. It is even more important today, now that families are disunited and often abdicate their educative role, that priests demonstrate to the young their faithfulness to a vocation and the possibility of choosing an alternative way of living, better than that proposed by society. My concern however is that these figures of substance are becoming a minority. The priest has lost trust in the importance of his ministry, he has lost charisma and culture. I see priests who adapt to the dominant thought. The same is true of the liturgy, which in the attempt to become original becomes meaningless. Priests, I ask you to find the courage to be yourselves. Do not fear because where you are truly priests, there you propose the truth of the faith without fear, we the young will follow. Indeed, the words of Peter are also ours: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life”. And we are infinitely hungry for something eternal and true.

"I therefore propose: 1) an increase in the formation of priests, not only in spiritual but also cultural terms. Too often I see priests who have lost their role as masters of culture which had made them important for the whole of society. Today if we want to be credible and useful, we must return to having good cultural tools; 2) the rediscovery of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its conciliar sense: in particular the first part of each session where the documents of the Council enlighten the traditional themes. The Catechism has, indeed, the wisdom of making the premise to the explanation of the Creed an inspired part of the Dei Verbum, in which the personalistic vision of revelation is explained, the Sacrosantum Concilium prior to the Sacraments, and the Lumen Gentium, which shows man created in God’s image, before the Commandments. The first part of each section of the catechism is fundamental to enable today’s man to feel faith as something that relates to him closely, and to be able to give an answer to his most profound questions.3) Finally the liturgy: too often it is neglected and desacralized. It must be restored with dignity to the center of both the parochial and the territorial community."

BERISLAV GRGIC, bishop prelate of Tromso, Norway:

"The Catholic Church in the Northern Lands – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – is a very small minority and therefore has neither the advantages nor the disadvantages that the Catholic Church often comes across in traditional and prevalently Catholic regions. Despite its limited relevance, numeric as well as social, our Church is nonetheless a growing Church. New churches are built or bought, new parishes are instituted, non-Latin rites are added, there is a relatively high number of adult conversions and baptisms, there are vocations to priesthood and to religious life, the number of baptisms is much higher than the number of deaths and number of those who abandon the Church, and attendance at Sunday Mass is relatively high.

"In certain sectors of society there is great interest for the faith and spirituality, by non-believers who are searching for the truth as well as by Christians committed to other religions who wish to deepen and enrich religious life. It is also interesting to see that during the past years a relatively high number of contemplative orders have opened their own convents.

"The transmission of the faith, often however, is made difficult because of the vast distances. Our priests must travel far – sometimes up to 2,000 km per month – to visit our faithful who live in distant places and celebrate Mass. This is very tiring during the winter months."

OLIVIER SCHMITTHAEUSLER, M.E.P., apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh, Cambodia:

"The Khmer Rouge genocide killed bishops, priests, religious persons and the majority of Christians. For twenty years now, we are living a new time of the Acts of the Apostles with a first announcement of the Good News ensured by the small group of survivors, supported by the massive arrival of missionaries. Today we have about 200 adult baptisms each year... The small Church of Cambodia is in some ways a laboratory for evangelization in a Buddhist world, fully entered into a process of secularization driven by globalization a bit like the Asian dragons. The Ad Extra Mission is intimately tied to the Ad Intra Mission. Ad Extra and Ad Intra are mutually enriched by stimulating each other with the same and unique Mission of Evangelization!

"Some meaningful points for a first proclamation of Jesus Christ and which may be extended also to a reflection about new evangelization. Two fundamentals: 1. The true encounter with Jesus Christ opens the heart to charity and to the experience of forgiveness to lead to the discovery of the gift of life. 2. The laity are apostles in this world (apostolicam actuositatem).

"How can the Church be the sacrament of Christ in the world for a new evangelization in actions and in truth? 1. A Church that touches the heart. 2. A simple Church. 3. A welcoming Church. 4. A Church in prayer. 5. A joyful Church."



Copyright © 2004–2012 Catholics for the Common Good®
Permission granted for use of content with attribution to  
ccgaction.org.