The Synod on Synodality

July 02, 2021
Pope Francis and Sister Nathalie Becquart

“On October 9 and 10, 2021, a solemn ceremony in the presence of the Pope will kick off a three-year itinerary that will culminate with an October 2023 assembly in Rome, around the theme ‘For a synodal Church: communion, participation, and mission.’ ”

It is in these terms that the Vatican News site presented, on May 21, 2021, the next Synod of Bishops, specifying, not without emphasis, that “one listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit” would be “the dynamic of the path which will open next autumn, and which will not only be celebrated in the Vatican but in each particular Church of the five continents, following a three-year itinerary, divided into three phases: diocesan, continental, and universal.”

“For the first time in the history of this institution created by Paul VI, in order to continue the collegial experience of the Second Vatican Council, a ‘decentralized’ synod is being celebrated.”

On this occasion, Sr. Nathalie Becquart, a French Xavier religious, undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, declared on the official Vatican website: “It is one of the novelties emphasized by the constitution Episcopalis communio promulgated in September 2018, and which insists on the issue of a very broad preparation to listen to the people of God.”

“So the novelty is that this process will start with a diocesan first phase, where all the dioceses are invited to deploy this synodal consultation, to organize a pre-synodal meeting at the diocesan level to collect everything that has been heard.”

“Then the episcopal conferences, from all the diocesan summaries and the answers they will have received, are invited to make a synodal process, at the level of the episcopal conference, to write a summary that will be sent to Rome.”

“And there, the general secretariat of the synod, on the basis of all these syntheses, will make a first Instrumentum laboris [working document] which will feed into a new phase: a pre-synodal meeting at the continental level.”

“There will be seven pre-synodal meetings at the continental level, and the seven final documents of these meetings will feed the 2nd Instrumentum laboris which will be submitted to the synod fathers for, ultimately, the Synod of Bishops.”

“So, this process will start from the base and take place at different levels: dioceses, episcopal conferences, continental level, then this whole listening process culminates in the Synod of Bishops in October 2023.”

To present this long process of preparation for the synod on the synodality of the Church, the sister uses a vocabulary borrowed from conciliar optimism, more than 50 years ago, and which seems singularly anachronistic in the context of the current crisis.

It is about the “new Pentecost”: “This is the expression that John XXIII used for the Second Vatican Council. We can therefore really hope that this open synodal process will allow, in all the local Churches, this experience of a new Pentecost, of interior renewal, of missionary impulse to go out to meet others.”

They include these definitions which are intended to be inspired: “synodality is the call of God for the Church today,” “the missionary style to respond to current challenges is to be a synodal Church,” “a synodal Church is a listening Church”; through this process, the Holy Spirit will continue to work on the Church, so that all may be actors and that the bishops strengthen dialogue, listening to the People of God.”

“The challenge of synodality is to walk together: pastors, lay people, young people, old people, men, women… That they be in this dynamic of discernment in common, and that it does not detract from the very important role of pastors. But synodality aims to build, to strengthen this People of God so that they can serve humanity.”

Here, a revealing objective: “to leave a vision and a practice of the clerical Church, of clericalism, by entering into a way of being Church which is synodal, where all walk together. Synodality must indeed help to get out of this clericalism, it aims to build a fraternity.” Always with the obligatory reference to the Council: “we are perhaps today in a process of relearning this synodality, in acceptance of Vatican II.”

There, a constant concern: “it is really one of the challenges of this process: a very broad listening to the laity, and that they can participate in the preparation of the synod, in the pre-synodal meetings in the dioceses, at the regional level … This whole process places a very important emphasis on listening to the sensus fidei, to the People of God.”

On the sidelines of these official and idealistic declarations, Stefano Fontana in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana of May 23, offers a more realistic vision: synodality presents itself as democracy in politics, that is to say the power of the people in appearance, but the dictatorship of a minority in reality.

He affirms: “This new democratic Church is already here: we have seen it at work during the last synods. But it is a democracy imposed by force and deception, a democracy driven by the center of power. This will be a “totalitarian democracy.”

And to report a real event: “I remember that when the synod of the diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone [2013-2015] concluded its work with unequivocally heterodox affirmations, contrary to the deposit of faith and deviating from natural and Catholic morality, the bishop did not say a word: who am I to oppose a synod?”

In fact, according to Stefano Fontana: “It was a programmed democracy, because the bishop already knew this result when he called the synod, and he called the synod to have this result.”

“It is a democracy imposed with the now habitual motivations of fidelity to the ‘signs of the times,’ of ‘docility to the Spirit,’ of not being afraid of the new. However, it remains formally a democracy, because the Spirit would speak precisely in a democratic Church, or, better, through the democratic nature of the Church.”

And it is easy to judge the recent synodal experiences, in Rome and in Germany: “The same mechanism was followed in the double synod on the family, planned from the beginning down to the smallest detail, carried out with pressures and controls typical of a secret police, and concluded with a document which, as expected, confirmed what had been decided to confirm when the synod was convened.”

“With a typical formula of paternalistic power, during this double synod, the synod fathers were allowed to say outrageous things from a doctrinal and moral point of view, so that the final apostolic exhortation itself turns out to be balanced, soothing, and moderate.”

“The same schema was followed by the Amazon synod, while the German synod went one step further in clarity of confusion: the center simply let it go, allowing German ecclesial democracy - which, like any democracy, is the dictatorship of a minority - to prevail, as a simple justification of its own praxis: we want to do this, we already do this, and we will do this.”

“Very little, on a purely theoretical level, but a lot for the new ecclesial democracy for which the truth is born of pastoral action from below (guided from above).”

“Given these premises, nothing reassuring for the faith emerges from the new three-year Synodal Calvary. The most reckless statements pass for the breath of the Holy Spirit, the adverb ‘together’ as a guarantee of the truth of the noun to which it refers, the ‘how’ (generally expressed by the word ‘to agree’) has become the criterion for the ‘thing,’ the form - in the procedural sense of democracy - being confused with matter.”

“We know this, and we can already foresee the caravanserai of weirdness that we are going to witness. We know this because we have already experienced it in the recent synodal phase, but we cannot complain about the dangers of the new three-year Synodal Calvary, by simply recalling the negative fruits of the previous ones.”

“It is not enough to deplore that this will be, unfortunately, like a great German Synod at maximum power. What needs to be done is go to the root and severely criticize the very concept of synodality in use in the Church today.”