Critics Sound Alarm Over Possible Changes to Synod Process
by EDWARD PENTIN
Critics of the as-yet unreleased changes to the methodology of the upcoming Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family say they threaten not only to smother voices opposed to certain controversial changes to pastoral practice on family and marriage issues, but also leave the meeting inconclusive and various proposals open to interpretation.
The Synod of Bishops is expected to announce new rules on Friday, but it is already clear that discussion time at the Oct. 4-25 meeting will be reduced; there will be no final message from the synod fathers, as no commission has been set up to write one; no interim report will be issued; and contentious issues largely will be left until the final week.
There is also talk that the Pope will take the unprecedented step of issuing no post-synodal apostolic exhortation — a papal document drawing conclusions from the synod usually published a few months after the meeting. Instead everything is expected to hinge on his final message delivered at the conclusion of the synod discussions. Informed sources say the Pope has explicitly asked for “nothing in writing” to come from the synod, thereby leaving its conclusions ambiguous and its proceedings largely unknown.
As well as a possible lack of transparency with such new rules, various synod participants and prominent theologians believe they could favor certain controversial proposals likely to be raised at the synod, such as Cardinal Walter Kasper’s thesis for readmitting some civilly remarried divorcees to holy Communion, as well as altering pastoral practice on issues relating to human sexuality that would be in conflict with Church doctrine.
Much of the pressure for such pastoral innovations is coming from Germany and German-speaking nations, and is partially, if not wholly, backed by those in charge of managing the three-week synod.
Next month’s meeting, which will discuss the theme of “The Vocation and the Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World,” follows last year’s meeting that had been marred by controversy and allegations of manipulation in terms of synod procedure and methodology.
The highly unusual absence of an interim report is occurring because discussion of the chapters of the instrumentum laboris (working document) will continue throughout the three weeks, divided into three parts, one for each week of the synod — an approach that obviously precludes the release a midterm report that would encapsulate the synod fathers’ initials views of all the topics in the instrumentum laboris. The final week also will be devoted to seeking pastoral solutions on to the issues discussed, including the controversial ones.