Synod on Synodality: A New Springtime or Pandora’s Box?

Well where to start? Once again we’ve had a month in Rome with plenty of acrimony and contention, lots of heat and, depending on who you speak with, not a lot of light.

Eagerly awaited by some, thoroughly dreaded by others, the first assembly of the Synod on Synodality on the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion Participation, Mission,” is over.

It took place October 4-29 behind closed doors under kind of Chatham House rules and so effectively in secret, with carefully selected portions shared with the media. It wrapped up with a lengthy 42-page synthesis report, magically written in the space of three days, in which every paragraph, after amendments, passed with a two-thirds majority or more.

The assembly was plagued by controversy even before it began. There were questions over its legitimacy as a Synod of Bishops — questions which have yet to be properly answered — given that nearly one fifth of the votes were, for the first time, from laypeople, many of whom had distinctly modernist, heterodox perspectives.

There was the synod’s instrumentum laboris, or working document, that gave a fairly good idea of what those in charge had in mind when it comes to synodality. The synod itself, which began in 2021 and concludes next October, was billed as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to reflect on its own life and mission following consultations with the “People of God” at a diocesan, national and continental level.

The overall aim of synodality, we’ve been told, is to foster a more inclusive, participatory, and missionary Church, a chance to listen, walk together as the People of God, and welcome voices who have historically felt marginalized by the Church and, in effect, cast out by the Church’s teaching.

But to its detractors, the synodal process came over as simply a cover to introduce heterodoxy into the Church, whether it be the normalization of homosexuality, women deacons, a radical change in Church governance, and other issues that have long been on favored by dissenters but always blocked by previous pontificates. Coupled with bien-pensant statements that go down well with the world, the late Cardinal George Pell called the instrumentum laboris an “outpouring of New Age goodwill.”

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