Cardinal Mario Grech (R) receives his red hat as he is created Cardinal by Pope Francis (L) on November 28, 2020 at St. Peter’s Basilica.
(FABIO FRUSTACI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
— Rome — Pope Francis has postponed the synod on synodality and added several levels of complication to the preparations, which will now stretch over a period of two years and involve local Churches, whole continents, and persons in every state of life.
The XVI Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will now take place in Rome in October 2023, a full year later than originally planned.
Pope Francis approved the new programme for the XVI Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on 24 April 2021. The Press Office of the Holy See gave news of the changes through a note from the General Secretariat, issued on Friday, 21 May 2021.
“This path toward the celebration of the Synod comprises of [sic] three phases,” the note reads, “between October 2021 and October 2023,” listed as “a diocesan phase and a continental phase that will give life to two different Instrumentum Laboris [sic], and finally a conclusive phase at the level of the Universal Church.”
Really, the synod itself is now a two-year process, as the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech, explained in an interview with the official Vatican news portal.
“The fact that this phase is called preparatory could be misleading,” Cardinal Grech told Andrea Tornielli of Vatican News, “as if it were not truly part of the synodal process.”
“In reality,” Cardinal Grech continued, “without this consultation there would be no synodal process, because the discernment of pastors, which constitutes the second phase, emerges from listening to the People of God.”
“The synodal process was not thought up in some office away from reality,” said Cardinal Grech, whose department was responsible for designing the new process in their Rome offices. “[R]ather it emerged from the journey of the Church throughout the post-conciliar period.”
Cardinal Grech also explained that the great innovation Pope Francis has introduced, is a way of thinking about what a synod is, and isn’t: “The first and greatest innovation is the transformation of the Synod [sic] from an event into a process.”
“Synodality,” Cardinal Grech told Vatican News, “offers us an adequate framework for understanding hierarchical ministry, especially the Petrine ministry.”
Quoting Pope Francis to the effect that the pope is not above the Church, but a member of the Church and a bishop among bishops, who is nevertheless, “called at the same time – as Successor of Peter – to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches.”
“The synodal process,” said Cardinal Grech, “is the litmus test of this truly high vision of the Church.”
“The whole People of God is involved in the synodal process,” said Cardinal Grech. He noted the “evident” importance assigned to the People of God in the consultation the programme envisions, “which is the founding act of the Synod.”
Consultation, however, is not discernment. “[T]he moment of discernment is entrusted above all to those bishops who are gathered in the assembly,” Cardinal Grech explained.
The General Secretary anticipated some lines of objection from quarters concerned that such a process could be “clericalism,” which he defined as “the desire to keep the Church in positions of power.”
Cardinal Grech reiterated Pope Francis’s assertion: “A synodal assembly is not a parliament.” He said that a synod designed to function on the basis of “representation or quota systems” would risk “reviving a kind of conciliarism, that has largely been buried.”
He also invoked the teaching of the Vatican Council II, which teaches that the bishops, as “the principle and foundation of unity in their particular Churches,” have therefore “a function of discernment, which belongs to them because of the ministry they carry out for the good of the Church.”
Offering his own opinion of the matter, Cardinal Grech said, “[T]he strength of the process lies in the reciprocity between consultation and discernment,” which he called a “fruitful principle that can lead to furthering development of synodality, of the synodal Church and of the Synod of Bishops.”
He admitted that this may not all go precisely as planned or desired.
“We cannot know everything straight away,” said Cardinal Grech. “The more we walk, the more we learn as we go along. I am convinced that the experience of the next Synod will teach us much about synodality and how to implement it.”