First reflections of “Noi Siamo Chiesa” on the final document of the Synod of Bishops on Youth
The Synod of Bishops on Young People faced a particularly difficult task for various reasons.. First of all for its lack of representativeness, as we have said several times. The elderly Prelates, male and unmarried together with a few young men and a few women, and especially with the latter having the status of those who could not vote. And then the subject consisted of a very sociological category, that of young people precisely, distributed on the generality of humanity and which gave occasion and pretext to talk about everything, from psychological or social problems to issues more directly related to the Church, up to the trend lines of human coexistence towards the future. It was right to invoke the Holy Spirit before such a task!
The path chosen to arrive at the recently concluded assembly has tried, according to common sense, to include subjects outside the ecclesiastical sphere and has done so well. In March there was a meeting of young people, a questionnaire was circulated online in time and all this made it possible to prepare a preparatory document, the so-called Instrumentum Laboris which, at least as far as reality was concerned, did not speak empty words, but did provide analysis. The individual interventions in the general congregations could not be obtained, but only the synthesis texts of the two rounds of the 14 Circuli minores, each consisting of about 20 synodal fathers self-selected according to their language. Reading these texts it was interesting to understand what was being talked about. The information disseminated by the Vatican has been deficient, facilitating media inattentiveness.
During its development, a lobby was organized, with interventions and appeals, to ask that at least the sisters present, superiors of religious orders, could be allowed to vote the same as the male superiors of male orders. It would have been a very important fact because it would have broken the canonical logic of the absurd prohibition of formal decision-making roles also attributed to the female sex.
The final document
The too long final document, voted practically unanimously, consists of 167 paragraphs in 55 pages. We will have to make it usable for our Catholic world. Now it is not. The excess of consensus that it has collected cannot be considered positive because it can make all the guidelines and lines of intervention become the patrimony, which will not be found above all in concrete management. The document in the first part interweaves points of analysis with contemporary explicit self-critical assertions about the Church's shortcomings. First of all, listening has been missed, this is a general consideration, young people do not receive the necessary attention, and there is a situation of widespread authoritarianism or paternalism. Then the document takes note of the profound diversity of situations affecting young people in the world and of the changes taking place, of the profound differences between those who enjoy acceptable living conditions and those who live on the margins of society. The statement talks about the cultural colonization caused by globalization in non-western contexts, and evaluates the positive and negative aspects of secularization. The document then makes interesting and effective statements on the pervasiveness of the web and social networks, on their opportunities, on their many dark sides; on migrants it makes the analyzes that must be done, on a phenomenon that is irreversible, on the fractures in the communities of origin, on the xenophobic mentality that migrants often find where they arrive and so on.
The denunciation of clericalism is strong and is followed by the question of the abuses of all kinds of "power, economic, conscience, sexual". The Synod expresses "gratitude to those who have the courage to denounce the evil suffered" and the solution of the problem of abuse can lead to "a reform of epochal scope", but the reference is generic, there is not the expected denunciation of the sexual abuse of minors. We are not! Then comes the question of sexuality. "There is no adequate sexual education" and then all the texts of the magisterium are recalled starting from the 1992 Catechism. We do not go beyond the fine words, but we recognize that "sexual morality is a cause of misunderstanding and of estrangement from the Church because it is perceived as a space of judgment and condemnation". On this ultra-sensitive question the Synod did not go further. This seems to us a weakness that will be greatly noticed.
Problems and situations
The text completes the analysis of various aspects of the youth condition: the problem is not only jobs but also, sometimes, psychological distress, depression, the culture of waste; in the face of this there are the opportunities, perhaps scarce in the Church, but present in active citizenship, in social and political commitment, in voluntary service, in the will of justice; and then there is the distance from the Church from which they expect a true community that, in its absence, facilitates a private and sometimes syncretic religiosity. Along with this research the text explicitly expresses the difficulties of the ecclesial world to an adequate pastoral behavior: there is little support during the political engagement, the liturgy is quite foreign to youthful sensitivity, the distrust of adults is perceived, the dialogue, where it exists, must be less paternalistic, change in the role of women is unavoidable, "the tendency to provide ready-made answers and ready recipes prevails", the parish "struggles to play an important role for young people and it is necessary to rethink its missionary vocation ".
Different help from the usual
The second part of the document, after emphatically saying that young people are "a theological side", deals with help, meaning in various ways and on various topics assistance, including psychological or psychotherapeutic, for the human and spiritual growth of young people either individually or in groups or in associations. The interesting thing about this point is the statement that it "is not necessarily related to the ordained ministry. There is a need for spiritual guides, fathers and mothers, with a profound experience of faith and humanity. We also need to rediscover consecrated life, in particular that of women and lay people, adults and young people ". To tackle this possible non-paternalistic path, calibrated on the sufferings and the research of those who are looking for their own path, the parishes according to the text could equip themselves in a new way, regardless of the centrality of the priest. It is an important matter and presents itself as very interesting.
We must continue with the synodal way
In the last part the document chooses to propose the continuation of the path started with a completely synodal method. In fact "because the concrete conditions, the real possibilities and the urgent needs of the young are very different between countries and continents, we invite the Episcopal Conferences and the particular Churches to continue this path by engaging in processes of community discernment and in the related deliberations even those who are not bishops." The possible pastoral orientations, thus elaborated, should be attentive to the marginalized people and to those who do not contact the ecclesial communities. The document does not use generic words in proposing synodality: all ecclesial subjects must actively participate in it and the participation of young people must be guaranteed in the places of co-responsibility in local Churches, in Episcopal Conferences and in the universal Church, assuming also a youth representative body at the international level in the Vatican. This practice of synodality and the search for shared solutions does not only have an ecclesiastical horizon, but projects itself towards the outskirts of the world to "respond to the double cry of the poor and the earth, having as its inspiration the dignity of the person, the universal destination of goods, the preferential option for the poor, solidarity, attention to subsidiarity, the care of the common home ". They are heavy words completely in Bergoglio’s style.
The document continues by resuming the points of the first part, but giving operational indications. For the parish, which has territorial limits, its pastoral rethinking is necessary also for its inability to intercept the faithful with diversified proposals. It is necessary to rethink both the presence on the territory, both the liturgy and the diaconia, both at youth centers. It is possible to propose a "youth pastoral department" at the level of the Episcopal Conferences. In different situations it is necessary to operate for "projects", not for close compartments. The synod is very concerned with the digital environment, proposing digital evangelization. The words on the migrants are unequivocal. We must defend the right of those who do not want to migrate and those who emigrate and have the right to a welcome. The slogan of the whole church must be against xenophobia, racism and the rejection of migrants, against the trafficking of human beings. On the role of women in the ecclesial community, the words are clear in favor of change in daily pastoral practice and the duty of its participation in ecclesial decision-making processes. But the statement includes the text "respecting the role of the ordained ministry". But is this not the much-deprecated clericalism?
The international situation
It was a difficult Synod at the start. Starting from this observation some initial observations of common sense are made with the reservation of further investigations required by such a vast and important topic. It starts from what is missing and how much is at the beginning of a journey that must be travelled. It is curious that there has not been at the Synod, among the many things said, something on the background of the relations between states, peoples and continents, which is in a phase of aggravation particularly in the last two or three years (nuclear rearmament, the relaunch of the US imperial role, the situation in the Middle East, the crisis in Europe's role with the new national identities closed on themselves, the resumption of the East-West conflict, etc. ...). The placement alongside the migrants, against the arms trade, to protect the environment, etc., requires for everyone and for young people in particular (the future is theirs!) to have the general framework that determines or aggravates specific situations where it is necessary act. It is the gaze on the whole world that Pope Francis has.
Sexuality, women, abuse
On sexuality, the situation appears to be frozen. We cannot be happy with beautiful words and general exhortations; sexuality is the center of the relationship for many young people with the Church. One could have expected at least that the traditional position on contraception (Humanae Vitae) would be ceased, that one would recognize that it has to be abandoned. As for homosexuals, after the stalemate in the two synods on the family, one could not expect more than the invitation to accompany in all ecclesial structures. Positive was the fact that nothing is said against the recognition, in any form, of the unions between gays; one might have expected their demonization.
Throughout the text the talk is about young people as a single category without any distinction between young males and young females. Yet there could have been reason for different analyzes and proposals. In particular, we talk about the difference between the two sexes (chapters 13 and 150) "which can be an area in which forms of domination, exclusion and discrimination are born". Stop! But the particular condition of women, especially young people, in most of the world because they are subjected to the heaviness of male, family and social control? Is it not a central issue and typically dependent on the woman?. This state of subalternity sometimes manifests itself in real violence, not just sexual, and is part of everyday life. And how to deal with this relationship between the two sexes even among young people?. The difference requires analyzes, hypotheses and proposals that do not appear in the final document of the synod.
As for sexual abuse, an issue that most of all affects young people, it seems that at the synod there has been much talk, but in the final document there are only a few general lines to chap. 29 that talks about every kind of abuse. Honestly we do not understand this very modest treatment in a document so long and sometimes overwhelming that deals with young people. They are victims of the abuses that always occur in Catholic circles (oratories, associations ...) and using the strong authority that confers the role of the priest. It is a central question for the credibility of the Church, which is strongly shaken by it in these times. This is something that still has not been resolved and it has gone too far.; To understand, we were reminded that at the 1990 synod on the formation of priests there was not even a word about the abuses and the post-synodal Exhortation of Pope Wojtyla (a document of 60,000 words) ignores the question. yet it is known for certain that in Rome and in the episcopal conferences there were already hundreds of complaints and investigations under way. How are such things possible in our Church?
An overall positive opinion, but to be able to continue
These critical observations, which deserve to be discussed, precede a first general evaluation of the synodal path which, as far as we are concerned, seems to us generally positive on a theme on which, however, it will be necessary to continue analyzes, research, doubts and proposals for a long time. This opinion takes into account the "difficulties" of the beginning of this Synod that I exposed at the beginning. It seems positive that it was said with conviction that it is necessary to listen to the reality of youth and that it is often lacking, overwhelmed by the predicate and pedantic system of parts of our Church.Then the many explicit self-criticisms contained in the document should not be considered untruth. If deemed sincere then we must "use" without shyness.
The affirmations on xenophobia and on racism and on the relationship to be had with migrants are a collective, universal and very important point, now they are not only words of pope Francis and they should be important in the tensions and trends that are emerging in Europe of these months. Finally, the decision is certainly good (which surely the pope will confirm) to continue the Synod in all the catholic Church, from parishes to movements, from episcopates to religious orders. The synodal method must involve everyone, especially women, with respect to which the proposals to attribute them decision-making powers must not remain a dead letter. If something is decided, this must not be only an image operation, as the many clericals everywhere widespread hope. It is also positive, awaiting the maturation of consciences on this problem, the hope that there are widespread places of pastoral support for LGBT persons (now they are still very few). We must then take the word affirmation that many things about sexuality must be explored and we also think that they must be challenged going beyond what the catechism says.
A bet that should not be missed
It is certainly a gamble to manage a post-synodal phase that is open to the future in such a difficult time for the Church (as Pope Francis said). Slowly, too slowly, sensitivity and ideas make their way and the priority given to the Word of God can put in difficulty the codes and laws that respect the "Sabbath", can wipe out the antagonisms and distrust of Christians of other confessions, of other believers and of the naturaliter religious man. The new generations are immediately within these sensibilities. The universality of the Catholic Church, which appeared particularly in this synod (as Cardinal Schönborn said), must, together with its new capacity to radically reform itself, serve humanity in this tumultuous phase of transition and in which old and new ghosts are circulating in the world.
Rome, 31 October 2018 NOI SIAMO CHIESA