Synod Diary 2015
This is my last day during this Synod that I watched during its first week of uncertainty how to start and during the last three days of uncertainty what will be the visible success of this worldwide meeting. As you know tomorrow (Friday) very early I will fly back to Germany to report from Rome at our press conference at noon in Frankfurt and later on at the national convention “20 years We Are Church Germany”. So I will not be in Rome for the weekend but will have to comment on the results (or non-results?) of the Synod from the perspective of my home country. That is not too bad, isn’t it?
Talking about Germany: The German speaking group seemed as if they had opened up new ways in line with the tradition of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the post-synodal letter “Familiaris consortio” of John Paul II., the moral teacher Bernhard Häring and the present pastoral needs. The fact that this group that combined very controversial positions voted unanimously is remarkable. But it’s a great pity that the other groups just ignored “The German miracle”. (Text of German proposal for Communion for remarried at synod: http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/text-german-proposal-communion-remarried-synod). So everybody here in Rome is curious what will be written in the “Relatio finales”, that is the summarised proposal of the Synod to the Pope, and what Pope Francis will answer an Saturday.
If I would have to summarise the efforts of these two Synods and the time between very shortly:
“We don’t change any doctrine” was a kind of mantra for those who are too afraid to change anything in our church.
Lack of families as “experts of real life”, and especially lack of women in the Synod hall (http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/us-sister-auditor-synod-shows-cultural-divide-between-bishops-laypeople).
Lack of expert theologians (professors) who could help the Magisterium (Bishops and Cardinals) to find understandable explanations for the development of theology.
Lack of courage in the working groups “circuli minori” to look deeper at “problems” like homosexuality and propose really new ideas in many fields.
Lack of space in the seats in the Synod hall. If you can’t move physically it is hard to move your brain.
Lack of translations of important documents.
But this sounds far too negative.
There was/is a process of learning how to listen and dialogue.
There was/is a process of learning, especially for the clerics, about the “real” life and conflicts of families.
There was/is a process of learning about the diversity of our church and it’s sexual teaching in different parts of the world.
There was and hopefully continue a practice to become tolerant to others. (Unfortunately not all the Cardinals learned this lesson until now.)
Reading and listening to the speeches, homilies and addresses of Pope Francis I’m still convinced that he wants substantial changes in many ways. But he is using the soft and spiritual way: He is trying to change the mentality first before he changes church law. That is a great chance for real changes, but it is also a risk that he might fail.
In the afternoon I had several interviews about the outcome of the Synod and I also had to coordinate the media work for the weekend at home. So I only shortly could join our task force working very hard in Valentino’s place for the Council 50-project. I ended my last day with dinner at trattoria “La Vittorio” where – just by coincidence - I met people from the city of our national convention in Germany where I will be tomorrow. And they even told me that they have been active at the start of We are Church 20 years ago.
With Pope Francis things are getting better but there is still a long way to go to achieve real changes in the line of the Gospel and the Second Vatican Council.
Time is running out – for me and for the Synod. Today (Wednesday afternoon) the preparatory group met for the “Council 50” conference, November 20-22 in Rome but I had to come late because of the daily press briefing in Sala Stampa. Besides that all I have to prepare the press conference We are Church Germany will present on Friday at noon in Germany. It is a (good or bad?) coincidence that we had arranged our national meeting “20 years We are Church Germany” before we knew the date of the Synod. So I will have to fly to Frankfurt very, very early on Friday morning.
Today’s press briefing was really interesting and important. All the seats in Sala Stampa were taken, 25 TV cameras present. This because of two reasons. Firstly, the rumour of a newspaper from Bologna about a severe illness of Pope Francis Father Lombardi strongly denied. It seems that conservative elements try every trick to weaken the position of Pope Francis. The second reason was: Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chair of the German and of the European Bishop’s Conferences, spoke today about the results in the German speaking language group (“circulo minori”). He wanted to talk in his mother tongue but because of lack of interpreters he had to switch to English. That was not an easy task for him especially with this very delicate topics. I think it is a great signal and was intended to be that this group with 6 Cardinals with very different positions before the Synod (Gerhard Ludwig Müller (Prefect of the CDF), Kurt Koch (Prefect of Ecumenism, from Switzerland), Walter Kasper (emeritus Prefect of Ecumenism), Reinhard Marx (Head of the German Bishops’ Conference), Audrys Backis (Lithuania), Christoph Schoenborn (Head of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference)) produced 3 Relationes and all of them were unanimous. Was that the “The German miracle” as Deborah Rose-Milavec wrote in her blog? Would that solve all the theological problems and all the contradictions of the traditional doctrine and a pastoral approach? Yes and No. I think it is a step forward when Card. Marx is talking about “making theology” and so on. Actually Cardinal Marx is the head of my diocese “Muenchen and Freising” in Bavaria. Because time is running out for me I advise to read all the details of Wednesday press briefing in Deb’s blog:
Time is also running out for the Synod. Will it ever be possible to come to final “prepositiones” of the Synod until Saturday? I think everything will be a compromise and many of the Synod members will go home partly disappointed. One of our theological advisers in Germany made a quick but very helpful summary of ALL 39 RELATIONES. But translation is – by intension – a permanent problem in this Synod. The 39 relationes and many other important documents were not translated. Our summary is in German (www.wir-sind-kirche.de/files/2424_Relationes_Sichtung.docx) but it will give you a first impression:
- In the last week 10 groups didn’t mention homosexuality at all.
- Only 1 group Hibericus A is in favour of spending the sacraments to divorces remarried.
- In general all the relations are using a positive and nice language but there is a general lack of clear and strong proposals.
Pope Francis presented his vision of a Church of mercy so often during the last year. The Appeal of international reform movements asked the Synod Fathers in Rome before and during the Synod: “Follow Pope Francis’ way of dialogue and reform!” But to my mind until now the reformers are much too silent and too reluctant and they don’t want to use tricks as the fundamentalist do. Pope Francis has made clear that this Synod is working “cum Petro et sub Petro”. So we all wait what Francis will say and do at the end.
Christian sends the latest news
8 days after watching the Synod from my home in Germany I came back to Rome on Wednesday, October 20. It’s the day when the working “Circolo minori” groups of the Synode had finished their work at noon and the plenary discussions in the Synod hall start in the afternoon. Again it was very easy for me to contact some of the Synod members when they passed the Swiss Gard on their way to lunch. Benedictine Father Jeremias Schroeder from Germany, one of the 10 representatives of the man religious, told me about the open atmosphere in his group “Anglicus C”. But in the third period of the “Circolo minori” the discussion became tense about pastoral approaches for divorced remarried couples and homosexuals, he said. (read his blog: http://www.katholisch.de/aktuelles/themenseiten/aus-der-aula)
It seems to be very difficult to close the gap between the “unchangeable doctrine of indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage” (the Synod fathers themselves criticised already the wording of indissolubility) and pastoral approaches for remarried couples. Our friend Luigi Sandri, whom I met in front of Sala Stampa, stated: It is wrong that following the present doctrine a murderer after confession can receive the Holy Communion, a remarried couple will never be allowed to.
I met many friends and journalist in today’s press briefing. But I was very disappointed about the three presenters. Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Spain talked mainly talked about the “streamlined procedure” of annulment of marriage. But that “moto propio” was already released before the Synod and is by not a sufficient fruit of the Synod. Cardinal Alberto Suarez Inda of Mexico repeated the severe problems of families in his diocese who are separated because many people have migrated to the US. But wasn’t it the programme of the first week to analyse the situations families have to cope with? Finally Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa partly defended “arranged marriage” as part of the African culture. But does this confer with the Christian concept of marriage of two persons who can elect each other in freedom? Napier also made clear that he had wanted Pope Francis only to clear up the Vatican bureaucracy, nothing else. And he tried to explain why he signed the “private letter” of 13 Cardinals to the Pope complaining about the procedure of this Synod. Today he declared he is totally happy with the procedure. Do the conservatives have already the impression that they have “won” the battle against the reformers?
Last week the German speaking working group “Germanicus” published their results which seemed to be quite hopefully. Even Cardinal Mueller agreed about the pastoral approach that in “extreme exemptions” divorced remarried couples could receive the sacraments again. The intensive discussion in different language groups are one of the great advantages of this Synod. But for observers and I think even for the participants of the Synod it is very difficult to have an overview about the whole process because many important documents, e.g. the 39 results of the 13 “circolo minori” in 3 weeks were not translated into other languages. Now the 10 persons of the commission who were appointed by the Pope to write the final summary have the most difficult job possible. There are more than 1000 amendments (“modi”) of the 13 working groups to the “Instrumentum laboris”, the base of their work.
Beside the slow and difficult progress of the Synod Pope Francis himself is giving so much hope. I think it was very clever that on Saturday, October 17 there was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Synod. The opening speech of Vienna Cardinal Schoenborn was quite good (https://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=26454) but was beaten by far by the speech of Pope Francis (http://americamagazine.org/content/all-things/pope-calls-listening-church). I like very much the symbolic sidestep of Francis when he opened a homeless shelter in the house of the Jesuits in Rome on October 16th (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/pope-francis-makes-secret-stop-at-new-dorms-for-romes-homeless-17118/).
Cardinal Pell in a recent interview the French “Le Figaro” tried to speak out the conflict between the followers of Card. Kasper and Card. Mueller. But, I think, that is not a “synodal way” of arguments and reflection. I’m very interested how German Cardinal Marx will answer to Pell’s attack in the press briefing on Wednesday. But the Synod is not yet completed. As Robert Mickens reminded us the other day: The Synod of Bishops was intended to be a permanent institution. What we now have is the 14th Assembly of the Synod.
Last evening together with Thomas Seiterich from German newspaper “Publik-Forum” attended the very impressive evening prayer of Sant’Egidio in Trastevere. While I’m writing this diary in Residenza Madre Pie, very close to the Vatican, and can hear the loudspeakers of today’s audience in front of the Basilica.
On the web I just see Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Office quoted “The spread of the totally unfounded news of the health condition of the Holy Father on the part of an Italian news agency is seriously irresponsible and not worthy of attention.” But if he would be really ill what unbelievable damage to our hopes and to our church.
Best wishes from Rome