Friday, June 20, 2014

For the Synod, The Baseline Cometh

After months of anticipation – and, in no shortage of parts elsewhere, presumptions and agitation galore – the core document for October's Extraordinary Synod finally has its pub-date.

Its drafting guided by the questionnaire circulated worldwide by the Holy See last fall, earlier today it emerged that the instrumentum laboris for the assembly on "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization" will be released next Thursday, 26 June, with a midday press conference featuring the meeting's key officials, led by the Pope's hand-picked Synod chief, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.

Ostensibly delayed by the torrent of feedback received from the local churches, an initial draft of the text was reviewed by the 15-prelate Synod Council last month under Francis' close watch.

Though the Pope's earnest desire is for the assembly of representatives of the 5,000-member global episcopate to become a significantly more "real and effective tool" for collegial governance than it has in the past – a dynamic which should make for some surprises in the Aula – the document will set the baseline both for the topics envisioned for discussion, and Papa Bergoglio's expectations for the first stage of the process that'll culminate with a second Family Synod in October 2015.

* * *
When they circulated the survey to the episcopal conferences with the request that they "distribute [it] to the dioceses" for local input, Baldisseri & Co. likely weren't banking on the confusion that would reign in its wake.

For starters, progressive lobby groups in several countries took to pouncing on their respective conferences for letting the dioceses take the initiative in circulating the questions, even though the intent was precisely to get an optimal snapshot of the reality in the trenches instead of ideological boilerplate. Then, once the national responses were compiled and sent to Rome, several of the English-speaking bodies declined to release theirs, citing a request for confidentiality from Baldisseri, while extensive, brow-raising reports were published by others, most prominently the Japanese and German bishops. (The latter bench is now led by Europe's lone diocesan bishop on Francis' "Gang of Eight," Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who's talked up some of his own thoughts on related matters over recent months.)

In any case, Baldisseri has made clear that while "the doctrine on the family is not in discussion" come October, "the approach to pastoral problems is" – and it "can change."

"We're starting from a conviction that we don't know everything," the Synod chief said in a November interview, "and that study and seeking might open new horizons, previously unknown ones."

After having processed the responses (which were due at January's end), over another press sit-down in April, the cardinal let slip that among other issues raised, two stood out: first, he said, "communication is lacking between the institutional church and the real church, which is the people." And secondly, "the awareness of the Christian doctrine on marriage is scarce," adding that "the same could be said for the theme of openness to life.

"Paul VI's Humanae Vitae is rather ignored, the no to contraception has stopped," the cardinal said. "On this theme, the church has much to do."

Lest anybody forgot, Francis will beatify Paul VI – likewise the Synod's founder – at the two-week assembly's closing liturgy on October 19th.

All that said, during last week's June meeting in New Orleans, the USCCB relented slightly on its earlier reticence as the conference president, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, delivered a public report on what he called "some thoughts... some general trends" on the feedback received at the Mothership, joined by the lead American on the 15-man Synod Council, Washington's Cardinal Donald Wuerl.

Here, fullaudio of the briefing:

As the elected leader of the Stateside bench, under the current rules for an Extraordinary Synod – only the third of its kind, the last having taken place in 1985 on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II's close – Kurtz is the lone US prelate assured of a seat at the October assembly. (Since the Synod's founding in 1967, 18 of the 20 prior editions have been the larger and longer "general" or "special" meetings, at which episcopal conferences with over 100 members would each elect three delegates.) That said, 
with Francis and Baldisseri currently retooling the gathering's "methodology" and the Pope ostensibly itching to broaden the "experiences" present for the discussions, the prez is still likely to have some company from home, whether ordained, lay, or both.