Friday, October 18, 2019

Viri Probati... Et Mulieribus? – At Synod's "Halftime," The Reports Are In

So it seems, there's more than one way of "covering" this Amazon Synod – one can either focus on process... or if that's too much, it's apparently become sufficient to just cast aspersions on a statue for days on end.

Even if it doesn't keep a few folks from trying, as ever, you can't make it up. Still, the disparity again underscores the Pope's Opening Day warning, echoing that of his predecessor – namely, there is a Synod "within" the Aula and "another" outside it... and only one is an ecclesial act.

Accordingly, in the lone forum that matters, while the last two weeks have brimmed with the interventions from the Floor, only today was the gathering's trajectory fully fleshed out for the first time with the release of the initial reports from the 12 circuli minores – the language-based "working groups" which have met over the last eight days as the Synod's focus shifted from the speeches in the full Aula to the breakout sessions.

As Francis' ongoing "reinvention" of the Synod continues, the circuli have become an ever more critical piece of the gathering: first to show which of the "markers" laid down in the interventions have resonated with the assembly at large; and from there, in indicating which facets of the talks (both in terms of broad issues and specific proposals) will be integrated into the Final Document, whose paragraph-by-paragraph votes  – each requiring two-thirds passage – can now be enacted as a text of the "ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter" on its own should the Pope so wish.

While such a scenario was always able to be the case given the pontiff's "full, immediate, and universal ordinary" authority by virtue of the Petrine office, the provisions of Episcopalis Communio – Francis' revised 2018 norms on the Synod – make that potentiality explicit. Ergo, today's reports are anything but busywork... and when they call, as one group did today, for “a church that breaks down borders,” there’s little choice but to take notice.

On a key process-front, given the ever-changing methodology of the Synod, today's reports will be the lone contribution from the circuli minores in the course of the three-week event – by contrast, last year's Synod on Youth saw the groups submit three summaries each. However, the timeline on those made for hellish circumstances both for the realtori (spokesmen) of the groups as they scrambled amid deadlines, as well as for the drafting team for the Final Document, which needed to work the flood of input into their ultimate product. (Relatedly, such is the chaos surrounding the process-tweaks– and these days as a whole – that, as of earlier this week, at least one Synod official didn't know how many rounds of circuli reports there'd be this time around... but now we know, and the answer makes today's product all the more significant.)

In terms of the reports' content, as Whispers has telegraphed for quite some time – and as the nuggets emerging from the Aula have gleaned anew over the last 10 days – the foundations are indeed being laid for a cultural ground-shift. And that today's unsurprising prime proposal – for a full-on "Amazonian rite" to reflect the unique "liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual" aspects of the nine-country region – was presented at the Vatican's daily press briefing by no less than the Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the Curia's New Evangelization Czar (whose office is charged by statute with the promotion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church), essentially said it all.

In other words – with the two Italian work-groups practically certain to be the most change-resistant of all given their dominance by the Curial chiefs – the "medium" is the message.

More broadly, the reports go well past last Monday's opening assertions from the Synod's Relator-General, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, that the call for the priestly ordination of married indigenous men in stable situations ("viri probati") was no Curial subterfuge, but a genuine "request" of the communities themselves relayed in the preliminary consultations. (Notably, as Relator, Hummes will oversee the drafting of next weekend's Final Document, to which group Francis added a conspicuously non-Latin American earlier this week: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn OP of Vienna, the B16 protege who first came to fame under then-Cardinal Ratzinger as his choice to lead the editing of the 1992 Catechism.)

While no group explicitly urged a halt to the movement toward ordaining married priests – even the Pope's ever-cagey Laity Czar, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, merely said earlier this week that "some proposals" will require wider consultation, as the Italians simply observed today that the Holy See may dispense from priestly celibacy by the law itself – in a far more striking step, several of the groups brought the discussion to the door of ordaining women to the permanent diaconate, with one Portuguese circule saying the call was "valid" given Vatican II's restoration of the order for married men and, in this particular case, the "decisive role" played by women "in the life and mission" of the Amazonian church.

As the notion of an "Amazonian rite" goes – a development Fisichella linked both to the Council's teaching on the Eastern Catholic churches and Benedict XVI's Summorum Pontificum (2007) enabling a wider use of the pre-Conciliar liturgy – the clearest precedent to such a move is Papa Ratzinger's Anglicanorum coetibus, which (perhaps not coincidentally) marks its 10th anniversary this weekend.

While some social media commentary has aimed to posit the Rome-sanctioned "Zaire Use" as the closer antecedent to a potential "Amazon rite," such a thesis is lacking at best: for one, unlike the nature of the proposal at hand, the Zaire book – approved in 1988 for what's now the Democratic Republic of the Congo – is restricted to a national territory...

...even more, however, unlike today’s call for integrating a distinct "liturgical, theological, disciplinary and spiritual" concept into ecclesial life, the adaptations for Zaire are simply a matter of worship and no more. By several magnitudes' difference, as Anglicanorum didn't merely permit a major departure from liturgical norm on an international scale, but granted significant concessions in terms of discipline (read: the dispensation of clerical celibacy) and governance (e.g. a de facto diocesan structure with married ordinaries; a governing council invested with real authority, and more) to accommodate a non-Catholic cultural patrimony into a Catholic context for the sake of evangelization, anyone who's still confusing inculturation as a matter of liturgy alone is missing the entire point of this exercise. (And how many times does that need to be made clear before it's actually grasped?)

Here, another piece as relayed this morning in these pages' real-time feed:

If nothing else, as sensed earlier in the week, this assembly has already paved the way toward securing what 80 percent of the 2008 Synod on the Word voted to approve – namely, opening the former "minor orders" of instituted lector and acolyte to women.

While next to nobody batted an eyelid at that time when Benedict rejected said proposal out of hand, the now-retired pontiff's decision merely underscored the reality that the Pope – each Pope – "owns" the Synod and may deploy or dismiss its conclusions however he sees fit.

And now, a decade later, Benedict's china-breaking precedents have come home to roost. Yet what's more, given the sense going in that these days would define the balance of Francis' pontificate, far from the wheels having fallen off the Pope-bus, they might just be more firmly affixed now than they were a fortnight ago.

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As today's reports stack out at 50 pages of dense text spread across three languages, absorbing all this is a full day's work, if not that of the weekend to come...

Yet as it still beats going into seizures over wood-carvings – rather, in the hope that it does – as ever, covering the bills that make this reporting possible is solely in the hands of this readership:

As the broader cycle goes, full as these last two weeks have been, just know that we're not even at full tilt yet...

...and unless you're looking for "lights out" here once it hits, again, making sure the power stays on depends on you.

Ergo, to the degree you allow, stay tuned.