Shields, Bridges and Some Pretty Good Questions

October 5, 2015
Report from Rome
by Deb Rose-Milavec

Shields and Bridges

Not unexpectedly, a bridge-builder and a wielder of shields stood next to each other as the synod kicked off today. 

Pope Francis launched the day building bridges and confidence among synod participants for undertaking the messy process of dialogue and discernment that lies ahead.  

     "In the Synod, the Spirit speaks by means of every person's tongue, 
      who lets himself be guided by the God who always surprises, the 
      God who reveals himself to little ones, who hides from the knowing 
      and intelligent; the God who created the law and the Sabbath for man 
      and not vice versa; by the God, who leaves the 99 sheep to look for 
      the one lost sheep; the God who is always greater than our logic and 
      our calculations."

Urging a wholesome re-examination of pastoral practices, he encouraged the participants to be, "a Church that interrogates herself with regard to her fidelity to the deposit of faith, which does not represent for the Church a museum to view, nor even something merely to safeguard, but is a living source from which the Church shall drink, to satisfy the thirst of, and illuminate, the deposit of life."

This genuine invitation to exploration and discernment of all things new was dampened shortly thereafter by the Relator General, Cardinal Peter Erdo as he wielded a firm defense of all things traditional in his 7300 word report. Making a strong case for safeguarding current teaching, his delivery sounded more like the close of the discussion rather than an opening -- as if all the outcomes had been pre-determined.   

During the press briefing later in the day with Cardinal Erdo, Archbishop Bruno Forte and Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, Cardinal 
Erdo was challenged several times regarding the finality he seemed to imply on the divorce and remarriage question.  One journalist noted that section three of his report did not appear to be a summary of the Instrumentum Laboris as Erdo stated, but, "a stance, a clear stance."  Another asked if Erdo believed the Kasper proposal had lost all support. Erdo seemed to imply it was DOA at this point since there had already been much research on the Kasper model and many conferences on the topic since the 2014 Extraordinary Synod.   

Listening to Cardinal Erdo, it would seem the deal is done and everyone should go home.  

Of course, we still have Pope Francis.  

This synod puts the prelates, especially those clinging to dogma, in a bind.  All three Cardinals repeated the mantra, "doctrine cannot change," a kind of lullaby that seems to calm their nerves while admitting they are here to make some sort of change. 

Some pretty good questions

The whole premise of a synod with male celibate clerics making decisions about families was raised twice today, once in the synod press briefing and once at an evening gathering of German prelates and press.

At the synod briefing, an Irish journalist cited Mary McAleese's recent observation, "...If I wanted expertise on the family, I honestly cannot say that the first thing that would come into my mind would be to call together 300 celibate males who, as far we know, have never raised a child...."   He asked the for a response.  

Clearly, they had some difficulty doing so.  One could almost hear the gulping in the air as Cardinal Vingt-Trois offered the rather weak defense, "We are all members of a family.  We have been born of a family.  We have lived in the social fabric of a family.  We do not live in a family life that is true, but that does not mean we don't know what it means to be in a family.  I do not think it makes what we have to say irrelevant. Neither our limits or weaknesses make us refrain from the task."  
Archbishop Forte followed saying, "We are pastors. We all have a previous experience of service for the church.  We are close to the people through confession, daily life. These experiences are a proximity of people living in difficult situations."

It was a kind of "the king has no clothes" moment, and one had to feel a bit sorry for the fellows. Nothing in their repertoire could help them credibly defend the indefensible process that we know as the synod on the family.  

But later, the German prelates came clean on this question thanks to Gudrun Sailer from Radio Vatican.  She asked if the panel thought the synod process should be modernized since only 2/3rds voted (male celibates) and 1/3, which includes laity and women did not vote.

Both Cardinal Marx and Bishop Franz-Josef Hermann Bode suggested the
process could and should be changed and that women should have greater decision making roles at the synod and in the Church.  

Abbot Jeremias Schroder OSB, Archabbot President of the Benedictine Congregation of Sant'Ottilia, who was also on the panel, talked about the obvious lack of balance created when women are not included in the voting. He observed that three women religious, Sr.Sr. Maureen Kelleher, Sr. Carmen Sammut, SMNDA and Sister Berta María Porras Fallas had been invited as auditors, but had no vote when male superior generals like himself and even a religious brother, Hervé Janson, PFJ, Prior General of the Little Brothers of Jesus, would have a vote.  At one point the Superior Generals discussed whether they should give over a number of voting seats to the women religious as a sign of solidarity.  They ultimately decided against it, but what a witness that would have been! 

More on this story and others tomorrow.
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