Two national synods: Tangled webs of conversations

Tangled webs of conversations

In our world Church today, there are two conversations at a national level about how a national Synod should occur.

One is in Germany and another is in Australia.

There seems little doubt that these conversations are only the first two of what will become dozens and dozens of conversations seeking to clarify what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

The conversation in Germany has become quite complicated since Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich announced that he had submitted his resignation to the Pope on May 21.

Of course, Pope Francis can decline the offer of resignation.

Cardinal Marx has been one of Pope Francis’ most forceful supporters and an advocate of the Synodal approach proposed by Pope Francis.

The declared reason for the resignation of Cardinal Marx is that his own position in Germany is untenable because of his membership of the leadership of the Church in his country that has badly mismanaged cases of sex abuse by the clergy.

How that all plays out and what impact it will have on the national Synod are matters of speculation at this point.

But what it clearly underlines is that Synods, Church governance and the Church’s mission and purpose are about a lot more than its leaders, however, accomplished and distinguished.

Cardinal Marx is clearly saying that what the Church is facing in his country and of course elsewhere is the threat of driving itself off a cliff.

And at this point, the Germans are significant leaders in the response to Pope Francis’ invitation to create in the Church a global community listening to what the Spirit is calling it to be.

It is not as though this is the first time the Church has ever had to manage such an invitation.

Church Councils are the most obvious examples of moments in the Church’s life when the community of believers is invited to fall silent and listen to what God might be asking of it.

But there can be various realities that discourage Catholics from participating in processes and conversations about these matters that could be transformative for the Church.

First among the blockages occur when people – believers/the baptized/informed and intelligent Catholics – find out clearly and plainly that the apparent “consultation” is window dressing for a process whose outcomes have been decided and agreed by those who decide and agree on things – not by the participants

The second comes down to the realization that though they have been invited to participate in a conversation, what they have to offer is not valued, will not be listened to and is simply surplus to requirements.

The third comes down to exactly what a “synodal” conversation really is – not a vigorous exchange in a tutorial or a seminar but an exchange between searching believers who together are trying to hear the voice of the Spirit.

That search can lead to conflict as well-intentioned individuals develop perspectives and convictions across a spectrum and those perspectives and convictions can be at odds.

The temptation is to see such disagreements and contests as game stoppers, as insuperable blockages to progress especially among highly motivated and principled people.

Paradoxically, it is precisely the most highly motivated and principled who can become the most conflictive and most at odds.

And that is exacerbated if an attentive ear to the murmur of the Spirit is not there from the beginning.

Or, in other words, unless there is more in what’s going on than the determination to win an argument.

In such contexts, being trapped in an ideology is the death of discernment. Ideologues have answers before they’ve heard the questions.

They don’t need to listen, much less discern where the Spirit is calling the listeners to be.

There can be no doubt how challenging and difficult communal discernment is.

Doing it on the appropriate scale and remaining open to the numbing reach of the questions to be considered only emphasizes what a venture in faith the process is.

In today’s Podcast, we address developments in Australia and Germany. Featuring in the podcast are:

  • Lana Turvey-Collins who offers her view from the perspective as a key facilitator of discussions leading to and then conducted during Australia’s Plenary Council;
  • Patty Fawkner, leader of an Australian founded but now multinational religious congregation – the Benedictine inspired Sisters of the Good Samaritan, is an adult educator, with tertiary qualifications in arts, education, theology and spirituality.
  • Frank Brennan is a Jesuit priest and Rector of Newman College in Melbourne and a leading commentator on Church and social and political issues.
  • Michael Kelly is a Jesuit priest and publisher of the English edition of La Civilta Cattolica

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