NZ Catholic Church Synod delegates have big responsibility on shoulders

Synod on Synodality

Pope Francis is asking for synodality in all parishes, presenting the Catholic Church in New Zealand with a monumental task, none more so than for the Synod delegates.

While Synodality will not happen overnight, indeed there is a part two of the Synod in October 2024, CathNews spoke with some ‘synod watching’ Catholics about tasking the Church with this responsibility.

“It’s a huge responsibility for the New Zealand delegates; they’re going to need a good process,” said Julian, one of those questioned.

“Francis’ request goes far beyond merely changing the words of the Mass. It’s about transforming an ingrained culture.”

While the popular view of Synodality is interpreted as ‘power to the people‘ or akin to a political party changing its policy on a matter, the details of what Synodality means remain unclear.

The methods for implementing these changes are arguably more critical and unclear.

Archbishop Gintaras Grušas of Vilnius, Lithuania says that changing our personal habits and routines is one thing, but trying to change an entire diocese is Herculean.

“With yourself, you can do it. When you try to bring a whole diocese or a whole nation or a whole continent with you, it takes a lot more work,” said the archbishop, who is also president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences.

Synodality vs closed doors

Julian says that while he understands the need for closed doors at the Synod, closed doors actually create a synodal problem.

“Closed doors make it difficult for those on the outside to understand what actually happened on the Synod floor, how it operates and what we need to emulate and how we go about it” he said.

“The paradox is striking. Synodality, a process designed to encourage involvement, often excludes people.

“I admire Pope Francis, but sometimes his Jesuit background dominates a little too much.

“For synodality to work, someone needs to translate ‘Jesuitical’ into plain English.”

NZ synod delegates enjoy a drink

Mr Manuel Bazley – Auckland diocese Vicar for Māori, Fr Dennis Nacorda – Parish Priest of Levin, Archdiocese of Wellington, Archbishop Paul Martin – Archbishop of Wellington

Pressure on New Zealand delegates

The responsibility for implementing these changes weighs heavily on the shoulders of New Zealand’s synod delegates.

These synod delegates are now tasked with modelling a synodal response in a New Zealand context.

Through no fault of their own, New Zealand’s synod delegates are two clerics from the Archdiocese and one Māori layman.

They were selected offshore from a group of New Zealand men and women.

Some argue their responsibility to model a synodal response doesn’t start with a synodal look since all three delegates are male.

Archbishop Paul Martin and Fr James Martin SJ in their Synod group.

Listening a key change

“I support the idea of change”, said Abbey, another of those spoken to by CathNews.

“I’m right behind our making a change, but perhaps if he, the person who selected New Zealand’s delegates, listened to New Zealand culture, I think there might have been room for a woman in the mix.”

She pointed out that listening is a key challenge.

“It’s our Church and our faith but the priests make it feel like theirs.

“Our bishop has been unresponsive to discussions about reconfiguring our parish and, as a result, our people are voting with their wallets.”

“I’m hanging in, but it’s very easy to feel disenfranchised” she said.

Laity infallible

Abbey said that to her, Pope Francis’ comment to the Synod hit home.

“One of the characteristics of this faithful people is its infallibility — yes, it is infallible in ‘credendo’ – in belief, as the Second Vatican Council taught.

“I explain it this way: When you want to know ‘what’ Holy Mother Church believes, go to the magisterium because it is in charge of teaching it to you, but when you want to know ‘how’ the Church believes, go to the faithful people.”

However Mary, another questioned by CathNews, has some concerns.

“It sounds good, but it’s blimmin’ scary; handing everything over to the community is a cool idea in theory” she told CathNews.

“We’ve had ‘devolution’ of social responsibility in NZ since the late 80s, and the results are sad because nobody really knows what to do or feels like giving up their time to do it.”

A Parish perspective

Fr Joe Grayland, a Parish Priest in the Diocese of Palmerston North says some parishes have tried synodal processes and encountered limitations.

Grayland, currently lecturing at the University of Tübingen, says people and some clergy resist change.

He told CathNews that Synodality has an added complexity when multiple nationalities have different expressions of faith.

“The New Zealand Catholic Church is not just one culture, one expression of faith” he said.

Highlighting the role of the parish priest, Grayland says that parish leadership and the role of the parish priest probably needs clarification.

He suggests there may be cause for priests to be retrained in a synodal leadership style.

“Change is difficult when it is not effectively led.

“There is an implicit challenge in synodality that the Church has ordained men into a hierarchical model with different ideas about leadership.”

synod delegates

Manuel Bazley and Pope Francis greet each other.

Reality bites

When asked about her involvement in parish synodality, Trish, a very involved parishioner, replied, “Good grief.”

“I’m fairly involved in the life of the parish, but they met for a month and nothing seems to have happened!

“Is the Church creating a professional synodal class of Catholics?

“I go to church, I pray, I’m involved in my community, I give my adult family a break and look after my grandchildren. It’s all part of the mission of the Church.

“I’m a full-time Catholic as it is.”

Synodality is possible

Cardinal Leonardo Ulrich Steiner who runs a synodal diocese in Manaus, Brazil believes in the power of community-led change.

“Synodality is beneficial because it allows the communities to guide us in being a Church rather than a bishop dictating terms” he told CNS.

Archbishop Faustino Armendáriz of Durango, Mexico has seen synodality work and acknowledges there are difficulties. But he remains optimistic.

“Achieving synodality is not easy, especially when people come from diverse backgrounds and hold different ideas.

“However, I’ve seen firsthand that consensus can be reached. It’s challenging, but it is possible.”


Additional reading

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