Synod decides church is on the right track
by Desmond O'Grady in Rome POPE John Paul pointed the way when he said, closing the extraordinary Synod, "at the end of the second millenium the Church ardently desires to be the Church of the contemporary .world, it desires with all its strength to serve so that human life on earth can be worthy of man".
It was a rousing conclusion for a Synod which, in the words of Archbishop John May of St Louis, showed "we are on the right track — even though we can do better".
Several participants said the feeling of collegiality was "palpable". Others welcomed, the Synod as an opportunity to let off steam and clear the air. It provided the characteristic Roman experience of catholicity. It allowed some hurried postconcilar stocktaking.
It scotched pre-synodal fears
that it would resolutely set the conciliar clock back. It recaptured something of the Council's spirit and could lead to a revival of the conciliar impetus.
It did better than many expected. However, there are reservations. It was hastily prepared and too brief. The Synod as an institution is still uncertain of its identity which reflects a more general confusion about Church government.
It recommended preparation of a catechism or compendium of the faith. It will probably be prepared by Cardinal Ratzinger's Congregation, and some fear it will be a straitjacket. It would be a catechism for the whole Church, although local adaptatipns are envisaged.
The final document acknowledged that there should be deeper study of the relationship between episcopal conferences and the Vatican. Many participants had requested greater leeway for national episcopal conferences in deciding local issues. It was partly against this that other participants, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, stressed the mystery of the Church. The claim was that otherwise it could seem merely the terrain for a power struggle between national episcopates and Rome.
This influenced an interesting shift in terminology. There Seems less stress now on the Church "as the People of God" and more on it as "mystery and sacrament". The final report said that the people of God had been interpreted in purely a sociological or ideological way which was surely a reference to the more extremist versions of the "people's church" in Latin America. But the people of God image will probably make a comeback for the Synod on the Laity in 1987.
Another probably significant vocabulary switch was from pluralism to pluriformity. "Pluralism" is now being interpreted as an endorsement to doctrinal relativism whereas pluriformity is an acceptable word meaning diversity which respects unity.
One of the mysteries of the Church at the moment is who is calling the shots. The Synod's identity problem, evident in the uncertainty of its vigil and the confusion of its penultitnate phase, reflects wider uncertainty. It is far from clear what are the respective roles of Roman curia, cardinalate college, synod and national episcopal conferences.
The Synod seems to have been a rewarding experience for participants but, like the council participants, they may find it difficult to convey the good news at home. Rome, meanwhile, will set to work on the universal catechism. And the various bodies of government activated by John Paul II will have to find their proper roles. Critics could say the government of the Church is now chaotic. Others might say it is fluid. Certainly it is in a state of transition.