Gary MacEoin looks back at the Extraordinary Synod in Rome and at a proliferation of nettle-beds which once more, have escaped the grasp TWO weeks of discussions at the Synod of bishops which closed on December 8 have exposed more clearly than ever before the deep differences inside the Church that existed long before Vatican 11, and that remain unsolved 20 years after its end. The ,inadequacy of existing structures to deal with pressing problems has become evident in what the fathers have said and even more in what they have touched on only tangentially.
Responding to the clear wish of the council fathers, Pope Paul VI at the Council's end announced the formation of the Synod of Bishops. What the Council had hoped was that it would join the bishops around the world more organically with the Pope in ruling the Church, and restrict the Roman Curia to the executive and administrative functions proper to a civil service.
Limitation of the Synod to a purely advisory role has frustrated that objective. Nor is there any expectation that its authority will be expanded during the present pontificate. Ukrainian-rite Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk of Canada, supported by other Eastern Rite Fathers, made a strong plea last week for a permanent Synod with legislative powers, but these were isolated and impotent voices.
In the present mood, most fathers seemed content to plead for more modest change, as was clear frbm the discussion of collegiality that dominated the first week. The overwhelming Majority of the bishop from around the world, expecially those from the Third World of
Asia, Africa and Latin America, home of half the world's Catholics and growing, but also the United States, Canada and some Europeans, want more autonomy. They favour episcopal conferences with broad powers of decisionmaking, as well as more discretionary powers for individual bishops.
The curia understandably resists, and the Pope is on their side. His vision is monarchical, European, and traditional. As monarch, he seeks an absolute unity, unquestioning obedience, a Church able to confront all enemies in the kind of solidarity that has enabled it not only to survive in Poland, but to retain significant power vis-a-vis a hostile regime.
As European, he resists the idea of Africanisation, Asianisation and LatinAmericanisation of Church in ritual and practices, forgetting that in the first millenium the European Church from the Mediterranean to the Urals was rich in rites more diverse than anything today envisaged for non-European cultures.
As a traditionalist, he abhors new roles for the laity, expecially women, in theology, liturgy, and decision making. So we can expect no devolution of power regardless of personal professions of commitment to collegiality.
Conflict emerged more openly
over the dominant issue of the second week, Latin America's theology of liberation and the concomitant so-called popular Church.
The issues here are doubly divisive. Within Latin America, and also in the Philippine islands and elsewhere, the overtones are political. Are the traditionally voiceless and powerless masses to find their human and historical consciousness through the Christian base communities and effect a social revolution that will break the perennial domination of domestic and external overlords?
Already the 150,000 such communities in Brazil, supported by their bishops, have played a decisive role in humbling the military dictators who seized power with United States encouragement in 1964 and have started that country on the road to participatory democracy.
Similarly, in El Salvador, the Christian base communites provide leadership and the logistical support for the popular forces that challenge the US-supported regime.
While in most of Latin America many diocesan priests and the vast majority of men and women religious actively promote the Christian base communities, outside Brazil few bishops have withdrawn from their traditional support of the oligarchies.
Here at the Synod, three Latin Americans spearheaded the attack on the Christian base communities and the Theology of Liberation which derives its sustenance from them: Cardinal Francisco Primatesta of Argentina, Cardinal Ernesto Corripio of Mexico, and archbishop Dario Castrillon of Colombia.
The charges were multiple but vague. As in Ratzioger's earlier document, the attack was not against the Theology of Liberation as such, but against' "certain tendencies." The use by some liberation theologians of the Marxist economic analysis, a practice recognised as permissible by Pope Paul VI, is misrepresented as advocting class war and violence.
The base communities are alleged to be creating a popular Church, a parallel magisterium. No specific texts arc cited, nor indeed is there anything in the writings of the recognised liberation theologians, Catholic or Protestant, to support the charges.
They are nevertheless constantly repeated and are used by the Voice of America and other US propaganda services to justify American policy in Central America, especially its open commitment to overthrow the government of Nicaragua.
Roman theologians have a further objection to the Theology of Liberation. For the first time in centuries a theology has been developed outside Europe and it has the audacity to start, not from the traditional philosophy of natural law and fixed essences, but from the modern science of sociology and from existential reality.
The Synod made no attempt to settle the dispute. Reportedly, however, the Pope may issue before year end a long promised "rectification" of the condemnatory evaluation made by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last year.
Why has the issue become so divisive? Europe's major theologians, even most of those who do not agree, defend the orthodoxy of the Theology of Liberation. Its threat must rather be seen in its potential for changing both the secular and the ecclesiastical balance of forces. Socioeconomic revolution in Latin America would affect vested interests in incalculable ways, and many Church leaders seem still unwilling to surrender control.
The Roman curia is also unhappy with the upgrading of the laity in the Christian base communities. Ratzinger has publicly deplored the stress since Vatican II on the people of God as comprising the entire Church, Clergy and Laity together.
Both the Synod message to "the faithful of Christ" and the Pope's message to the Synod fathers avoided identifying the Church as the people of God in the Vatican II sense, stressing the Church as mystery and as the body of Christ, spiritualising and hierarchical terms of preVatican II vintage.