By Fr. GREGORY BAUM, O.S.A.
in three different assemblies. The General Assembly of the Synod is made up of the patriarchs and major archbishops of the eastern-rite Churches and of the representatives elected by the national episcopal conferences from all over the world.
The General Assembly will also be attended by a number of religious priests elected by a body uniting the major superiors of religious orders, and by the cardinals in charge of the various Roman administrative congregations. In addition. the Pope may add a few other men. bishops or experts in various fields. but not more than 15 per cent of the total membership.
The function of this General Assembly will be to assist the Pope in teaching and governing the Church universal. The Assembly has a deliberative vote, if the Pope so decides. It is not a legislative assembly. According to the present norms. the assembly meets only when the Pope decides to convoke it.
There is no reason to interpret these norms as if the Pope, stressing his primacy unduly, is unwilling to allow the Bishops to share the responsibility to which the doctrine of collegiality entitles them. The Motu Proprio explains that "the Sv nod, like all human institutions can be perfected with the pas sage of tinw Ii will depend on the Bishops taking part in the
assemblies how the constitution of the Synod is to evolve.
The ,Extraordinary Assembly is not a representative body. It is made up of the patriarchs and major archbishops of the East. and of the presidents of the national episcopal conferences. It is a smaller body, and since its members belong to it ex officio and hence do not have to be elected for it, it could be convoked at fairly short notice. It is likely that the Pope will use the Extraordinary Assembly to prepare the work of the General Assembly and develop more suitable norms for it.
It is highly significant that, in a certain sense. this Extraordinary Assembly has been meeting and functioning for several years prior to its juridical existence. In Rome, during the Council, the presidents of the national episcopal conferences met regularly on a private basis. discussed the issues of the Council, and often adopted a cornmon policy.
Even though this meeting had no legal status whatever, the Pope himself was in touch with it. He inquired what the episcopal conferences thought about various issues, and he received
their messages. resolutions and suggestions.
In fact, the creation of the Synod and the particular form which it should take, was a subject discussed at length, at the invitation of the Pope, at the meetings of the presidents of the episcopal conferences.
This is a good example of how, in a healthy society, life precedes legislation. In some sense the assembly of Bishops existed prior to its institutional creation, and the experience of this assembly prior to its iori dical existence contributed largely to the form in which it was created as a permanent institution.
There is good hope. then, that this process will continue: the experience of the assemblies will lead to modifications of the present norms making the Synod a greater manifestation of collegiality.
The Synod of Bishops may he convoked in Special Assembly. This is a representative assembly called from a particular territory in the Church in order to solve the problems that have arisen there.
The Roman Curia will remain the personal administration of the Pope. The Mom Proprio insists that the Synod Of Bishops is "directly and immediately" subject to the Pope: the Roman Curia is not an intermediary between the Synod and Pope.
It is conceivable that the Gen.
eral Assembly will eventually become a legislative assembly and thus introduce into the ecclesiastical government of the Catholic Church, not only the principle of representation but nailscoa. division of powers. which characterise modern govern' ntIt will take many years before the Catholic Church will enter fully into a collegial way of government. It will be a slow process. it will eventually lead to a new interpretation of papal primacy, one which insists above all on the Pope's supreme authority to moderate a collegial C piscopate.
Already Pope Paul has repeatedly referred to himself as "Moderator". While the process of acquiring a more collegial form of government will be slow. it will be faster than many people think.
If it is true that at one time the gifted and ambitious bishops who wanted to be assigned a greater share of responsibility would follow as closely as possible the Roman line, today these same Bishops, in order to be elected as representatives to the General Assembly of the Synod, will have to become spokesmen for collegial government and progressive teaching.
This article is also appearing in Commonweal.