by KEVIN MUIR
Secretary of the Laity Commission
SEPTEMBER 30 brings the third Episcopal Synod, attended by elected representativesof the national conferences of bishops of the whole world. Cardinal Heenan and Bishop Bowen will represent the English and Welsh bishops. Cardinal Conway and Bishop Browne the Irish bishops and Bishop MacPherson the Scottish bishops.
More than the two previous Synods, this one's agenda is of direct concern to everyone since it deals with two questions — the Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World — which affect all of us.
The first Synod took place in October 1967 under such a cloak of secrecy that there could be little preparation for it. The second. held in October 1%9, was an improvement, in that some time was given to the national conference of bishops to comment on the proposals for the agenda.
With the third Synod, this year. the whole procedure is much more open still. in that the working papers are being circulated widely beyond the confines of the bishops' conferences.
There is now obviously a greater desire for a much more open way of consultation, and greater confidence that clergy and laity can fruitfully share in decisionmaking to help the Pope and college of bishops in the work of decision-taking.
The desire to consult is clear but, as yet. the machinery runs somewhat roughly. The working paper on the priestly ministry is dated February 15, 1971, but for a variety of reasons. including postal strikes. the translating of it into English and the printing was not completed until late in May.
That left only June to September for it to be circulated to priests and lay people and for them to have meetines to discuss it and send in their views in time for the Sentemher 20-21 meeting of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. And these are holiday months.
The working out of the time-scale of preparations for an international meeting is a nice exercise in judgment. Prepare the theme and working-papers too far in advance and events overtake one. Prepare them too late and they will be more topical but there may not be time for adequate preparation.
But what has been done? The picture varies, probably reflecting the effectiveness of the consultative machinery which has been established in dioceses — the Senates of Priests. Diocesan Pastoral Councils and Commissions, Deanery and Parish Pastoral Councils and of the lines of communication between the diocese and the parish.
Some priests got their copies in early June, others not until July. Some responded to their bishops' invitation to make known their own views and those of their parishioners by immediately introducing the topic at meetings of their parish councils and lay organisations.
In Westminster diocese, for example, in addition to sending copies to all priests, the Cardinal also wrote to the Deanery Pastoral Councils for their ideas. Since the document is long and raises many issues, he pointed out those particular points which he thought would be of more direct interest to lay people. Already several deaneries have sent him their comments.
Furthermore, an announcement about this consultation was made from the pulpits, and anyone and everyone was invited to write in, so that the consultation goes beyond the two or three parish representatives on the Deanery Councils. So the C'ardinai has received also a number of individual contributions.
In Portsmouth diocese, there has been a similar consultation with the priests, and lay representatives from the deaneries will meet the bishop with a group of priests to pool the results at a weekend conference. In Southwark, the Diocesan Laity Commission is devoting a special meeting to discussing the working paper, though members may not have much opportunity to seek out other people's views.
These are merely some instances of what is being done to draw lay people into the preparations of the Synod. I trust the list is not complete, and of course there are still sonic weeks left between now and September during which something more can be done.
Here are some of the questions put forward to stimulate discussion and to lead the way to positive recommendations. There is value in these points being discussed by lay people with their priests even if no report of their conclusions is sent forward, for there is a real need for lay people to know about the life and work of their priests and their needs, hopes and difficulties. Such knowledge will breed understanding, sympathy and support.
Are current pastoral methods adequate for spreading the Gospel, administering the Sacraments and safeguarding the Faith?
Is the liturgy being celebrated in such a way that the mission of the Church can be efficiently carried out?
'What should guide priests in following various activities which are not strictly speaking ministerial?
The priest is a citizen as well as a minister of the Church. What should guide his political actions?
Arc there any guidelines to be laid down regarding preaching and the administration of Sacraments by the laity?
Should married men be ordained? If so, under what conditions?
Is the present system of remuneration fair to priests? What rules should be introduced to make it more eouitable? Should stole fees and Mass stipends be abolished?
There were greater delays in the production and circulation of the napes on Justice in the World so that conies of an English translation have only recently become available. Unlike the one on the priesthood. this does not pose any questions to aid discussion.
However. the Commission for International Justice and Peace has made copies available to the lay organisations and would be willing to supply further conies, together with a discussion outline to anyone interested. The address is 35 King Street, London, W.C.2.