BY BRUCE JOHNSTON
THE FIRST Synod of the new millennium closed in Rome at the weekend with a appeal by the Pope for inner unity and communion within a strongly centralised Church.
But in contrast, the underlying current of the assembly instead reflected an overwhelming desire of bishops for change within the Church, so that they might have a greater say in its dayto-day running.
Altogether there were some 67 propositions made by the working groups for Church affairs to be differently conducted in future, with more participation from the periphery, including in the decisionmaking process.
In his homily during the solemn Mass that concluded the Synod on Saturday, which was followed by a lunch in the Vatican of carpaccio, baby ravioli, steak with potatoes, vegetables and mushrooms for the 280 participants, the Pope reasserted the official line, "A bishop," he said, "must have the courage to announce and defend sound doctrine, even in the event it brings suffering. Indeed, a
bishop, in communion with the apostolic college and with the Successor of Peter, has a duty to protect the faithful from every kind of danger.
"In the synodal meetings of these days," he continued, "it was underlined over and over again the need for a spiritualty of communion.
"Only if the deep and convinced unity of the Shepherds among themselves and with the Successor of Peter is clearly perceptible, just as the bishops with their priests, can a credible answer be given to the challenges that come from today's social and cultural context."
Speaking early in the Synod, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope's doctrinal chief, summed up a philosophy which could be identified with this papacy.
"The crisis of the Church," the Bavarian cardinal, 75, told those gathered, to much applause, "is largely due to the marginalisation of God.
"The Church is too concerned with itself. The world has a thirst to learn not of our internal problems, but of the message and the fire that Christ brought. For this reason we must help those are in search of God, but also to fearlessly unmask the falsification of the Gospel."
Towards the end of the Synod, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state, with an air of wisdom and diplomacy, urged bishops to "not ask for the impossible".
But the bishops asked all
the same. However, they did this in a more cordial and unified climate than was apparent two years ago, when Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan's veiled appeal for a new Vatican council received an icy reception in a Synod that was divided.
Curiously, at this Synod, Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, the Archbishop of Genoa who was seen to symbolise conservative opposition to Cardinal Martini two years ago, but who after the Genoa G8 summit has been perceived in Italy as something a liberal, won the highest number of votes achieved by any bishop, to be elected to the Council of the Synod.
"Day by day," Marco Politi, the informed Vatieanista of the left-leaning La Repubblica, wrote the other day, "the interventions of the synodal fathers opened up a mighty breach in the Ratzingerian image of the Church."
This was a "citadel built on three presuppositions: the untouchable power of the Pope, the marginalisation of the bishops' conferences, and the distinct difference in the role of the laity and clergy," even when the former had a hand in running parish communities.
"Instead," added the paper, which called the Synod a "silent duel" which would help to set the agenda for the next conclave, things would "no longer be the same".
"Gradually, with the snail's pace of the Holy Roman Church, the Pope will become a monarch helped by a council of the throne," Mr Politi wrote.
"The bishops' conferences are by now recognised as being a living part of the Universal Church, with a lead role, while an important future is in store for lay people (women included), in looking after communities faced with the inexorable fall in the numbers of priests."
Daily, as the Pope listened to every synodal address, bishops demanded a greater say in the running of the Church, One called for a permament synod to be set up, whose job would include assisting the Pontiff.
Another, called the "discreet hero" of the Synod, was Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who called for decentralisation, and for the Synod — which was now barely a consultative body — to be able to take "concrete decisions" in future.
Another novelty that emerged was the desire for bishops to realign their image away from one of power, in favour of a more human, understanding and Christian role, which was more sympathetic to people's needs.
In his concluding homily, the Pope invited the synodal fathers to reflect, once they had returned home, over how bishops in retirement but who still enjoyed good health, might continue to contribute in areas where they already had experience.