He Pope Francisco opens this Wednesday in the Vatican 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishopsthe culmination of a broad global consultation on the future of the Catholic Churchin which he wants to establish a less pyramidal operation.
For two years, the world’s approximately 1.3 billion Catholics have been invited to express their vision about the Church and about issues such as the reception of LGBT+ people and divorced people, polygamy, the marriage of priests, the place of women in the institution or the fight against pedophilia.
“It is a great space for reflection of the Church, on its way of being and proceeding,” summarizes for AFP the Italian priest Giacomo Costa, special secretary of this assembly.
During four weeksthe 464 participants, 365 of them with the right to vote, will meet daily in the Vatican, divided into reflection groups in five languages. Among them there are 54 women.
The result of these works will be delivered to the Pope, who will be able to take it into account to introduce measures in the government of the world Church.
The main novelty in this meeting of this consultative institution created by Paul VI in 1965 is that Lay people and women will participate in the work and will be able to vote, something unprecedented described as a “revolution.”
“Among the bishops there is an ecclesiastical culture. With the laity, this will not work: they will not be satisfied with good words, there will be demands on the procedure, on the will to change, on effectiveness,” says a veteran observer of the Holy See. “They have put their hands in the gears and the next synod will not be able to turn back,” he adds. “In this sense, Francis pushes boundaries, which is why many are afraid,” he says.
This change provoked reservations, even criticism, among some conservatives who see a risk of diversionas German Cardinal Gerhard Müller argues.
The general assembly is part of a long-term reflection, with a second session scheduled for October 2024, which makes it difficult to see concrete impacts in the coming weeks.
“Even if there is no concrete answer, issues previously considered blocked in advance are currently being brought to the attention of the Church. It is already an enormous step in delicate issues,” confides a Vatican source, who highlights this “awareness.”
“At one time we couldn’t pronounce the word ‘homosexual’. Now we have on the table issues that concern homosexuality”adds this source.
“There are issues on which we all already agree, such as the place of women in the Church, which must be rethought. But how? Then there are other issues on which we fundamentally disagree. We will have to ask theologians, experts, sociologists,” explains Giacomo Costa.
Special attention is paid to the sensitive issue of women’s access to the functions of deacon, until now reserved for men, or to the ordination of married men, an issue on which the pope backed down in 2019.
These works will make it possible to calibrate the balance of power on these challenges, especially within the German Church, which has revealed radically different positions from those of the Vatican.
“We are not here to reinvent another Church. We must pay attention: dialogue is not easy, we need referees“Monsignor Christophe Pierre, a cardinal created on Saturday by the pope, told AFP.
“Many come with their ideas, with their agenda. Okay, that’s fine (…) But This is not a parliament: we will not vote against each other. It’s about being together”he added.
In a prayer with representatives of other Christian confessions in St. Peter’s Square, the pope asked that the synod be “a place where the Holy Spirit purifies the Church from murmurings, ideologies and polarizations” and encouraged its participants to “ walk together”.
(With information from AFP)