“A broad freedom of expression” in “a climate of respect for every position, mutual charity and an authentic constructive sense” will be the hallmarks of the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family that opens on October 5.
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Secretary General of the synod, stated this at a press conference in the Vatican today when he presented the agenda and new methodology for that important event.
He recalled that Pope Francis has encouraged free discussion and made clear that “he wants the People of God, at all levels, to express their opinion.” The Pope has introduced “an innovative and original” synod process, he added, and that included a global consultation, and extends over two years. “It’s important” therefore that participants at the synod “express themselves clearly and with courage”, in “a climate of serene and loyal confrontation”, he said.
Significantly, and perhaps in the light of attempts to close the discussion on the question of the admission of the divorced and remarried to communion even before the synod started, the cardinal said participants “are called upon not to insist on their own point of view as (the) exclusive (one), but to seek the truth together.”
He told the crowded press conference on October 3 that “No one should forget that the truth is in the first place the very person of Christ... and not an abstract concept, the fruit of philosophical or theological speculation.”
The extraordinary synod will not take any decision on the many questions under discussion, the cardinal stated. Instead, it will produce and approve a final Report that will serve as a basis of preparation for the October 2015 synod of bishops on the family.
More than 250 participants, including 13 married couples, will attend the synod but only 191 are classified as “synod fathers” (all are bishops or priests) and have a right to vote. 42 of the ‘synod fathers’ are from Africa, 38 from America, 29 from Asia, 78 from Europe and 4 from Oceania. They will vote on the different sections of the final report, and approve the entire text on October 18, the cardinal said. They will also approve a Message to the People of God, that same day.
This Report will be presented to Pope Francis and then sent to the world’s bishops, accompanied by ‘a small questionnaire’, the cardinal stated. That text will serve as the basis for the important discussion that is to take place during the course of the next year, in preparation for the second synod, October 2015. The bishops may discuss the Report among themselves but “they are at liberty” to discuss it with whomsoever else they wish, Cardinal Baldisseri said in answer to a question as whether the Report would be discussed with the faithful in dioceses worldwide.
In his presentation, Cardinal Baldisseri explained that the synod will follow a somewhat different methodology to previous ones held over the past half-century. At his request, participants have already submitted their written interventions (speeches) which, a source told me, range in length from 1 to 15 pages. The keynote address, which will be given on October 6 by the Relator, Cardinal Peter Erdo (Hungary), has taken these written submissions into account, and has been drafted in a way that follows the thematic order of the synod’s Working Document which was published in June.
He explained that during the first week participants may speak for four minutes each, either summarizing their original text or saying something new, but their interventions must be directly related to the theme under discussion. This new method should provide a significant improvement on past synods when speakers would follow one another, talking about the most disparate topics in a totally disconnected way. One married couple will speak at the beginning of each day.
The first week’s work will be summarized, again in thematic form, and will be read to the synod assembly by Cardinal Erdo, on October 13. That text will serve as the basis for discussion by participants who will work in small language groups during the second week. The final Report will be drafted on the basis of the input from these groups, and voted upon as explained earlier.
Pope Francis will open this important synod by presiding at a concelebrated mass with the synod fathers in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Sunday morning, October 5. He will also address the first plenary session of the synod on the following morning. Participants will listen with great attention to what he has to say on both occasions, to see what direction he may offer them.