ROME – Participants in this month’s Synod of Bishops on Synodality selected by organizers to brief reporters have praised the process as open and balanced, saying everyone is welcome in the Church and there is no “private agenda” driving the discussion.
They also applauded the process as being inclusive, and said the synod has done a sufficient job at including women’s voices. While stressing that issues such as women’s ordination and the welcome of the LGBTQ community are not the primary focus, they claimed discussion on these topics has been balanced despite vastly different opinions.
They also insisted that the synod is not going to make decisions on any singular issues but is rather aimed at promoting a “synodal culture” within the Church.
Speaking to journalists during an Oct. 16 press briefing, Sri Lankan Father Vimal Tirimanna, a moral theologian and a theological advisor of the synod who teaches in both Sri Lanka and in Rome, said, “This synod is not a private agenda of Pope Francis, it is a continuation of Vatican II.”
“Of course, the Church has had so many other things to face in the past five decades or so, but now Vatican II theology, rather the ecclesiology of Vatican II, is being revised,” he said, saying the small group discussions are a reflection of Second Vatican Council document Lumen Gentium on the Church in the modern world.
Tirimanna said he was initially skeptical of the synod process, worrying there would be too much theory and not enough practice, but, “I must say I am becoming more and more optimistic.”
Believing the claim that synodality happens as you do it “was just a cliché, just for rattling off things,” Tirimanna said he changed his mind as the synod began, and that with the prayerful environment and spiritual conversations happening, “We see how [a] synodal way of living is already lived.”
“When you sit around the table, cardinals, bishops, laypeople and mainly lay women, rubbing their shoulders with the hierarchy, in a concentric Church not a pyramidal Church – not that the pyramidal Church is bad, we need that – but the ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium is lived, we need that.”
Tirimanna spoke alongside Sister Patricia Murray, secretary general of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) and a voting member of the synod, and Zdenek Wasserbauer, auxiliary bishop of Prague, as well as the prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, Italian layman Paolo Ruffini, and Shiela Pires, secretary of the synod’s communications commission.
Topics discussed during Monday’s morning session included the meaning of synodality and the need to study it further, missionary activity, ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, and evangelization in the digital age and the gap between developed and underdeveloped nations which lack access to advanced technology.
Also touched on, Pires said, were “richness of diversity, and how to preserve the richness of our diversity,” as well as the various roles that laypeople, clergy, and hierarchs play in the Church, the problem of clericalism, and the need for ongoing formation of priests and laity.
Issues related to women and their inclusion and recognition in the Church were also addressed, including the proposal of the female diaconate.
In this regard, “This is not the end, we are still having more presentations, we are still discerning,” Pires said.
In her remarks, Murray said at the level of the UISG, the chief umbrella group in the Church for women’s religious orders, “We have been putting synodality into practice for years,” at an institutional level and within individual congregations.
She praised the synod’s examination of “the complexity of the contexts in which we live and the needs of people,” saying she is especially appreciative of the emphasis on “listening to those who feel excluded and on the margins of life” and creating more space to accompany them.
Murray said she is happy the synod was divided into a two-year discussion, saying it provides time for more in-depth reflection on the various themes in light of the different opinions expressed.
Murray acknowledged that there are “very different opinions” being expressed and some tensions, saying, “We’re allowing them to enter and to nourish ourselves and to listen to what God is speaking through these various voices and differences of opinion.”
“We are holding a unity in our diversity,” she said, saying the discussion is not merely talking and reacting, but there is genuine listening, and that “in listening to those different voices, you can feel one’s own position being widened, broadened, deepened” by the different cultures and “very different opinions, different ecclesiologies” being expressed.
“For me, naming the tensions, naming the areas where we still have further work to do, is important in this process, and that’s why I’d be saying, time is a gift and we have to use the time…between our two synodal assemblies for further prayer, reflection and discernment.”
Asked about her appointment to the drafting committee of a synthesis document that will be compiled at the end of the month, making her the first woman assigned to the task, Murray said she was “honored and surprised” to be appointed, but said she does not yet know what the document will look like.
In general, “As women we are well able to make our point and to use our time and space well,” she said, saying women have been able to speak freely and that “given the percentage of women in the room, space has been well created for their voices to be heard.”
Asked about LGBTQ+ Catholics and whether the hurts of past policies “before the spirit of synodality began” had been addressed, participants said yes, but cautioned that LGBTQ+ issues were not the main focus of the discussion.
Murray said that in her experience, “the question of hurt and the woundedness of people both individually and collectively has been dealt with and listened to,” and that some participants have said “sorry is not enough,” and have questioned how the church “in her own pastoral and liturgical way” can give both “sign and symbol of seeking forgiveness for hurts that have been caused.”
“This is something under reflection, there are two more weeks to go, and how and what will appear in the final document, it would be foolish of me to say, but there is a deep awareness of the pain and suffering that has been caused,” she said.
Tirimanna said engagement with the LGBTQ+ community “is a burning issue all over the world today,” and he offered assurances that “thus far in the synodal process, I can assure you that everybody is included.”
However, he stressed that the Church “doesn’t have issues to do only with LGBTQ,” and pointed to problems of poverty and conflict throughout Asia and Africa.
“This synod is not meant to address issues,” he said. “It is aimed at creating a culture of inclusion through synodality. So, these issues may crop up as we go ahead, but let’s not forget, radical conversion is called for from all people in the Church to a culture of listening, a culture of synodality, a culture of inclusion. After all, inclusion is the issue behind all other issues.”
Wasserbauer said the synod has been “very balanced and seeks to speak about all pains you find in the Church and in the world today,” not just LGBTQ+ issues, and said that he was moved by the interventions of participants from Asia and Africa who spoke about the harm colonialism had caused in their countries.
“We are trying in the synod to be open to all the hurts, all the groups of the world today,” he said, and repeated the pope’s continual insistence that “there is space in the Church for everyone, everyone, everyone.”
While individual opinions will be and are being expressed on these and other issues, he repeated his insistence that the synod is not aimed at resolving specific issues, a point Tirimanna echoed.
“Once the firm foundation of the synodal life is laid, those things can be built up on that. In that sense, the most important thing is not whether the woman can be ordained, whether the LGBTQ should be accepted, whether gay marriage should be blessed,” Tirimanna said.
Similarly, Murray said revelation and tradition “are the basis from which we’re working,” but cautioned that building and learning to be a synodal Church “takes time.”
“One of the key aspects of being a synodal person in a synodal Church, is to learn to have freedom. Yes, I have my own inclinations and things I would like to see happening, but If I’m really entering into the synodal process, I leave those aside,” she said.
Wasserbauer said “there is freedom to express oneself and one’s opinion” in the synod hall, and that in the weeks that the synod has been meeting, a variety of voices and opinions have been heard.
What is important, he said, is that “if an opinion is expressed with which I absolutely do not agree, that no one gets mad, that everyone can freely express their own conviction, their own persuasion.”
This is truly “a synod on synodality,” he said, saying, “There won’t be a decision on can we bless gay couples or not…but to make everyone aware, also for example members of the LGBTQ community, who are part of the Church, that the Church is open, open, to everyone, everyone, everyone.”
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