Theologian: Laity has grown numb in Church, must know voice is important


BARCELONA – According to one of the theologians advising the Vatican office organizing the synod of bishops, the laity has grown numb after centuries of simply saying “amen.”

The synodal process began last October and will continue until Oct. 2023, when a summit of bishops will be held in Rome. Spanish theologian Cristina Inoges Sanz said that for many lay members of the church, “this is the first time that they are aware that their voice is important.” 

“A synodal church is one that is aware that it has to assume a diversity of voices,” she told Crux. “Like a symphony we all know that each instrument enters when it belongs. But in a symphony there can also be an asymptotic note, and nothing happens. We have to be able to integrate this in our ecclesial life: Unity can have a plurality of voices and also some discrepancies.”

What follows are excerpts of Inoges Sanz conversation with Crux.

Crux: How is the synodal process going in your diocese?

Inoges Sanz: My diocese, Zaragoza, is moving a lot. There are more than 400 groups working on the synod. For many, this is the first time they are aware that their voice is important. We have been used to saying amen, without ever actually saying anything. The process has made a big impact on the laity, who are realizing that their opinion and their voice matter. 

And they have also become aware that this will not end in 2023. There has to be an administrative closure, yes, but we are on a path, starting to make our way along it. And those who come after us will continue the journey. It is an evolutionary process. And we are aware that we are taking the first steps.

What does it mean for the church to be synodal?

Lay and synodal. These are words that we do not use, even though the church is born synodal and lay. And these are two characteristics that we are not able to remember because the church ceased to be lay in the first century, and synodal a thousand years ago. 

A synodal church is one that is aware that it has to assume a diversity of voices. Like a symphony we all know that each instrument enters when it belongs. But in a symphony there can also be an asymptotic note, and nothing happens. We have to be able to integrate this in our ecclesial life. Unity can have a plurality of voices and also some discrepancies…

How does the church work with discord, with dissonant voices?

Through dialogue. As we are accustomed only to say amen, this is difficult for us. Dialogue is an exercise that we have never truly practiced. Listening to the other, integrating the experience of that person, contextualizing it in the moment in which he or she has lived it, putting oneself in the other person’s shoes and walking along with him or her. 

In this way one can be able to understand the other and his or her dissonant experience, and this experience can be bad, but also good. Understanding the vital context of the other, all that encompasses the person’s life, allows us to integrate this dissonance.

Is integrating confused with changing?

I think that, more than change, we have to talk about healing processes. One aspect of synodality is learning to relate to each other in a different way in the church. In very few occasions those relationships will not have to go through a healing process. The church has done, does and will do many things well. A person who is interested in knowing what we have done right can find this information as it is readily available. 

But we have done things wrong and we need to own it. We have to learn to relate differently to this human, flawed side of the church, hopefully in a much more healing way than we have done thus far.

How much of what needs to be healed comes from having reduced the church to the sacraments?

We have become a very punctual church. And now we are in an epochal change. It used to be that a person was considered Catholic by being baptized, for going to Mass and fulfilling a series of requirements. But today you realize that there are almost more Christians outside the church than in the pews. 

And it is a paradox, but there are many believers who do not practice, and also practitioners who are not normatively believers, people who, without having a Christian formation, have a behavior that is more in line with a Christianity than with a philosophy.

There are many people who have an experience outside the institutional framework, because the institution overwhelms them, but they are building the kingdom of God outside the institution.

And this must be taken into account, and we must also know how to dialogue with these people.

In Spain, we say that sometimes the trees do not let you see the forest, and you find people who admire the forest because they have a perspective that we lack. It is beneficial for all of us who consider ourselves members of the “inside” of the church to dialogue with them.

What is the voice of women in the synodal process?

Often the subconscious plays tricks on us, but we need to realize that there are too many faces and voices of women to reduce them to just one. Furthermore, the situation of women is not the same in one country or another, or in one culture or another. There are women who have found their way to participate, and others who have not. 

Having said that, I believe that the voice of women in this synod can be prophetic in revealing situations that are not well known but that exist, as well as delving into situations that, being abnormal, have been normalized.

Anything else you would like to say?

Yes, I would like to suggest to everyone to participate in the synod, but at the same time, to participate with real expectations: We are not going to have a synodal church in October 2023, but it is very important to keep in mind that the fact of being in synod – not in a synod – the mere fact that this is going on, is a reality that should make us think that change is possible. The church is an institution that has a lot of good to offer. And no matter how many problems the church has, this synod is the hope that much can also change, understanding that we are in a process and that change will not come overnight. But we have to hope that the church can, and will, change for the better.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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