ROME – A member of the drafting committee for the final document of the 2018 Synod of Bishops says that language on “synodality” and “discernment” in a draft distributed to bishops earlier this week came from neither synod discussions nor the committee, guessing it was inserted by officials appointed by Pope Francis to run the event.
“They’re very heavily stressed, discernment and synodality, which really were not very much prominent in the discussions,” said Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, a member of both the drafting committee for the final synod document and the pope’s “C9” council of cardinal advisors.
“It wasn’t very prominent in the minds of the synod fathers, but it’s come out very strongly,” Gracias told Crux.
The 73-year-old Indian prelate spoke to Crux at the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence, where he’s staying during the synod and where Francis makes his home.
Some media attention has focused on concerns among Church conservatives that while the phrase “LGBT” does not figure in the draft of the final document, language about “sexual orientation” is present that doesn’t result from input from participants in the synod hall.
Gracias, however, spoke of “synodality” and “discernment,” both of which are considered catchphrases of Francis’s pontificate. In general, “synodality” is used to refer to a more decentralized, participatory mode of Church governance often expressed in groupings of bishops and other participants at the local, regional, national and continental levels.
The insertion of those concepts into a draft of the final document may feed perceptions among conservative critics of the pope that the process is “rigged.”
Asked who was responsible for inserting such language, Gracias speculated it was the officials charged by Francis with overseeing synod operations, beginning with Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.
“Maybe [it was] Baldisseri himself,” he said. “Maybe the two special secretaries, who are the Jesuit and the Salesian. So, they put it in.”
[The reference is to Father Giacomo Costa, an Italian Jesuit, and Father Rossano Sala, an Italian Salesian, who were appointed as special secretaries for the synod by Francis in November 2017.]
Gracias said he presumes that Baldisseri and his aides were trying to capture the mind of the pope, even if it wasn’t a major theme of the summit itself.
“The Holy Father has been speaking about synodality, about walking together, the Church be walking together. That’s what he’s been saying since the last synod,” he said.
Gracias said that when the bishops inside the synod received the draft, umbrage was voiced over the new language.
“There was some resistance when it was publicized because this document has so much on synodality when we really haven’t discussed it, which is true,” he said.
Sources told Crux that some of the concern came from bishops from countries where the Anglican Communion is prominent, worrying that it could be seen as the Catholic Church moving towards a quasi-majority vote system for settling disputes similar to Anglicanism.
Gracias explained that the synod office received the proposed changes from participants on Wednesday and spent Thursday working on revisions to the draft. That document, he said, will be presented to the drafting committee Friday morning.
“We’ll study it, they will work on it again in the afternoon, and then present it to us on Saturday,” he said.
The synod is scheduled to vote on the document paragraph-by-paragraph on Saturday evening.
In a change to synod procedures, this time the bishops have been asked to produce not just a set of recommendations but an integral document which, if approved by the pope, would become part of the Church’s ordinary magisterium, meaning its routine teaching authority.
Gracias said he’s not entirely convinced that’s a good idea.
“I am not in favor of putting that responsibility on the synod fathers,” he said.
“I would think that it’s not fair to the synod fathers, to the Church, to say that this is now magisterium,” he said. “I think the pope wanted to give importance to the synod, but there certainly are things there that could be theologically misunderstood and could be controversial.”
“You can’t say this is magisterium, you must accept this,” Gracias said.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect [that],” he said. “How could 300 bishops coming from all over the world, many of whom are not theologians, possibly” [accomplish that]?
Asked to cite an example of something that could prove problematic, he offered a line in the draft document to the effect that Jesus couldn’t work the Biblical miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes until people brought him those elements.
The phrasing, he said, could be read to limit God’s ability to perform miracles.
“That could be a theological problem,” he said. “I’m sure no one means that, but if you’re really giving magisterium,” it’s a problem.
Gracias also said that many bishops who don’t speak Italian have been at a significant disadvantage, since key documents have been circulating only in Italian.
“One of the disadvantages is that many do not know sufficient Italian, so I don’t know how they’ll respond in the house, whether they’ll abstain, go with the group, I don’t know,” he said.
“If we don’t understand it, how can we vote on it?” he asked. “Some have said, we don’t have sufficient Italian to be able to make a judgement. We’re saying yes to something we don’t know, and that’s not right.”
At the end of the day, however, Gracias said he doesn’t expect much drama in the final vote.
“I expect the document to go through with ease,” he said. “I think that it will sail through.”
In terms of the charge that the synod has been rigged, Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles offered a note of caution during an Oct. 4 event sponsored by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture with the assistance of the Diocese of Orange in California and Crux.
“Every meeting is ‘rigged’ to a certain extent,” Barron said. “You don’t call something like this in the first place if you don’t have some sense of what you want to get out of it.”