Pope Francis–His Prospects

I have observed the misery of my people . . . ;
I have heard their cry. . . .
Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them (Exod 3:7f).

 

10. Pope Francis–His Prospects
and the two Synods on the Family

Dr. Aaron Milavec

4Francis

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During the course of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), free and open discussions gradually took hold among the assembled bishops once the curial grip on the Council was challenged.  Within this aggiornamento [1] that was endorsed by John XXIII, the bishops discovered how creative collaboration with each other and with the Holy Spirit served to chart a visionary program of collaborative pastoral renewal that received overwhelming approval by the assembled bishops.

Once the bishops went home, however, the wisdom of free deliberations and collective decision making was quickly ignored by Paul VI.   Before they went home, however, the bishops made plans for a tri-annual Synod of Bishops that would meet in order to further define and extend the pastoral renewal of Vatican II.  Very quickly the curia took charge of the agenda of these Synods, and the popes who chaired them reduced them to becoming consultative rather than the deliberative bodies.   The Synod of 1971 marked a turning point.  Since then, the Synods meeting in Rome have been toothless tigers that have had no consequences for defining the key pastoral challenges within the Church.

Pope Francis has indicated his intention to return to the vision of Vatican II.  He has planned an ordinary Synod on the Family for 4-25 Oct 2015.  Meanwhile he has mandated that an extraordinary Synod on the Family planned for 5-19 Oct 2014 would plan the preparation work for the ordinary Synod a year later.

My sources indicate that, in early 2014, Pope Francis met with the organizers of this Synod and made plain his requirement: “I want discussion.”  The chair responded, “The bishops are not accustomed to having discussions during these synods.”  Pope Francis rebuffed this challenge saying, “I want lots of discussions.”   Thus, the organizers have effectively been mandated to return to the free and open discussions that marked Vatican II.  Pope Francis emphasized this point in opening the Synod.

Pope Francis could push the Church ahead by virtue of a series of “executive commands” but this would be a defeat of the collaborative and decision making mandated by Vatican II.  We have suffered under three popes who have squelched collaboration and have mandated changes that, in my view, defeated and reversed much of Vatican II.  If Pope Francis would conduct himself as did these popes, then the people of God would be subjected to more authoritarian policies that would inevitably continue to divide the Church into factions.   Moreso, if Pope Francis would adapt an authoritarian style of papal leadership, this would further entrench the practice of papal authoritarianism and effectively incite bishops to oppose him in the name of a future conservative pope who would be elected to the Roman episcopal office.   It would also give the College of Cardinals the impulse to choose a successor for Pope Francis who would reverse everything done by him.  In effect, therefore, even a “bully” with a progressive agenda in the papal office is still a “bully” whose style of leadership defeats the Gospel and negates the functioning of Synods as envisioned by Vatican II.

Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that he favors “synodolism,” the term he prefers to use interchangeably with “collegiality.”   During the  first ceremony of the blessing and imposition of the pallium on 34 metropolitan archbishops on 29 June 2013, Pope Francis spoke about “the path of collegiality” as the road that can lead the Church to “grow in harmony with the service of primacy.”   He has publicly chosen an international group of eight cardinals to work with him in reforming the Curia.   He has convoked an Extraordinary Synod on the Family, and, at the same time, he has promoted an international survey intended to allow the bishops to hear the joys and sorrows, the trials and tribulations that surround family issues.   The conducting of this worldwide survey was erratic and the tabulation of the results left significant loopholes; nonetheless, Francis opened the door to hearing the “sensus fidelium” and signalling to the bishops at the Synod that real people with real problems were counting on them for mercy and justice and love.

In brief, I would judge that to the degree that Pope Francis brings open discussion and collegiality back to the forthcoming extraordinary Synod on the Family will we be able to trust him to begin healing the Roman Catholic Church of its destructive factionalism, its crippling authoritarianism, and its pastoral dysfunctionality.

Collegiality is not just an invention of Vatican II.  Collegiality was the hallmark of Peter’s authority in the early church.  Collegiality was the defining character of the Patristic churches as well.  Papal absolutism was only invented in the middle ages when authoritarian monarchs populated the European landscape.   In that era, the Vatican States had to have its own absolute monarch so as to be able to hold its head high in the assembly of monarchs.

But this era has passed away.   The European states gradually discovered the wisdom of limiting the divine right of kings, and, eventually, they dethroning monarchs entirely.  Thus, the papacy represents the last of the absolute monarchs in Europe.   And the Vatican wants us, like gullible children, to believe that Matt 16:18 represents the will of the divine savior to establish Peter as an absolute monarch in governing the church. . . .

book.Quinn.ReformOn this last point, Pope Francis disagrees with a papacy run like an absolute monarchy.  In fact, Pope Francis has been promoting the reading and the implementation of archbishop emeritus of San Francisco John R. Quinn’s book, Reform of the Papacy.   This is the best good news about Pope Francis!  How far and how successful Pope Francis will be in this reform remains to be seen.  One thing is for sure: Pope Francis needs to get allies for this project at all levels of church organization. 

 

Additional Resources

Pope Francis’ Closing Words to the 2014 Synod

Synod reveals openness and dialogue
by Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch

+++Petition to Widen the Circle of Consultants at the 2015 Family Synod+++

Letter to the Pope re.  The Extraordinary Synod on the Family 2014
by 55 international theologians (23 January 2014)

Reform of the papacy intended by Pope Francis
by Sandro Magister

Underreported survey responses for Synod on the Family
by
Christine Schenk  |  19 June 2014

Will the Vatican step up and hold bishops accountable?
by Jason Berry 

The Irish reform agenda by the popular priest Fr Tony Flannery
by Dermot Keogh

Marriage and Divorce Controversy at Synod

Sexual Abuse Survivors as the Unsung Heroes of Church Reform
by Thomas Doyle  |  02 August  2014)

The Church’s Gay Obsession
by Frank Bruni

Vatican could learn from women religious
by Joan Chittister | 06 March 2013

Five reasons the synod is doomed to fail
by Rev. Thomas Reese, S.J. | 15 Oct 2015

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