ROMAN CATHOLIC leaders in Europe have backed the Pope’s call for a more synodal model of church life, during a continental assembly drafting proposals for a major synod in Rome next October.
“It is possible to meet, listen and dialogue — starting from our differences and beyond the many obstacles, walls and barriers that history puts in our way,” a statement issued at the end of the assembly said.
“We wish to continue walking in a synodal style: more than a methodology, we consider it a way of life for our Church. . . The general adoption of the synodal method should permeate our structures and procedures on all levels.”
The pledge came at the end of the week-long assembly in Prague, attended in person or online by 590 delegates from 45 countries.
The final statement urged consideration of “tensions around the liturgy”, as well as “concrete and courageous decisions” on greater involvement by women in Church decision-making “at all levels”.
The Church, it said, needed “forgiveness and reconciliation” for the “wounds” that it had inflicted in the past, helped by deepening the “practice, theology and hermeneutics of synodality”, which has been defined by the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity as “active participation of all the faithful in the Church’s life and mission”.
“We have to rediscover something that is ancient, belongs to the nature of the Church and is always new — we are taking the first steps on a path that opens up as we go along,” the assembly statement said.
“We need to explore the forms of a synodal exercise of authority, i.e. the service of accompanying the community and safeguarding unity; and we need to clarify criteria for discernment on the synodal process and which decisions belong on which level, from local to universal.”
The Prague assembly was convened to prepare Europe’s observations for next October’s Synod on Synodality in Rome, and is being paralleled by gatherings in Oceania, the Middle East, North America, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
All seven assemblies were asked to submit documents for incorporation in the Synod’s instrumentum laboris, or working programme, looking at the Church’s “concrete experiences and circumstances” on their continent, as well as “key tensions or divergences” and “priorities, recurring themes and calls to action”.
Preaching in Prague cathedral, the Rome Synod’s Maltese secretary-general, Cardinal Mario Grech, urged Roman Catholics not to view current debates as “a battle of conservatives against liberals”, or “an opposition between West and East, North and South”. The Church’s unity could “only be understood in relation to diversity”, he said.
A British participant, Fr Jan Nowotnik, mission director for the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, told the OSVNews agency that he had been heartened that national delegations had “listened respectfully”, despite the “potential for division”, and that there had been “no bust-ups, heckling, snide remarks or boycotting of sessions”.
“With so many cultural and liturgical differences, particularly between East and West, we won’t achieve a complete consensus — but this very diversity gives Europe its distinctive voice within the universal Church,” Fr Nowotnik said.
“If we wanted to, we could settle some hot questions — over the abuse crisis, the role of women, same-sex unions, or clerical celibacy. But that wouldn’t settle them in the whole Body of Christ, or necessarily bring the best solutions”.
The Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, the Bishop of Limburg, Dr Georg Bätzing, however, said that he regretted that the Prague assembly had not included some of the “hundreds of thousands of victims” of sexual abuse by clergy. He called on Pope Francis to introduce reforms in the Church.
Besides Dr Bätzing, other German participants criticised a lack of focus on current issues, including the ordination of women, and greater inclusion of LGBT people, and those who had remarried after divorce, in church life.
Among 44 invited guests from other denominations and church organisations, the Lutheran president of the Conference of European Churches, the Revd Christian Krieger, thanked the Pope for “involving other Churches”, and for affirming “that ecumenism is necessary for the synodal process, just as synodality is for ecumenism”.