Dr Philippa Martyr: Synodality II

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Auxiliary Bishop Karlheinz Diez of Fulda speaks 31 January, 2020, with synodal assembly participants in Frankfurt. PHOTO: CNS/Harald Oppitz, KNA

Get ready for LOTS more discussion

I’m interrupting my planned series of reflections on liturgical reform to bring you further proof that Pope Francis reads the Catholic Weekly.

Just the other week, I wrote about how the term ‘synodality’ hasn’t been properly defined yet. The Holy Father read this, gulped down his post-Mass breakfast espresso, and exclaimed, ‘¿De nuevo?’

So he’s just now reminded us all that last year, he announced a synod on – wait for it – synodality. I’d forgotten about this, so I’m grateful for his reminder. I love this synod already. It’s meant to be starting around September this year, and the timeline on its website shows that it’s planned to conclude in October 2023.

That’s at least two glorious years of lots and lots and lots of discussion. There will be more layers of consultation, more working parties, more committees, and more junketing than you can poke a stick at. Winston Churchill once said, ‘Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.’ That’s a bit how I feel about this process.

The longer we hold meetings and talk about it, the less likely anything will actually be done, either for good or for evil. (I sometimes daydream about the Plenary Council extending indefinitely for just this reason.)

The danger is something that liberal Catholics call ‘consensus’. I was privileged to attend a master-class on this delivered by canon lawyer Professor Myriam Wijlens in February 2020. You start by identifying everything you agree on, and then you get your opponents to identify where they don’t disagree with you violently.

If you keep asking them about this over and over, you will wear down most people into saying they agree with you. They will do this even though they came in the room absolutely determined to disagree with you. From my own experience, this usually then gets written into a document. You have to stand over anyone who’s changed their mind back, and make sure they don’t get to change the document.

Then everyone agrees to abide by the document. You can repeat this until everyone is heartily sick of the process, which makes it much easier to push through dodgy findings.

So the main thing is to keep your head and your integrity when you’re co-opted into this process. It’s very hard to hold to eternal truths when you’re surrounded by pastries, comfortable chairs, and a sense of inevitability. But we’re in real danger of going off half-cocked. After all, having a synod on synodality has never been done before.

I think we first need to plan a synod on ‘having a synod on synodality’. In fact, we could plan to have a synod on planning to have a synod on planning to have a ‘synod on synodality’. (This is a game the whole Church family can play.)

The idea behind the synod is to slow down the German schism. But by October 2023, a new Katholische Deutsche Kirche could still be ordaining its first lady bishops and negotiating how to get hold of the church tax funding stream.

Jaw to jaw doesn’t always prevent war.

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