Synods Come Under Cardinals´ Scrutiny

Consistory Debates Collegiality

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 24, 2001 ( One of the key topics discussed at this week´s consistory was collegiality — how the College of Bishops exercises authority in the Church.

Collegial authority in a solemn way is exercised in an ecumenical council. The cardinals who met at the Vatican, however, dealt with collegiality in its less formal and broader applications. Synods came under particular scrutiny.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O´Connor, archbishop of Westminster, called for «a serious examination of the working method of synods.»

«Never Peter without the Eleven [Apostles],» he said, «but never the Eleven without Peter.»

Syrian Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, asked that «greater consideration be given to the role of the Eastern synods in the appointment of bishops.»

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, until recently prefect of the same congregation, said that at times the synods become «monologues without debate or response.»

Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel, went so far as to hold a press conference on the topic Wednesday. The Belgian primate proposed to offer the Pope more frequent consultations with bishops «in the field,» and he suggested a different methodology for synods.

«The way the synod is organized does not foster the development of a genuine culture of debate within the College of Bishops meeting around the Pope,» Cardinal Danneels said in an interview published today in the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera.

«There is no real discussion in the synodal auditorium,» he said. «First, one listens to a long series of free speeches, where everything is discussed over two weeks. As a result, there is no time to concentrate attention on specific points and to draw effective conclusions. Something is written one night and everything is left in the Pope´s hands.»

Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, suggested «annual synods with no topic» set in advance. The synods should be shorter, he said, and allow for free exchange on timely issues.

At least eight of the 60 cardinals who spoke at the closed-door consistory addressed the question of collegiality.

John Paul II touched on the topic himself in his apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte,» which was the springboard for the consistory´s debates.

«[T]he new century,» the Pope wrote in No. 44 of the letter, «will have to see us more than ever intent on valuing and developing the forums and structures which, in accordance with the Second Vatican Council´s major directives, serve to ensure and safeguard communion. How can we forget in the first place those specific services to communion which are the Petrine ministry and, closely related to it, episcopal collegiality?»

In the letter, John Paul II recognized that much has been done since Vatican II on the reform of the Roman Curia, the organization of synods, and the working of bishops´ conferences. He concluded, however, that «much still remains to be done … given the need to respond with alacrity and efficiency to the problems the Church must address in the rapid changes of our time.»

During the homily of the Mass for the closing of the consistory, John Paul II offered suggestions in this connection.

«The missionary nature of the Church, which stems from Christ, finds support in episcopal collegiality and is encouraged by Peter´s Successor, whose ministry is directed to promoting communion in the Church, guaranteeing the unity in Christ of all the faithful.»

The topic will be addressed this October, during the synod on the figure of the bishop.

The Pope mentioned this during the closing Mass today in St. Peter´s Basilica. «The consistory has amply reflected on some of these problems, developing profound analyses and proposing solutions,» he said. «Several questions will be taken up again in the forthcoming synod of bishops, which has proved to be a valid and effective instrument of episcopal collegiality at the service of the local churches.»

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