Bishops´ Synod May Examine the Very Way It Operates

Goal Is More Flexibility and Efficiency

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 28, 2001 ( The synod of bishops that opens Sunday will discuss, among other topics, the need to streamline relations among bishops and with the Pope and Roman Curia.

The topic was addressed last May during the extraordinary consistory of cardinals called by John Paul II. At least eight of the 60 cardinals who spoke during the consistory addressed this issue.

The first to propose a discussion of the question was John Paul II himself.

In his apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte» (No. 44) he wrote: «More than ever, the new century will have to see us intent on valuing and developing the forums and structures that, in accordance with Vatican Council II´s major directives, serve to ensure and safeguard communion. In the first place, how can we forget those specific services to communion that are the Petrine ministry and, closely related to it, episcopal collegiality?»

The discussion at the consistory offered suggestions that will be taken up at the synod´s working sessions.

For example, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O´Connor, archbishop of Westminster, called for «a serious examination of the synods´ working method.» He added: «Never Peter without the Eleven, but never the Eleven without Peter.»

Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who up until recently was prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches, said that at times the synods are turned into «monologues without debates or answers.»

Perhaps no one stressed the importance of this question more than Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels. The archbishop of Malines-Brussels went so far as to hold a press conference to address the issue. He suggested that the Pope should have more frequent consultations with bishops who are «on the spot.»

To do this, bishops would have to meet in synods with a different methodology. Cardinal Danneels asked that each bishop be free to discuss whatever topic he wished, without being restricted to a specific issue.

He admitted that the synod´s current form does not encourage «the development of a genuine culture of debate within the ´college´ of bishops meeting with the Pope.»

«There is no real discussion in the synodal auditorium,» he observed. «First, there is a long series of free speeches, where everything is discussed for two weeks. Then there is not enough time to focus attention on specific points and draw effective conclusions. Something is written up in one night, and everything is left in the Pope´s hands.»

Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, archbishop of Boston, suggested at the consistory that «annual synods» be held «without a topic,» which would be shorter and allow a free exchange of ideas on issues of the moment.

The last two proposals were questioned by Cardinal Jan Pieter Schotte, the synod´s secretary-general, who believes that the current methodology guarantees free speech to all bishops.

When presenting the synod´s Working Document on June 1, Cardinal Schotte warned that if the topics and amount of time for each speaker are not organized ahead of time, there is a risk that only bishops with leadership qualities will speak. That might mean that a bishop from a small country, or one with less talent for public speaking, might be silenced, he said.

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