Synod - Vatican Media

The Letter Circulated from the Vatican to Calm Down Bishops and Prohibit Agendas in the Synod

The Letter attempts to calm down spirits , and to clarify that an agenda cannot be imposed, and explicits better the role of the Bishop in the synodal process.

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(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 30.01.2023).- Cardinal Mario Grech and Jesuit Jean Claude Hollerich, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and General Rapporteur  of the same, respectively, sent a letter to the worldwide episcopate regarding some perplexities expressed by many and in face of the attempt to change this assembly into the propitious place to impose agendas. 

Here is the letter, with phrases in bold added by ZENIT.

* * *

Dear Brothers, 

As you know, at the conclusion of the consultation stage “in the particular Churches,” the  Synod 2021-2024 process foresees the celebration of Continental Assemblies. It is in view of this  Continental stage that we address all of you, who, in your particular Churches, are the principle and  foundation of unity of the holy People of God (cf. LG 23). We do so in the name of our common  responsibility for the ongoing synodal process as Bishops of the Church of Christ: there is no exercise  of ecclesial synodality without exercise of episcopal collegiality. 

The Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio reminds us that “each Bishop possesses  simultaneously and inseparably responsibility for the particular Church assigned to his pastoral care  and solicitude for the universal Church” (EC, n. 2). To enable the exercise of the latter has been the  raison d’être of the Synod of Bishops since its inception. With great foresight, in his own founding  document, Apostolica Sollicitudo, St Paul VI states that the Synod “like all human institutions, can  be improved upon with the passing of time.” This is what we are experiencing now: Episcopalis  Communio, far from weakening an episcopal institution, in highlighting the process-oriented nature  of the Synod, makes the role of Pastors and their participation in the various stages even more crucial.  Thank you, therefore, for all that each of you has already contributed to the service of Synod 2021- 2024, by allowing the consultation of the People of God in the particular Churches and discernment  carried out within the Synods/Councils of the Churches sui iuris and the Bishops’ Conferences. 

On the eve of the Continental Assemblies, we feel the urgency to share a few considerations  for a common understanding of the synodal process, its progress and the meaning of the current  Continental stage. There are in fact some who presume to already know what the conclusions of the  Synodal Assembly will be. Others would like to impose an agenda on the Synod, with the intention  of steering the discussion and determining its outcome. However, the theme that the Pope has  assigned to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is clear: “For a Synodal  Church: communion, participation, mission”. This is, therefore, the sole theme that we are called to  explore in each of the stages within the process. The expectations for Synod 2021-2024 are many and  varied, but it is not the task of the Assembly to address all the issues being debated in the Church. 

Those who claim to impose any one theme on the Synod forget the logic that governs the  synod process: we are called to chart a “common course” beginning with the contribution of all. It is  perhaps superfluous to recall that the Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis Communio transformed the  Synod from an event into a process, articulated in stages. This means that it is since its solemn  opening, on October 10, 2021 in St. Peter’s, the Synod has been addressing and developing the given  theme, first in the stage of consultation of the People of God, then in the discernment of the Pastors  in the Synods/Councils of the Churches sui iuris, in the Bishops’ Conferences, and now in the  Continental Assemblies. It is precisely because of the intrinsic relationship between the different  phases that other themes cannot be surreptitiously introduced, thereby exploiting the Assembly and  disregarding the consultation of the People of God.  

It is understandable that, in the first phase of listening, the scope or margins of the theme were  not clearly defined, given the novelty of the method and the difficulty in understanding and  recognising that the entire “holy People of God share also in Christ’s prophetic office” (LG, n. 12).  However, this lack of clarity has diminished in the subsequent steps, as evidenced by the tenor of the  syntheses sent by the Synods/Councils of the Churches sui iuris and the Episcopal Conferences to the  Secretariat of the Synod. It is important to remember that these syntheses are the result of the  discernment of the Pastors regarding the contributions made during the consultation of the People of  God. From these syntheses, the Working Document for the Continental Stage (DCS), in which the  voice of the particular Churches clearly resounds, was drafted. 

The decision to restore the DCS to the particular Churches, asking that each one listen to the  voice of the others (a listening which resounds throughout the DCS, thus rereading the stages of the  synodal process at a level of greater awareness), truly manifests that the only rule we have given  ourselves is to constantly listen to the Spirit: “A synodal Church is a Church which listens […] The  faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening  to the Holy Spirit” (Francis, Address for the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Institution  of the Synod of Bishops, 2015). 

The themes that the DCS proposes do not constitute the agenda of the next Assembly of the  Synod of Bishops, but faithfully return what emerges from the syntheses sent by the Synods/Councils  of the Churches sui iuris and by the Bishops’ Conferences, providing a glimpse of the face of a Church  that is learning to listen to the Spirit through listening to one another. It will be the task of the  Continental Assemblies, based on the resonances elicited in each particular Church through its  reading of the DCS, to identify “the priorities, recurring themes and calls to action that can be shared  with other local Churches around the world and discussed during the First Session of the Synodal  Assembly in October 2023” (DCS, n. 106). 

This is why we trust that in the Continental Assemblies the voice of the particular Churches  will resound again with even greater strength, through the synthesis carried out by the  Synods/Councils of the Churches sui iuris and by the National Episcopal Conferences. The more we  grow in a synodal style of Church, the more all of us as members of the People of God — faithful  and Pastors — will learn to feel cum Ecclesia, in fidelity to the Word of God and Tradition. Besides,  how could we address pointed questions, often divisive, without first answering the great question  that has been challenging the Church since the Second Vatican Council: “Church, what do you say  of yourself?” The Council’s long journey of reception leads us to affirm that the answer is in the  Church that is “constitutively synodal”, where all are called to exercise their ecclesial charism in view  of carrying out the common mission of evangelisation.

The current synodal process is showing us how this is possible. By virtue of its participation  in the prophetic function of Christ, the holy People of God is the subject of the synodal process  through the consultation that each Bishop carries out in his Church: in this way, in fact, one can truly  listen to the “entire body of the faithful, who anointed as they are by the Holy One, (1 John 2.20, 27)  cannot err in matters of belief” (LG 12). The College of Bishops, which “is also the subject of supreme  and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head  the Roman Pontiff and never without this head” (LG 22), participates in the synodal process in the  following two moments: 1) when each Bishop initiates, guides and concludes the consultation of the  People of God entrusted to him; and 2) in the successive stages, when the Bishops together exercise  their charism of discernment in the Synods/Councils of the Churches sui iuris, in the Episcopal  Conferences, in the continental Assemblies and, in particular, in the Synod Assembly. Analogously,  and with regard to an Ecumenical Council, it is the prerogative of the Bishop of Rome who is “the  perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the Bishops and of the faithful” (LG  23) to convoke, preside over and confirm the Synodal Assemblies. 

Already in this first phase of the synodal process we have been able to see how each member  has played their own part, respecting the role and contribution of others. We must continue along this  path, not mistaking synodality for a mere method, but taking it on as a form of the Church and a style  for fulfilling the common mission of evangelisation. The Pastors’ ministry thus becomes even more  decisive for the journey of the Holy People of God. We are convinced that, along this path, the Spirit,  who guides the Church’s journey, will allow us to experience how “the Synod of Bishops,  representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality within an  entirely synodal Church” (Francis, Address for the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the  Institution of the Synod of Bishops, 2015). 

The continental stage can help us understand this vision if, as a College of Bishops, we are  united in seeking ways which help the Church to be “the “sacrament of unity,” namely, the holy  people united and ordered under their Bishops” (SC 26). Moreover, participation in the synodal  process will enable us to reinforce that collegial union which is “apparent also in the mutual relations  of the individual Bishops with particular churches and with the universal Church” (LG 23). If it is  true that all Bishops “by governing well their own church as a portion of the universal Church, they  themselves are effectively contributing to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which is also the  body of the churches” (LG 23), it is also true that we are called, all together cum et sub Petro, to  represent “the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity” (LG 23). What better way than by  “walking together,” in the certainty that “It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of  the Church of the third millennium” (Francis, Address for the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary  of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops, 2015). 


In Christo

+ Mario Grech

Cardinal Secretary General of the Synod


+Jean Claude Hollerich

Cardinal Archbishop of Luxembourg General Rapporteur of the Synod 


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