VATICAN CITY – As Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech is the chief organizer of the Synod on Synodality 2021-2023 which begins Sunday with a one-year “diocesan phase”.

In this Oct. 6 interview with The Register, the Maltese cardinal responds to various concerns about the synod and synodality, including that they could be used as a vehicle to undermine the teachings of the established Church.

Pope Francis will open the synod, whose theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”, during a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Sunday. He will also deliver an address during a day of reflection on Saturday in the synod hall in the presence of the synod participants.

On October 17, each of the world’s bishops will launch the process in their own churches, starting with a liturgical celebration.

Cardinal’s responses have been edited for style.

Your Eminence, how are the preparations going for the first phase of the Synod which will begin next month?

The preparations for this first phase of the Synod are progressing very well! We have noticed that many sectors of the Church are welcoming this Synod with great enthusiasm and joy. These preparations are also the occasion for numerous contacts with (and between) the episcopal conferences and the local ordinaries.

What is the concrete and long-term objective of this synod and this synodality, both locally and universally? How will it ultimately help the faithful in terms of evangelism and personal salvation?

There are many signs that the ripe fruit of reception by the Church of Vatican II is a Synodal Church. On the way to being welcomed by the Church of Vatican II, we discern the movement of the Spirit to appreciate and value each of the various ecclesial subjects at various levels (The People of God as a whole, the College of Bishops, c that is to say the Successor of Peter who is the principle of unity of all the baptized, of all bishops, even of all Churches).

This ability to embrace the interdependence of various ecclesial subjects is a manifestation of synodality. In the local Church, it looks like a participation of the people of God with their pastors (that is, the bishops with their presbyterium).

A more synodal Church is a more missionary Church; a United Body of Christ is credible in evangelism, while opposition within the Church destroys unity and also destroys credibility.

The Holy Father said that the upcoming Synod on Synodality was not about “gathering opinions”, but “listening to the Holy Spirit”. How will participants be able to discern what the Holy Spirit is telling us, and to what extent will Church teaching and tradition inform this discernment?

Synodality is as old as the Church itself. During the first millennium of the history of the Church, it was accepted that the only infallible ecclesial subject was the People of God who, as a whole, could not be mistaken in matters of belief; and this because all the baptized have received the Holy Spirit as a gift.

the sensus fidei crosses the whole history of the Church. In fact, in the second millennium, the popes had recourse to the sensus fidei in their definitions of Marian dogmas.

What does it mean to be the Church of the Third Millennium? Is it about adapting the Church to the spirit of the times, or rather adapting the world to the wisdom of the Church’s teaching?

The Church of the third millennium cannot be the repeat of the Church of the second millennium, just as the Church of the second millennium cannot be the repeat of the Church of the first millennium. As a historical subject, the Church of Christ deepens its own identity over the centuries, to come ever closer to the will of its Founder.

As Benedict XVI said in 2005, the Church is a subject that is always renewing itself continuous. Thus, continuity and renewal do not oppose each other, but complement each other. The purpose of the Church is not to adapt to the “spirit of the times”, but to listen to this “spirit” to discern how “the Spirit”, the Holy Spirit, could communicate to the Church. Christian community in order to be more faithful to Christ.

Who are the People of God whom the participants in the Synod will listen to? Are they the baptized or does the group include all groups of people? How can the sensus fidei be authentically identified?

The People of God is the subject of sensus fidei, making them infallible in credendo (infallible in belief, ie cannot be wrong). As all the baptized participate in the prophetic function of Christ, the synodal journey must be attentive to all the faithful wherever they are, that is to say in the local Churches. Through this listening, the pastors of the Church will be able to identify (discern, really) what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. This listening, however, cannot be approached as we approach consensus on a purely human level, precisely because the sensus fidei cannot be identified with, or reduced to, public opinion; nor can it be confused with sociological surveys. To authentically identify what constitutes the sensus fidei, it is necessary to “discern” by listening, that is to say “to discern” where God is present and where God is absent. Discernment is therefore a deep spiritual process, without which we cannot authentically identify the sensus fidei.

The synodal process has been the subject of criticism over the years. What do you say about each of these concerns? a) Its decentralizing effect causes doctrinal confusion and “doctrinal anarchy”Within the Church b) Synods are vehicles of heterodoxy, a means of introducing liberal teachings and secular values ​​into the Church, mainly because many of those who are consulted are poorly catechized c) The synodality is only a process of Protestantization of the Church – it has tried in Protestant communities and has led to division and disunity.

Pope Francis intends that the Synod is no longer just an event, but rather a process in which every baptized person can be heard. If the bishops do not listen to those who are badly catechized, we will never know how to heal the badly catechized by our magisterium.

Accordingly, properly understood and initiated, the synodal process aims to heal doctrinal confusion and anarchy, recognizing the specific grace given to each believer and putting this grace in dialogue with the bishops. By Christ’s will, this listening must be led by the pastors of the Church to whom a specific charism of discernment has been entrusted, and above all by the Successor of Peter, who is the principle of unity in the Church.

Listening to the People of God is therefore not to adapt to heterodox opinions, but to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit in all the baptized. In this sense, synodality is not the Protestantization of the Catholic Church.

Each Christian denomination has its own way of understanding and living synodality. The Catholic path towards synodality is rooted in communion, which is the gift of Christ to the Church; communion lived in the relational dynamic which exists between the People of God, the bishops in their charism of discernment, and the exercise by the Holy Father of his Petrine primacy.

Some already have critical the next synod as too ambitious and cumbersome – how will the synod secretariat handle all contributions from dioceses around the world and how will this information be processed and analyzed?

The Synod is ambitious and the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops is called to make a great effort out of love for the Church.

Our method, however, is fairly straightforward. Listening to the people of God within the local Churches will end with a diocesan document which will be delivered to the episcopal conference. Here, the bishops, exercising their charism of discernment, will produce a synthesis which, in turn, will be transmitted to our Secretariat.

All material from Episcopal Conferences will serve as the basis for the first instrumentum laboris. This first work tool will be the working document for the pre-synodal meetings in the different continents (second phase). The conclusions of those meetings will then be collected to serve as a basis for the second work tool, offered to Synod Fathers in 2023.

What do you say to those who suggest that this next Synod is a way of holding a Vatican Council III but without announcing it as such?

This claim is not grounded in reality. The next Synod is important, but there is an essential difference between a council and a synod: a council is a council, a synod is a synod.

How does the Synod of Bishops regain its credibility after the Pachamama incident, which upset many Catholics? What measures are in place to prevent something like this from happening again?

Respect for a people and its traditions does not diminish the credibility of the Church or compromise its doctrine. Sometimes during a Synod things can happen that someone intends to artfully exploit, but the value of a Synod is judged by something else.

Can you assure readers that this Synod is not intended to achieve a predetermined result, an outcome which ultimately undermines the established teaching of the Church in order to make the Church seemingly more relevant and conducive to the world today? hui?

There are no predetermined outcomes. Otherwise, it would be foolish to listen to God’s people. The main objective of the Synod is not to make the Church more relevant and more favorable to the world today, but rather to bring the Church closer to the Lord’s will for her today.

Will most of the Synod’s conclusions be determined by vote? And if so, how do you respond to the critics who maintain that the doctrine and practice of the Church are not matters of personal preference and majorities, but rather are based on immutable truths, and that the Synod of Bishops, which was never meant to be more than an advisory body to the Pope, has it gone beyond the mandate initially defined by Pope Saint Paul VI?

Until today, the synodal assemblies have approved their documents by a final vote. In Apostolica Sollicitudo, the “motu proprio” with which Paul VI created the Synod as a consultative body of the Pope, the vote of the Synod Fathers is explicitly provided for. This is nothing new. The history of the Church, in the first and second millennia, testifies that local synods and ecumenical councils voted, even when it came to doctrinal truths. There is a fundamental difference between a vote taken in parliament and a vote taken in a general synod. A vote taken in parliament is a purely human action and expresses nothing more than a majority. A vote taken at a general synod is a spiritual action by which the synod fathers seek to make heard what the Holy Spirit is saying here and now.


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