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How has church structure affected mission, in your experience? How can/could it help all of the baptised respond to the call of the Gospel?

With gratitude to theologian and historian of church organisational structure, Dr. Luca Bandini, January 2024:

Synodal input continues this year…bishops have been asked to host listening sessions focused on the guiding questions shared by the Vatican.

  • Where have I seen or experienced successes—and distresses—within the Church’s structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that encourage or hinder the mission?
  • How can the structures and organization of the Church help all the baptized to respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel and to live as a community of love and
    mercy in Christ?

We have a ways to go before the structure and organization of the Church would help all the baptized to respond to the call of the gospel and for the Church to draw on the gifts and talents of all.

Each diocese has been asked to submit a short report to the bishops’ conference by April 8. The conference will then supply a summary of all of the diocesan sessions to Rome in May. 

Catholic Church Reform International’s Strategy Team held a meeting with Robert Choiniere on the small group discussions and consultations being held virtually worldwide, with the assistance of trained facilitators, with report back for use by dioceses or direct submission to the Vatican. CCRI is organising similar synodal discussions for those who do not have another way to participate or contribute. Those are posted at spiritunbounded/calendar.

Thus multiple Small Christian Communities and networks have facilitated discerning together recommendations for the October 2024 synod, and then sending them to known and trusted official delegates to that synod, with a prayer to keep them in mind once there. Again, using “unofficial”, parallel spaces to help reform the “official” structures, in addition to contributing as allowed in one’s own parish and diocese.CCRI Strategy Team members highlighted related insights that have been coming up more and more often, pointing to the way forward. These include:

Need to set up informal structures to help reform the formal, “official” structures (as synod participants have said, without waiting for official endorsement).

One goal of “unofficial” (in the sense that they are sadly still not recognised by canon law) ecclesial forms such as SCC and the sort of synodal gathering outlined by Robert Choiniere, CCRI, and more is to feed into the current “official” canonical structures. A consistent recommendation has been to reform those official structures (specifically: parish and diocesan pastoral councils) to make them mandatory, representative, and deliberative. The request that parish pastoral council be reformed according to those three criteria is crucial as 90+% at least of church life happens at the grassroots. The dignity and life of all underlies the need to ensure that parishes and dioceses are run democratically.

Rafael Luciani is a well-known theologian with a project on pastoral councils, who recently provided the following update:

“The project on Pastoral Council is reaching its final phase and will end in June in an encounter in CELAM. The research in the US is coordinated by Hosffman Ospino, you may know him. But we do not have anything published yet. Maybe after the encounter in CELAM, since we want to focus on concrete proposals for the synodals in October.”

Luciani’s home diocese of La Guaira developed a reformed constitution, providing a base for the project. Even there, “the constitution fell well short of making pastoral councils mandatory, representative, and deliberative”, according to Luca Badini, who presented on a Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church submitted by theologians worldwide as part of the Synod on Synodality process in late 2022.

Thus it seems that NOW is the time to send synodal delegates a clear and concise request for canon law to be amended so as to ensure that parish councils at every level be truly synodal, which we understand as requiring them being mandatory, representative and deliberative… That, and the request for substantial lay participation in choosing bishops [and I’d explicitly refer/join forces with similar requests made recently from Germany] would go a long way towards addressing the democratic deficit in our church).

Importantly, numerous organisations and bodies from around the world are making similar recommendations. This broad call from the faithful needs to be made more apparent.

Finally, it’s important to keep in mind what the current legal framework says, i.e. just how anti-synodal the current canon law concerning pastoral councils/synods is, and so how key the request that it be amended is. In contrast to the responsibility of the baptized to provide correction to our church, noted in Vatican II, surprisingly, current canon law only provides that the laity can debate when and what the Pope or bishops allow them to. In any case the (non-clerical/lay) baptized are allowed no vote in the final decision-making process, which is still reserved to the bishops. It is up to the bishops/Pope to decide if and when to call a synod, and to decide its agenda. The laity cannot, in canon law, decide to have a synod, or have any input in setting its agenda officially, despite the tweaks this last time around.

That is still the official canon law. In fact, it remained untouched despite the 2018 amendment of canon law on the subject of synodality, called “Episcopalis communio”. Canon law still influences the mentality even of people like Cardinal Grech, who should be at the forefront of the new “synodal” mentality. For more, read Badini’s commentary on his speech at the February 2023 European Synodal Assembly in Prague, here.

The Proposed Constitution for the Catholic Church offers an example of what things could be and has inspired people to not give up on our church and keep pressing for change that is possible. But because the current structures are so inadequate to the task it is necessary to complement them with structures such as Small Christian Communities (often on the sub-parish or geographic/neighborhood level) and synodal gatherings that provide the platforms and forums that official structures don’t, with the goal of feeding back into the official structures and, ultimately, try and radically reform them to make them into the open platform they are supposed to be.

Meanwhile, as Valerie Stroud of Root and Branch highlights:

Small Christian Communities, centred on the wisdom of the Scriptures and the teaching of many wise people both past and present” are helping Catholics proceed and “select what is life-promoting, compassionate and good for individuals and society.” 

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