Bishop Bonny looks ahead to the Synod – an ongoing analysis

johan-bonnyBishop Johan Bonny has been making headlines in Catholic media, first in Germany but today also in his native Belgium. In an extensive note the bishop of Antwerp outlines his thoughts and expectations for this autumn’s Synod of Bishops. Various media have presented this as an attack on Popes Paul VI and St. John Paul II and their documents on difficult subjects related to marriage, family and morality. But reality is somewhat different. Bishop Bonny does not exclusively discuss the contents of various magisterial pronouncements, but does offer strong criticism on how they came about, and how they are put it into practice.

In this post, I will summarise the text and offer my opinion here and there. As it is a fairly long text, this post is a work in progress. Expect updates over the coming days.

In the first part of his document, the bishops explains that he sees the development of an ecclesiastical question within the discussion about marriage and family, which he traces back to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on  contraception and sexuality, Humanae vitae. The way in which the Pope developed this text, apparently ignoring the advice of experts he had appointed himself, stands in stark contrast with how the Second Vatican Council went about matters: in strong collegiality which led to a virtually unanimous passing of documents.

This lack of collegiality in such an important matter has led, so the bishop explains, to a gap between the Church’s moral teaching and the moral understanding of the faithful. And we do see this happening: statements, decrees, encyclicals and the like do not play much of a role in the lives of the faithful, even though they can be important for properly living as Catholic faithful. Of course, a perceived lack of collegiality can not be the only explanation for this, as Bishop Bonny admits. I would even go so far as wondering if many faithful are even aware of how documents are developed, at least not in our time.

Among bishops, Curia and Pope, more collegiality can have positive results (and also negative), since we should not be afraid of talking about such important matters. But the Church is no democracy. The very nature of the papacy, of the body of apostles and disciples that Christ established, is at odds with that. The Pope has magisterial primacy, and he must be free to exercise it. But of course it is good to do everything to avoid needless division and even opposition, although that can probably never be rooted out completely.

Synod of Bishops – Day Two

Yesterday saw the third and fourth general congregation of the Synod, presided over by Cardinal Francisco Robles Ortega. The morning session was devoted to interventions from the Synod fathers, and 25 prelates made use of the option to make a five-minute presentation  on some point the wanted to highlight. And that time limit is rather strict, as Bishop Kicanas points out: “[I]t must be five minutes, since one’s mic is turned off exactly when five minutes have passed. Those getting close to being turned off rush to get in as much of their text as possible.”

There were several general trends in the interventions: penance, education and a focus on the personal relation with Jesus Christ. As Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López, appointed to  Monterrey in Mexico one week ago, pointed out: “We cannot evangelise properly if we do not educate properly. And we do not educate properly if we do not evangelise.” Several prelates emphasised the need for humility, most notably  the Philippine Archbishops Luis Tagle of Manila and Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan. The latter said:

“The new evangelization calls for new humility. The Gospel cannot thrive in pride. When pride seeps into the heart of the Church, the Gospel proclamation is harmed […] The hierarchy must shun arrogance, hypocrisy and bigotry. We must punish the errant among us instead of covering up our own mistakes. We are humans among our human flock. All our beauty and holiness we owe to God. This humility will make us more credible new evangelizers. Our mission is to propose humbly not to impose proudly.”

There were also an intervention from one of the fraternal delegates, non-Catholics invited to attend and share their thoughts and experience. The Lutheran Bishop of Lapua in Finland, Simo Peura (pictured), summarised some of the points in the Instrumentum laboris and wished to all attendants and the “Synod of Bishops the Blessing of the Triune God.”

Special guest Dr. Lamar Vest of the American Bible Society, in the morning’s final intervention, emphasised the role of the Bible and harkened back to the previous Synod of Bishops, which was devoted to the Bible.

The fourth general congregation began in the late afternoon with prayer, followed by voting for the members of the Commission for the Message. This commission will compose a nuntius or pastoral Message to the People of God, especially those involved with the Synod. The message will be presented at the end of the Synod. Cardinal Giuseppe Betori and Archbishop Luis Tagle presided over the election, which will select eight members in addition to the aforementioned clerics and two members appointed directly by the pope.

After this election, the interventions continued. Nine Synod fathers intervened, among them Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who spoke first about the reality of evil and then about the important role of women in the Church. He said:

“It is time to clarify that, if the Church does not ordain female priests, this is not because they are less capable or less worthy! On the contrary! It is solely because the priest is not only a “minister of the rite”, but a representative of Christ the Groom Who came to wed humanity. Let us give thanks for the quality and the specificity of the massive contribution of women to evangelization. Some strong gestures should underline this clearly. Without joyous women, recognized in their own being and proud of belonging to the Church, there would be no new evangelization.”

Especially some of the South-American Synod fathers, but also Cardinal André Vingt-Trois of Paris, emphasised the importance of countering secularism in the parishes and society.

Following the interventions, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, presented a report on the implementation of the Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, published after the previous Synod of Bishop which, as mentioned before, was devoted to the Word of God.

The second full day of the Synod was closed with a viewing of an edited version of a documentary produced by the  Pontifical Council for Social Communications on the Second Vatican Council.

Summaries of the interventions and Cardinal Ouellet’s report may be found in the two bulletins devoted to yesterday’s proceedings.

 Photo credit: [1] Pope Benedict XVI speaking with Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, CNS Photot/Paul Haring, [2] KT/Markku Pihlaja