The last word belongs to the Pope anyway

Will the eyes of the whole world in the coming weeks be focused on the Vatican, where the meetings of the Synod, already marked by much controversy, will take place? Will the discussion be dominated by the “German Synodal Way” with its extreme postulates on the subject of homosexual couples, women’s priesthood or the exercise of authority in the Church? And are the Catholics really “living for the Synod”?

Will the eyes of the whole world in the coming weeks be focused on the Vatican, where the meetings of the Synod, already marked by much controversy, will take place? Will the discussion be dominated by the “German Synodal Way” with its extreme postulates on the subject of homosexual couples, women’s priesthood or the exercise of authority in the Church? And are the Catholics really “living for the Synod”?

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Next – on all continents – there took place meetings of national delegates, who had a picture of the views expressed in their countries. The European conference was organised on February 5-9 in Prague – and was widely covered by its Polish participants: Archbishops Stanisław Gądecki and Arian Galbas, Professor Aleksander Bańka and Sister Jolanta Maria Kafka of the Congregation of the Claretian Missionaries – separately by each of them, which is to be stressed. The continental meetings were stormy, even very stormy, which I’ll talk about later. A document was produced at each meeting and on this basis the Vatican synodal team prepared the so-called Instrumentum Laboris (IL) which be used to feed a month-long debate starting on October 4. Its final, however, is not scheduled until next year.

The first clash The first session of the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops “Towards a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission” will thus in fact be the first plenary assembly of Bishops and laity delegated by individual Episcopates and those appointed by the Pope. The Polish delegation will include the President of the EPC Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the Vice-President of the EPC Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski and the coordinator of the Polish Church Synod, Archbishop Adrian Galbas, as well as Sister Jolanta Maria Kafka and Professor Aleksander Bańka; there will also be Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś, who was invited by the Pope to receive his cardinal’s hat on 30 September.

In October, we shall witness a powerful clash between two major blocs within the Church as there will be a clash of very disparate views on ecclesial matters represented by bishops from different parts of the world – said Father Jarosław Kupczak, OP, Professor at the Vatican Angelicum University, interviewed by the Polish Press Agency. – The differences are often very large and concern issues that arouse the greatest emotions: women’s priesthood, attitudes towards the LGBT movement or the exercise of authority in the Church – he pointed out.

Some time ago, the journalists of the Catholic Information Agency (CIA) prepared a synthesis in which they briefly outlined the emerging trends: African bishops, regardless of the view that synodality should be manifested at all levels of the Church’s life, believe that above all conversion is needed. It can be said that their voice was particularly sharp compared to others that raise the issue of co-responsibility of laity and clergy for the Church (also Africa), transparency of decision-making and responsibility for them (Asia), true (“in fidelity to the Gospel”) acceptance in the Church of those who feel excluded from participating in its life (North America). The Asian synthesis specifies that it is about “providing pastoral care” for the divorced, the remarried, single parents, broken families, the disabled, prisoners, people who identify as LGBTQIA+, addicts, sex workers, people struggling with their sexual identity as well as all the marginalised and hurting.

It is also necessary to “take specific and bold decisions regarding the role of women in the Church and their greater involvement at all levels, including in decision-making processes” (Europe). They constitute not only the majority of the faithful, but also the “core of the Church”, therefore, without recognizing their talents and charismas, there will be no synodality (Africa). And the document from Oceania notes that very often young Churches already live in synodality and can pass on a valuable lesson to more established Churches, both about synodality and about maintaining the freshness of the Gospel-like encounter with local cultures and societies.
The “German Synodal Way” raises many concerns. Photo shows German bishops' traditional autumn meeting in Fulda in 2022. Photo by SASCHA STEINBACH/EPA/PAP.
Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, in turn, in an interview for the CIA, draws attention to many problems that accompany discussions related to the current synodal process, including: with an incorrect understanding of power in the Church, the issue of the diaconate for women or what the Church’s attitude towards LGBT+ people should be.

What is this way about?

– These two years have brought so much that various opinions about the Church have been heard, which does not mean that the voice of the Holy Spirit has been listened to. The sum of the opinions obtained in this way does not guarantee that the majority – as it were a parliamentary one – is the voice of the Holy Spirit. It happened in history that one holy man in the Church was the voice of the Holy Spirit, while the voice of thousands was not at all. With such a wide response that has been collected, there are sensible and harmful proposals. The question is, therefore, how to distinguish one from the other and how to discern that something is good for the Church and something is not – says Archbishop Gądecki.

– I was amazed to see how diverse the image of the Church that emerged from the previous stages of the synod's work was. For some regions of the world, the problem is poverty, even hunger, wars and a huge scale of social injustice. Elsewhere, cultural proposals contrary to Christian tradition or a crisis of family and marriage. Perhaps the most difficult situation is in Europe, where the Church is highly polarized and there are deep tensions. This was particularly noticeable at the continental meeting of the synod in Prague, the hierarch emphasizes.

It was in Prague that the term “inclusiveness” appeared and “hit” with great force, to which not only Archbishop Gądecki reacted with restraint and inquisitiveness. – This is a kind of pickaxe, because in fact the word “inclusion” has completely different meanings – explains Archbishop Gądecki. – And although this word appears in preparatory documents for the synod, as well as in the mouth of Pope Francis himself, no one has defined it precisely. In a positive sense, the term “inclusion” can be understood as the attitude of including and welcoming marginalized people into the Church community, which is an expression of mercy. This was the attitude of the Lord Jesus. But inclusion can also mean Holy Communion for divorcees, people living in new relationships, or LGBT+ people, in the spirit of new, fashionable left-liberal ideologies. It is also said, for example, that people living in polygamous relationships feel excluded. However, we must distinguish between accepting a person and accepting sin, explains Archbishop Gadecki. – “Embracing” sin cannot be what the Church is interested in. What is more, the blessing of homosexual unions, as demanded by the LGBT+ community, cannot be allowed. Marriage exists only between a man and a woman and there is no other way, he concludes.

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German Catholics have made the greatest leap forward in this kind of demand, transforming their deliberations into a “German Synodal Way” and demanding its institutionalisation and the creation of a structure parallel to the episcopate, in which they have the support of some of their bishops. For this reason, Archbishop Gądecki wrote a letter in March to his German counterpart, the president of the German Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Georg Bätzing, in which he presented his concerns about this proposal and arguments for abandoning it.

Also now, a few days before the beginning of the synod, Archbishop Gądecki, in an interview for the weekly addressed to German Catholics “Die Tagespost”, emphasised the relevance of the letter he sent in February to the chairman of the German Episcopal Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing. “It seems that we are dealing with the greatest crisis of the Church in Germany since the Reformation”, he said, not hiding the view that there is a great danger that a misunderstood reform of Christianity will again lead to a division of the Church that will spread to neighbouring countries.

Roma locuta, causa finita

After the Prague meeting, the German Archbishop Bätzing, mentioned several times, said that he would be happy “if at the level of the universal Church it was allowed that in some local Churches things are possible that are not or are not yet relevant in other parts”. These words were immediately interpreted, in many places and on many levels, as an unambiguous suggestion that the German Synodal Way – with its main demands, i.e. women’s priesthood, same-sex “marriages” and the deconstruction of episcopal authority – should be allowed by Vatican decision where the local Church wants this, even if it is not possible in other parts of the world.

The first to question this was German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. – The texts of the “German Synodal Way” are an expression of the “dictatorship of mediocrity” – he told CNA Deutsch in March and emphasized that “these demands are incompatible with the Catholic faith”. He was immediately called a die-hard conservative, and who knows, maybe he is now more willing to come to Poland than to his own country.

In turn, Archbishop Gądecki said in a recent interview for the CIA: – I believe that thinking such as: let’s bless sin as long as these people remain in the Church, is an expression of a certain sense of defeat. We no longer believe that anyone can take the Church’s teachings or its moral requirements seriously. The Church has been carrying out its mission for 2,000 years and cannot renounce it.
The “German Synodal Way” was criticized in the Spanish media by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, until recently Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Bishops. He accused that its method consists in equating the opinions of lay people with the opinions of bishops in democratically made decisions, which, after all, does not correspond to Catholic teaching about the Church”.

– There is a fashion in various circles to listen to those who do not go to Church and are not associated with the Church, but for some reason would like to change the Church – we can add the opinion of Archbishop Gądecki.

The president of the US Episcopate, Bishop Timothy Broglio said in a statement for Die Tagespost, that the synodal process is too often used to air grievances or to push one’s own agenda. He recalled that the Church has always been guided by the principle: Roma locuta, causa finita (Rome has spoken, the discussion is over). Orthodox Catholics – including German ones – should therefore follow the teachings of the Bishop of Rome and not be influenced by local authorities, which the Pope opposed. The splendor of truth (veritatis splendour) must be preserved and German Catholics must be attracted by it. Anyone who decides otherwise puts themselves outside the Church, said the American bishop.

So what can we expect from the debates in Rome? Certainly not that we will be able to follow them on an on-going basis. The Pope has decided that journalists, including those from the licensed Catholic media, will not be allowed to attend and report live on the proceedings. They will have to rely on messages from “announcers” who will make decisions at their own discretion.

Archbishop Gądecki, when asked about what the representatives of the Polish Church are going to the synod with, says directly: - Our postulate is: discover the heritage of the Second Vatican Council!

Yes, but this can also be understood in different ways! Meanwhile, the point is to ensure that the embodiment and development of the council’s teachings are not subject to distortions. Father Professor Jarosław Kupczak reminds that “during Vatican II, most bishops came from Europe and this was a testimony to two thousand years of Catholicism, the center of which was Europe. Not everyone has realised that Europe is now becoming the most de-Christianised continent in the world and the primacy of European thought in the Church has come to an end.

Archbishop Gądecki hopes that “the fruit of discernment will be the adoption as final conclusions only of what is the unanimous opinion of all”. This is an extremely important statement, definitely worth remembering when following news from the Vatican: only what emerges as the unanimous opinion of all. – I trust that Pope Francis means the same thing – emphasises Archbishop Gądecki.

Many times, already after the meeting in Prague, Archbishop Gądecki reminded us in personal statements and in interviews that we can talk and talk, discuss and postulate. But the decisions are ultimately made by the Pope, which will be reflected in his post-synodal exhortation. The distrustful, the doubtful, and the suspicious say that this is what they fear.

A few days before flying to Rome, the archbishop expressed his fear that just as the previous synod – the one on the family, which was summarized in the exhortation Amoris laetitia – pushed for Holy Communion for people living in non-sacramental relationships, this synod will push it through – he used this phrase – the LGBT issue. Let me remind you that it was Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki who sharply opposed the agenda being pushed at the previous synod, which had a significant impact on the synodal discussion. So he knows what he is afraid of. – God willing, this will develop well – he sighed at the end.

In order to remind the faithful of the Synod, the Church in Poland has prepared a very interesting one-off Synod edition for next Sunday, which is to be distributed in all parishes. Will it be?

He also prepared, with the help of the CIA and the Institute of the Heritage of National Thought (Instytut Dziedzictwa i Myśli Narodowej – IDMN), the “Church in Poland 2023” report, presented on September 26 – a report on apostolic potential, charitable and social work and that secularization is progressing in Poland. And about history, which clearly shows that the Church in Poland has always supported the independence aspirations of Poles. It is also some equipment for the Synod of Bishops.

– Barbara Sułek-Kowalska

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki
Main photo: The Pope has decided that journalists will not be allowed to attend the synod sessions. Photo by Eric Vandeville/ABACAPRESS.COM Provider: PAP/Abaca
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