The working document for the synod has some striking omissions. The
working document for October’s international synod of bishops is now
being circulated. The text, titled The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World, runs to 120 pages and has 229
footnotes. Significantly, the pope’s groundbreaking encyclical on
Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One, 1995), is
cited only once. The papal letter opening the third millennium
celebrations is quoted once. The letter closing the jubilee year and
opening the third millennium itself, Tertio Millennio Ineunte, is
never quoted. This is worthy of note because the recent consistory of the
world’s cardinals centered around this last document, which is both
forward-looking and challenging.
The working document is not an agenda. It does not set the parameters
for discussion at the synod. Its purpose is to give some indication of
topics that bishops from around the world would like to see raised.
In 1974 I was appointed by Pope Paul VI to the synod on evangelization.
My appointment did not come until mid July, after all the meetings of the
U.S. representatives had taken place. I asked Cardinal John Dearden what I
could do to prepare for the synod. He responded that I might read some
articles, but that in reality there was no way to prepare, since when the
bishops of the world come together in Rome a new chemistry would begin to
work and the direction of things could be quite different. In any case, a
working document should not be taken as a sure predictor of what direction
a synod will take.
My observations on the document are both positive and negative.
On the positive side, the document, from beginning to end, is emphatically
based on hope. Hope is mentioned 27 times alone in the first nine pages.
The documents of the Second Vatican Council are quoted as stating the
paramount principle that the bishop, “beyond all concerns and
difficulties ...must have hope, before all else.” The centrality of the
Bible for ecclesial life and for the personal spiritual growth and depth
of the bishop is underlined. This teaching of the council needs continuing
and constant emphasis in the whole church.
There is also a call to openness to the world, to active involvement in
addressing its complex problems and an awareness of the emergence of
entirely new problems calling the church to deeper reflection.
The document admits the widespread
“silent, easy abandonment of church practice by a great number of people”
and the decline in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In the
space of this article I cannot cite all the positive and reassuring
factors the document contains, but these may serve as an example that the
document has both realistic and positive features.
One item in this document that may cause some surprise is the provision
that retired bishops can be elected to synods. This is surprising, because
when the episcopal conference of the United States elected me several
years ago to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America, a
fax arrived from Rome the following day stating that the rules for the
synod had been changed and that retired bishops could not be elected. At
the same time, it was known that a retired bishop in Panama had been
invited to the synod as well as a retired bishop in Italy.
There is an astonishing omission in the section of the document that
treats of episcopal conferences. In this section, 11 documents of the pope
or of Roman congregations are cited. But an important section of Lumen
Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s “Dogmatic Constitution on
the Church” (1964),
is never cited. In that document we read (No.
23) that the patriarchates came into
existence by divine providence and that this variety demonstrates with
greater clarity the catholicity of the undivided church. Then it says, “In
a similar way episcopal conferences can today make a manifold and fruitful
contribution to the concrete application of the spirit of collegiality.”
Experts point out that the council is using here an analogy of
proportionality between conferences and the patriarchates. Conferences are
not in every respect identical with the patriarchates, but they do have
some qualities of collegiality in common. This is an important statement
in a document about a general council of the church, and its omission in
the working document would seem to be deliberate.
Bishops around the world are dissatisfied with the treatment by Roman
congregations of episcopal conferences.
This statement is not based on mere hearsay. The bishops themselves in the
continental synods (for Africa, Asia and others) have explicitly brought
up the subject. Most recently, at the consistory of cardinals in May,
Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider of Brazil was reported in The New York
Times as saying, “The decisions of Vatican Council II are not being
applied, and we all suffer...from a distant bureaucracy that is
increasingly deaf.” And Cardinal Walter Kasper, a distinguished
theologian and now a member of the Roman Curia, said while he was still a
diocesan bishop that the right balance between the Curia and the local
dioceses “has been destroyed.” And he added, “This is not only my
own perception; it is the experience and complaint of many bishops from
all over the world” (Am., 4/23).
Like the omission of Lumen Gentium in treating conferences, the
fact that Ut Unum Sint is cited only once in treating ecumenism is
a notable omission. There is hardly anything that more directly affects
ecumenical progress, as well as the ministry of the bishops, than the way
the papal primacy is exercised. The
pope himself in that encyclical invited the bishops of the world to
dialogue with him about the exercise of the primacy. But there is not a
word about this in the working document. The encyclical states that “it
is absolutely clear that ecumenism ...is not just some sort of ‘appendix’
which is added to the church’s traditional activity. Rather, ecumenism
is an organic part of her life and work, and consequently must pervade all
that she is and does.” This means that, among many other things that
must be considered, certainly the larger context of the bishop’s
ministry in its relationship to the pope and to the Roman Curia are major
issues for ecumenism. It is abundantly and repeatedly evident that this is
a neuralgic point for the Orthodox. Is it possible to envision a synod on
the ministry of the bishop and omit such topics?
From beginning to end, the
document points out the manifold duties and responsibilities of the
bishop. But it does not give sufficient emphasis to the fact that no
single human being could personally deal with all these things. It
does mention the need for communion with priests, religious and lay people
and for structures such as pastoral councils and priests’ councils. But
it would be important to make more explicit the fact that there is a human
dimension to the bishop that requires leisure, friendship, diversion and
rest as well as study and prayer and consultation. Also, the importance of
delegation cannot be overestimated. Many bishops are workaholics and find
it difficult to delegate. This can result in a sort of spiritual machismo
which means that the bishop cannot take a day off, that he is always at
work, that he must know everything and that every decision must come to
A great deal of work went into the preparation of the synod document.
But from my point of view, it would have been more effective and in
keeping with the thinking of bishops all over the world if the working
document had included Sections 44 and 45 of Tertio Millennio Adveniente,
in which the pope calls for renewed attention to the Petrine ministry and
to collegiality, to the reform of the Roman Curia and to the importance of
the bishop, listening to the people, in other words, to the importance of
responsible public opinion in the church. These issues are on the minds of
large numbers of bishops. Judging from recent papal documents such as Ut
Unum Sint and Tertio Millennio Ineunte, these issues are also
on the mind of the pope. Should they not feature prominently in a synod on
the ministry and life of the bishop in the church?
—JOHN R. QUINN
is the retired archbishop of San Francisco. Reprinted with permission of
America Press, Inc. © 2001, All Rights Reserved. For subscription
information, call 1-800-627-9533 or visit www.americapress.org.
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