Collegiality and Synodality at Sex Abuse Summit

News: World News
 •  •  February 22, 2019   

Cardinals Oswald Gracias and Blase Cupich aim for collegial Church

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By Martin Bürger

The morning sessions of the second day of the meeting on The Protection of Minors in the Church can be summarized by the buzzwords collegiality and synodality. The day started out with a presentation by Cdl. Oswald Gracias on Friday morning, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

The archbishop of Bombay, India spoke about "Accountability in a Collegial and Synodal Church." According to the prepared text of his speech distributed by the Holy See Press Office, it was "the importance and universal scope" of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that led Pope Francis "to summon us to this meeting, underscoring his commitment and the Church's commitment to addressing this crisis."

However, as Cdls. Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Burke, among other members of the hierarchy and many lay faithful, have pointed out, the root of the problem — homosexuality among the clergy — is not set to be discussed at the summit in Rome.

In rather vague terms, Cdl. Gracias tried to show how synodality offers a way to address sexual abuse. He said, "Because we belong to the college of bishops in union with the Holy Father, we all share accountability and responsibility."

Critics might note that such remarks are unfair to bishops who have taken steps to ensure sex abuse doesn't happen in their dioceses, or is being properly addressed. Such bishops should not be held accountable for the laxity or negligence of other bishops, some would claim.

The archbishop of Bombay, who also serves on the Council of Cardinal Advisers, told his fellow bishops, "Practically, this means that as we address the scourge of sexual abuse together, that is, collegially, we must do so with a singular and unified vision as well as with the flexibility and adaptiveness that stems from the diversity of people and situations in our universal care."

While this might be a good principle, some might claim it isn't practical advice. The statement raises the question of how to address individual cases collegially, given that the diversity of situations is to be respected. Sadly, the Indian prelate doesn't address this question.

As a way to foster collegiality and synodality, Cdl. Gracias called on his brother bishops to practice fraternal correction, as well as admit mistakes and ask for help. While the bishops only have to obey the Pope, explained the cardinal, it's also important to accept the input from other bishops. In the end, "Collegiality can only be lived and practiced on the basis of communication."

The cardinal concluded his talk by reflecting on three themes, the first of which was justice: "Although sexual abuse is many things, such as a breach of trust and a betrayal of confidence, it is at root an act of grave injustice."

While failing to mention the lack of temperance that comes with all sins of the flesh, Cdl. Gracias rightly emphasizes the importance of the civil law to serve justice.

Again, collegiality seems to be more of an afterthought.

Only in a network of strong relationships among the bishops and the local Churches working together can the Church navigate the turbulent waters of Church-state conflict and, at the same time, appropriately address the crime of sexual abuse. There is a double need that only collegiality can address: the need for shared wisdom and the need for supportive encouragement.

If all there is to collegiality is better communication among bishops, why was there a need to dedicate a whole talk to the topic of synodality?

The second of the three themes reflected on by the cardinal is healing which "must reach out to the victims of abuse," as well as "to others who are affected including the communities whose trust was betrayed or severely tested." The "collegial Church" should acknowledge the pain and hurt of abuse victims, offer them healing, implement measures to protect people from future abuse and develop resources "which can be of great service to a larger world," explained the archbishop.

Finally, Cdl. Gracias emphasized the notion of pilgrimage.

"To be the pilgrim people of God does not simply mean that we have a certain unfinished status, although that is indeed the case. To be the pilgrim people of God means that we are a community that is called to continuous repentance and continuous discernment." The cardinal encouraged, "We must repent — and do so together, collegially — because along the way we have failed." How exactly to repent collegially is not discussed.

The presentation by Cdl. Blase Cupich was eagerly awaited by Catholics in the United States, not only because he is the only speaker from this country at the conference in Rome, but also because there are many problems with his positions, for instance regarding homosexuality in the clergy. Church Militant has reported extensively on Cdl. Cupich and his statements. While lacking any profound insights, the talk didn't turn out to be a disaster, as some other statements of the cardinal had led many people to expect.

The archbishop of Chicago focused his talk on "Synodality: Jointly Responsible." Synodality, he explained, "represents the participation of all the baptized at every level — in parishes, dioceses, national and regional ecclesial bodies — in a discernment and reform that penetrates throughout the Church."

Cardinal Cupich offered four commonplace "orientations, rooted in synodality," in order to shape "structural, legal, and institutional reform" regarding sexual abuse by clergy. As a first step, radical listening is the key, "The Church as a loving mother must continually open herself to the heartbreaking reality of children whose wounds will never heal."

Secondly, the cardinal pointed to lay witness, which he qualified as "an ongoing and grace-filled testimony of faith and action that is essential for the pilgrim people of God to fulfill its salvific mission at this moment in history." Lay participation is also necessary in "every effort to identify and construct structures of accountability for the prevention of clergy sexual abuse."

The Church as a loving mother must continually open herself to the heartbreaking reality of children whose wounds will never heal.

As a third step, "An approach that is synodal and collegial is marked by the reciprocal exchange of mutual knowledge, in the Roman Curia, episcopal conferences and metropolitans and among each of them for the purpose of discernment." This had already been discussed by Cdl. Gracias earlier that morning.

Finally, Cdl. Cupich emphasized accountability, which includes accompaniment of the victims. The archbishop of Chicago pointed to justice as well, saying, "Such structures of accountability must also be just and sure, producing sanctions to protect the vulnerable when the accused is guilty, and declarations of innocence when the accused is blameless."

In a second part of his talk, Cdl. Cupich tried to provide a framework regarding institutional and legal structures for accountability. However, since reasonable procedures are generally already in place, although not always successfully executed, Cupich focused only on some guidelines for "procedures in cases which for 'grave reasons' could justify the removal from office of a bishop, eparch or religious superior."


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