My mistake and my apology; Brother Alois as the model for a renewed church; Sometimes it is hard to listen

A colleague contacted me to tell me that I may have misunderstood the exchange between Cardinal Bruno Forte and Greg Burke regarding a two part question on Humanae Vitae that I wrote about last week.  I asked that person to go back and check the original exchange in Italian which I heard through a simultaneous translation.

Today, I learned that I was wrong about the sequence and thus, I was wrong about Greg Burke’s professionalism. In that, I maligned my brother’s reputation.  It appears that the veil of objectivity that I originally suggested had slipped was mine, and not his.

For this I apologize and as we say when entering into the sacrament of reconciliation, I am sincerely and heartily sorry.

And now the politics

John Allen writes a superb column on what’s at stake in the synod process and why the process is contentious. An excerpt of his article is below.

According to Allen

Crux learned that a preliminary version of that final document has been prepared and given to members of a drafting committee. selected last week, with five members elected by the synod, two sitting on the body ex ufficio, and three appointed by the pope. Though it’s not clear who wrote the preliminary version, it was presented to the drafting committee by the synod office headed by Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri.

To understand why they matter, both developments require a bit of explanation.

First of all, talk of “rigging” of the process probably has been a little overheated from the beginning. As Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles pointed out in a Rome event Oct. 4 sponsored by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, every meeting is at least a little “rigged,” in the sense that organizers wouldn’t call it without some basic sense of desired results.

That said, Church conservatives often can’t help but suspect that the deck is stacked against them, and it didn’t help this time that Pope Francis introduced a new set of rules, one element of which is that the synod will no longer end with a series of recommendations which usually lay the basis for an eventual apostolic exhortation.

This time, the synod will produce an integrated final document that will be presented to the pope. If he gives it his approval, then it would become part of the Church’s ordinary magisterium, meaning the routine exercise of its teaching authority.

That new codicil, naturally, raises the stakes a bit in terms of the importance of the document, and bishops participating in this synod want to be sure that the final version genuinely reflects their input. If there had just been one sweeping vote at the end, it would have been much harder to flag which parts of the text were troublesome; now, with paragraph-by-paragraph tallies, it should be easier to know where consensus does and doesn’t exist.

Some observers had floated the possibility that if the only option was an all-or-nothing vote on the final text, some pocket of bishops might actually refuse to sign the final text, in an effort to demonstrate that it wasn’t really the product of genuine consensus.

Of course, ultimately all the synod can do is advise the pope, and it remains up to him what to do on the basis of the advice. In theory, even if a given paragraph doesn’t obtain a two-thirds majority to be part of the text, the pope could decide to revive it; and even if a paragraph does cross the threshold, a pope could still nix it.

Under these rules, however, at least bishops won’t be able to say they didn’t have the opportunity to make it clear where both their support and their concerns reside.

On the other hand, it may not do much among those already inclined to skepticism to hear that rather than waiting for the drafting committee to do its work, the synod office prepared its own working text to put before the group. To some, that’s likely going to sound like an exercise in stacking the deck, essentially confronting the committee with a fait accompli.

In all fairness, one could make the argument that the idea of ten exhausted and frazzled prelates drafting not just a set of recommendations but an entire, cohesive teaching document in just three weeks, ex nihilio, was a fantasy. They need something to start with, and theoretically it makes as much sense for the synod office to provide that base text as anyone else.

As one synod participant put it on Monday, “The thought that somehow [a few] selected people would sit down, craft and write many pages of material … a whole document … is not exactly realistic.”

Further, the great likelihood is that most of the material in the preliminary version of the document is drawn from either the instrumentum laboris, the working document for the synod, or from the early round of discussion inside the assembly.

In other words, there doesn’t have to be anything especially nefarious about it.

The problem is that however logical that explanation may be, it wasn’t made public before the fact. Certainly, synod officials understand by now that there’s a certain constituency, including a bloc of bishops, inclined to see the entire exercise through a hermeneutic of suspicion, and the idea that a pre-fabricated text was waiting for the drafting committee immediately after the body was assembled is unlikely to help.

Brother Alois as a model for a renewed church

Today, the panelists who briefed us included fraternal delegate Pastor Marco Fornerone of World Communion of Reformed Churches, Brother Alois, Prior of the Taize Community, Fr. Mauro Giorgio Giuseppe Lepori, O. Cist., and Archbishop David Bartimej Tencer, O.F.M. Cap. of Iceland.

Archbishop Tencer from Iceland held our attention as he talked about the obstacles of distance and climate he overcomes in order to form community there.  In that, the digital world has created new opportunities for community and for education.  So instead of cursing the abuses of the internet, he suggested that the Church make full use of the opportunities presented for strengthening community, especially among young Catholics.

Two other exchanges that point to the gifts that ecumenism offers the Catholic Church stood out.

Fraternal delegate Pastor Marco Fornerone of the World Communion of Reformed Churches explained that within his tradition, the process for developing a consensus on pastoral practices is inclusive and fully representative of all members.  As such, there are more lay persons involved than ministers.

And he brings that experience to the synod where he explained that his intervention on the floor and his suggestions in his small group are treated with the same deference given to each and every person in the group.

And while we long for a synod process that is fully representative of the entire People of God, it is also important to remember the step Pope Francis took in 2015 that revolutionized the synod process.

Instead of an endless stream of interventions in the aula that had been the norm under previous popes, Pope Francis restructured the synod creating a space for authentic dialogue and exchange in small language groups.  And while these exchanges have been revolutionary in and of themselves, it is also important to understand the impact it has on the final document to flows from the synod.

While the role of auditors is limited in that they cannot vote on each paragraph of the final document, nonetheless, their influence regarding what goes into the final document has absolutely been strengthened with Pope Francis’ reform.

In that context, it was heartening to hear that the wisdom and experience of another tradition and the way they have learned to build a structure around what they value is being heard within the synod.

Brother Alois of Taize

If there has been one voice at the synod that serves as a model for how to be church together and how to walk humbly and together with our younger sisters and brothers, it is Brother Alois.

His radiant love filled the room — a love  that can only come from knowing and deeply trusting God  and the God within each person he meets.

I’ll take a triple scoop of that, please.

When asked what the bishops might learn from the way the people of the Taize community meet those who arrive at their doorstep, he suggested that each parish should be a place of sharing of our spiritual lives, but also material sharing.

He said, “When the young see there is an authentically loving community, they are naturally attracted to it.”

He also said that we don’t pray for young people, but that we pray with them, walk with them and learn together with them.

And finally, and most importantly, he said that we must let them be free — free to choose what they can embrace and what they cannot in the life of love that is offered.

Somedays, God delivers an infusion of grace directly to the heart.

Today, that happened for me.

As I sat in the press room, I couldn’t stop the flow of tears that streamed down my cheeks as I thought about what I and all my/our children could learn from a man and a community such as this.

This is the profound love that changes the world.

I included Brother Alois’ intervention at the synod below.  It is also on the Taize website.

Responding to the spiritual thirst of the young and to their search for communion

Articles 68 and 69 of the Instrumentum Laboris express the desire for a “more relational” Church, capable of “welcoming without judging in advance”, a “close and friendly” Church.

My brothers and I are often surprised to hear young people we welcome in Taizé say that they feel “at home” there, and we wonder why. It may be that, to be truly themselves, they need to feel useful, to see their creativity encouraged, to receive responsibilities.

Then their spiritual thirst awakens and it is important to go patiently, together with them, to the sources of faith. They know that they are welcomed by a community, first in the common prayer where all participate actively, by singing, listening to a brief biblical reading, a long moment of silence. And often they deepen a personal relationship with Christ.

We make sure that the liturgical signs avoid formalism, but are beautiful and simple. For example, we see how deeply young people participate, every Friday night, in a prayer around the cross, to lay down before Christ what is too heavy for them.

We say to ourselves: like Christ, let us listen to them with our hearts, reminding ourselves that he is already at work in their lives – and let us respect the sanctuary of their conscience. Those who listen must be accompanied themselves. There is a lack of accompaniers in the Church: could a ministry of listening be entrusted not only to priests, men and women religious, but also to lay people, men and women?

In Taizé, young people also discover that the Church is communion. Without creating an organized movement, we always send the young people back to their parishes and the places where they live. So many of them like to pray together with others of different faiths. They understand, if only implicitly, the call of Christ to be reconciled without delay.

We have recently experienced such a communion at an Asian young adult meeting in Hong Kong, a stage in our pilgrimage of trust. Of the young participants, 700 came from mainland China – it was the joy of the Holy Spirit.

I would now like to make a concrete proposal. Often, the words used and the manner of speaking are obstacles that prevent many young people from hearing what the Church says. Could not the final document be accompanied by a short letter, written in a simple style, addressed to a young person looking for meaning in his or her life?

I would like to summarize what I just said with a few words from Brother Roger, the founder of our community:

“When the Church listens, heals, reconciles, she becomes what she is at her most luminous, a communion of love, of compassion, of consolation, a clear reflection of the Risen Christ. Never distant, never on the defensive, freed from all harshness, she can radiate the humble trusting of faith into our human hearts.”

Like I said, I’ll take a triple scoop of that.

Sometimes it is hard to listen

Tonight the BBC produced a show with a panel of five young Catholics talking about their faith and their experience in the Church along with comments and discussion with members of the audience.

Nuala McGovern was the host and the participants came from a variety of regions such as Samoa, Nigeria, the United States, and Italy.  Some of the panelists are also auditors at the synod.

First of all, I thought Nuala was brilliant as the host.  She really understood the lay of the Catholic land.

Also, the questions and responses were quite lively and free flowing.  It seemed that everyone had a chance to speak their mind.

Still, I wish the BBC had be able to achieve more balance in the panelists they chose.

Four of the panelists appeared to espouse varying degrees of what I would assess as a Pope John Paul II view of Catholicism complete with a strong defense of complementarity, the Catholic Church’s “separate, but equal” framework.

Just one, a young self-identified lesbian Catholic from Rome, spoke of her love for the Catholic Church despite the discrimination she faced.  Although her family was very supportive, she spoke of the Church as a Mother and how painful it was to feel rejection because of her identity.

Ultimately, she feels the church is changing on this issue and will grow into a more welcoming place for LGBT sisters and brothers.

As I walked back home, I pondered Brother Alois’ words as I reflected on what had been said.

It is difficult to listen to those who are convinced that women and men should be take up certain roles in accordance with their God-given biological sex and all the assumed advantages attached to each sex.  I thought of the suffering of the women, including some women religious, who know they are called to the priesthood and to other ministries that are simply not available to them within our church.  And I thought the social assignment of certain characteristics based on sex and how that has been turned on its head in so many ways.  Most close to my own heart is the way my sons-in-law exhibit what would at one time been thought of as maternal tenderness toward their children, as well as, vulnerability and a deep respect rooted in a firm sense of equality with my daughters that was practically absent in many men of my parent’s and grandparent’s generation.

It was hard to hear them say that women should not be priests because Jesus chose 12 male apostles.  The lack of exposure to biblical criticism or to our long history of interpretation of the tradition as part of our life in God’s Spirit was manifest.

It was troublesome to hear them say that having women priests would just add to clericalism, a logic that most would probably never apply to any other sector.  And when it has, such as in the days when many thought women were too delicate to be involved in politics, it simply exposed a sexist impulse to keep women out.

It was painful to hear them  brush aside the stories of deep human pain in the inability to conceive children and simply reaffirm the church’s teaching on in vitro fertilization.  I thought about one of my daughter’s friends who felt crushed by those in her community who simply repeated church teaching without ever understanding her suffering.

As I tried to imagine what Brother Alois would think and say given his deep ability for embracing all, I recognized that I share a passion for justice and a love for the church with these young people and that this forum was not a place where we might all go deeper or share our own evolving spiritualities and come to a better understanding of each other.

Still, I wished Brother Alois could have been sitting center stage, offering his understanding of God’s radical and “foolish” love in a world where law trumps generosity and rules are used to divide.

Deborah Rose-Milavec

Reporting from Rome