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By Father John Walsh

A two-year worldwide consultation of Catholics came to a temporary halt a year ago and to a complete stop a month ago. Two Synods of Bishops dealt with the results of the surveys and in both Synods the bishops and cardinals voted on a number of issues and gained a required 2/3rds majority on some and failed on others. The transparency of the synodal process was evident in the publication of all votes, the yeas and the nays, and the percentage of each. The bishop of Rome, as Pope Francis refers to himself, is first among equals, and yet, he reminds the entire People of God that the Governance of the church is in the College of bishops. A synod of bishops gathers a representation of the college to express the concerns of the college on behalf of the people. All leadership in the church is a leadership of service.

The Second Vatican Council was called by Pope John XXIIId and gathered all the bishops of the world in a pastoral council concerned primarily to update how the church expresses her teaching so that the people truly understand the meaning of what is meant behind the words of the teaching. This the meaning of aggiornamento.” The words may not change but the meaning of the words can change dramatically to allow for a contemporary appreciation of the truths, which as Saint Pope John XXIIIrd said in his opening address: “The Council is intended to assert once again the Magisterium (teaching authority), which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this Magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all people throughout the world.” John XXIIIrd also set the scene when he added that “in the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. They behave as though at the time of former Councils everything was a full triumph for the Christian idea and life and for proper religious liberty. We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand. In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men's own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfilment of God's superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.” The style of the address was totally new to the church and is developed further when Francis asked the bishops at both synods to speak with parrhesia, boldly and without worry of the reactions of others, and also to listen with humility.

A pluralism of views at the Synod surfaced on divorce-remarriage-reception of communion, homosexuality and same-sex marriages. The resultant ambiguity is to be seen, not as a curse, but as a blessing. To live with ambiguity is to resist the world in which absolutes rule peoples’ judgements and result in the atrocities we have experienced in Auschwitz, in Armenia, in Rwanda, in Syria and in Iraq. The paradoxes at the synod also allow the people of God to question both sides of the arguments provided and not to be satisfied with any elite determination of the certainty of truth. Ambiguities and paradoxes abounded, and yet, they set the foundation for a community that resists absolutism and truth determined for all by a few.

The same-old … same-old is an attitude that defends the status quo and allows for the proliferation of injustices and neglect of the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the poor, and the homeless. Francis desires a church of the poor for the poor and prefers a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. He does not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. He also dreams of a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church's customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today's world, rather than for her self-preservation."

Francis is now responsible for the writing of an exhortation or pastoral reflection on the Family already having decentralized the church by encouraging a speedier process for annulments and offering the formation of conscience in the “internal forum” with the guidance of the local community. Ambiguity, paradoxes and pluralism are true blessings for today’s People of God.

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