Rome Newsroom, May 25, 2023 / 12:45 pm (CNA).
Cardinal Mario Grech, who serves as secretary general of the global Synod on Synodality, says the ongoing process underway in the Church risks missing “a moment of grace” if it focuses on polarizing issues raised during listening sessions, including same-sex marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination.
In a sit-down interview with EWTN News, the Maltese prelate says that while he believes “a synodal Church is a more spiritual Church,” it is important to remember that the Church “is not a democracy.” He also addresses the involvement of lay men and women and other “non-bishops” in the synod’s assembly of bishops in October, and he draws a distinction between the worldwide synodal process and Germany’s Synodal Path, observing that the latter has “sent negative vibes” throughout the global Church.
The interview below has been edited for clarity.
Your Eminence, you are responsible for organizing the synod’s assembly of bishops in October. A synod is not unusual, but this is a Synod on Synodality. Why does the Church, in your view, need a Synod on Synodality?
These are two different words, synod and synodality. There can be synodality without a synod. But there is no synod without synodality.
I’m not playing with words. It can happen that we have a synodal assembly without the spirit of synodality. We can and we need to become a more synodal Church, even without having a synod.
Synods are an important moment in the life of the Church. In the past, the synod was a moment where only bishops were engaged. Pope Francis has introduced a new dimension of this experience that involves all the people of God.
Everyone is being invited to reflect, to pray, and contribute to help us become more of a Church. After all, if we are talking about synodality, we are talking about the Church itself.
Can you describe in a nutshell what it would look like for the Church to become more synodal?
In simple terms, a synodal Church is a more spiritual Church. There is a temptation that we transform the Church into an NGO [nongovernmental organization], as the Holy Father underlines. The Church is the body of Christ and the anima (soul) of this Church is the Holy Spirit.
A synodal Church is an invitation to the people of God to receive the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the main player in this synodal process. The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of this process.
To me, an invitation to a synodal Church is an invitation to give more space to the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, a key word in this simple process is discernment: How can we discern what the Holy Spirit is communicating to the Church today?
One of the methods that really was effective in the continental assemblies is what we call the conversation in the spirit: spiritual conversation or synodal conversation.
When we meet to discuss and listen in sessions, they are not purely human sessions. We have to invoke the Holy Spirit, we have to listen to the Word of God. Otherwise, the Church would be my project, our project, but the Church is not ours. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ.
Can you explain why non-bishops are now being invited to participate in the synod assembly taking place this October in Rome?
The synod is an assembly for bishops and it will remain an episcopal assembly. The nature of the assembly is not going to change. But the Holy Father decided, through listening to the people of God, to also invite non-bishops to the synod.
By non-bishops we mean not only laypeople but [also] priests, deacons, consecrated people, religious, and permanent deacons. The total number of non-bishops is less than 25%.
Why this percentage? We do not want to change the nature of the assembly. The synod is an assembly of bishops. The presence of other members of the people of God gives expression to the whole people of God, but their presence there is also a presence to guarantee that the process is being respected by the bishops participating in their synodal assembly.
The people of God that participated from the very start of this process are now also taking part in the final stage of the process. Their presence is there. Bishops are there because they are the shepherds, and there is no flock without a shepherd. And there are no shepherds without a flock.
The reflection on the synodal Church brought up hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, abortion, and women’s ordination. How should the Synod on Synodality help address these issues?
During the first phase of consultation or listening phase, various issues were raised, as you are underlining. It was the first time that people were given this opportunity to speak out on these issues. The Church was listening to their needs. And I’m not surprised that certain hot-button issues now came to the fore. But at one point, me and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the general relator for this synod, sent a letter to all bishops, highlighting the fact that the theme of this particular synod is for the synodal Church.
Other issues will not be discarded. We will put them on the back burner, as they are not issues that should be tackled by this particular synodal assembly. If we enter into those issues at this particular moment, we will miss a golden opportunity, a moment of grace, a reflection on how we can really help the Church to become more synodal and create those spaces where all the members of the people of God, under the leadership and the guidance of their pastors, can really contribute to evangelization.
So, this should be clear. We tried to make it clear. Again, it’s not that we are putting away certain issues raised by the people of God. These issues need to be addressed. But I believe, and this is my personal belief, that once we become more synodal, the theologians become more synodal, then we will be in a better position to explain the Gospel to the people of God, and also address certain issues.
At a press conference when asked if you were worried that some agendas will hijack the synod, you said that the only one who could hijack the synod is the Holy Spirit.
I really believe that this moment of grace will help us to become more spiritual, because the winds of the world can also blow in the Church and we have to pay attention. We don’t have an agenda. The agenda is already set, set in the Gospel, set by Jesus Christ. We have to do our reflection and listen to the Word of God, in the light of tradition, in the light of the magisterium.
We are not starting a fresh page today, as if nothing has happened in the past. There’s a continuity. But in order to engage in this spiritual conversation, in this spiritual conversion, because it entails a conversion, we need to make more time for prayer, to be able to kneel down in the presence of the Lord.
The synod is consultative in nature. Having consulted with so many people from around the world, bringing in bishops, and also non-bishops, do you think the synod should become more of a legal body of the Church by making its votes binding?
It’s not up to me to pronounce myself on this issue. And I’m being sincere. I would like the synodal assembly to say something about this. But the nature of a synodal assembly, as you’re saying, is consultative, because ultimately it is the Holy Father’s decision. When Paul VI instituted the synod, the aim was to help the Holy Father, to consult with the Holy Father.
I think there is decision-taking and decision-making. Listening to all the people of God, especially the bishops convened at the synodal assembly, is part of this decision-making, which will enlighten the Holy Father to make his own discernment.
There is this ecclesial discernment going on. I also say, always underlying this, we have the gift of the episcopal ministry in the particular Churches that can guarantee that the people are not going astray in their discernment. And for the whole Church, we have the Holy Father, the Petrine ministry, that really helps and guarantees the whole Church that we are doing God’s will.
There has been criticism concerning the process of the Synod on Synodality. Is there any criticism that worries you that you would like to address?
First of all, I understand those who have doubts or fears or different points of view.
For me, criticism is valuable and it should help us all in our discernment process. Nobody has to be excluded, even if one is critical, or has objections, everyone should be welcome on board. Let us not forget that we are one family. And it takes time until ideas mature, until one really understands what’s going on.
I have my fears as well. For example, those who are opposing the people of God and the hierarchy now, because in this synodal process everyone was allowed to raise his voice, some might think that we are on a way leading to a sort of a democracy. The Church is not a democracy.
The Church is hierarchical, constitutively hierarchical. The ministry of bishops, the Petrine ministry, are a gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. And we need to treasure that.
So if those who are opposing, for example, the crowd, the people of God with the hierarchy, that really hurts me, because we have to walk together, respecting all the charisms and ministries.
Ministries are a gift for the Church. And they can give us assurance that we are walking the right path.
Your task of communicating and explaining the synodal process has not necessarily become easier with a parallel process in Europe that has raised a lot of attention — the German Synodal Path. What is your take on this and how is it seen in the context of the global Synod on Synodality?
Unfortunately, the Synodal Path in Germany sent negative vibes in all the Church. I was in Africa, I was in Bangkok, and I listened to people who were a bit hesitant and worried about what was taking place in Germany.
But I always say, do we really know what is taking place in the Church, in our sister Church in Germany? There are two different synodal experiences.
It is not a synod in Germany. It’s a synodal journey. A synodal way, they call it. Canonically it is neither a diocesan nor a national synod, as far as I know.
They are two different ecclesial experiences. One in Germany is trying to address issues that are recurrent challenges for the Church in Germany. And the other one is for the whole Church. And the themes are absolutely different.
Perhaps the global, universal synod will help us, will guide us to avoid other difficulties in the future in our experience of synodality.
It is true that particular local Churches are very important in the whole frame of ecclesiology. The Church is made up of particular Churches, and this is Vatican II, but no particular Church is autonomous, no particular Church is independent from the other Churches.
And if synodality is an important element in the Church, also the communion among bishops is a value.
I’m talking about collegiality now. The bishops in Australia, to give another example, because they had also a plenary council now, the bishops in Ireland, the bishops in Germany, they have their responsibilities and their challenges. And we have to help our brothers to address the difficulties.
But bishops are not autonomous, bishops form part of a college of bishops, and there are issues that belong to the whole Church that need to be addressed by all the bishops together, together with Peter.
This might give us hope for the experience in Germany. I really have trust in my brother bishops in Germany that they are well-meaning. And I hope they will find the right answer to the issues raised in their synodal experience, and to the issues that the people of God in Germany are putting forth.
Are there demands that the proposals in Germany that have been voted on as well as adopted be added to the agenda of the global synod?
No. They are two different experiences. The synod for the whole Church is about synodality. Now, if there are elements in the German synodal experience that deal with synodality, why not? But not everything that was on board in the synodal way in Germany fits in the synodal experience of the whole Church, because I repeat, they are two different experiences.
Are there synodal elements to the upcoming World Youth Day in Lisbon?
One result from all the continental assemblies was that we realized we need to create more spaces for the young generation. We need to find a new language so we can communicate with them. It’s a challenge. And obviously, World Youth Day will be an opportunity.
Our secretariat is studying a project for how to be present on the ground so that we can also listen to the young generation. Because they are not only the future, but they are [also] the present. And when we made the invitation for the non-bishops for the synodal assembly of bishops, we indicated to the episcopal conferences to please also send young people. We want young people to be present to participate in this process.
You have been asking people from around the world to contribute and participate in this process. Are there any inspiring ideas for evangelization you’ve encountered that are worthwhile to pursue?
The idea of mission and synodality started from the Synod for Youth. In fact, in the final document of that synod the youth and the synod members spoke about mission and the synodal Church. Mission and synodality are the two faces of the same coin. We need a synodal Church in order to be more effective in our mission.
How can we be really effective today? If all the people of God become conscious that we are all subjects of evangelization, that evangelization is not restricted only to a special class, a special group. But all the baptized are subjects and empowered by the Holy Spirit to announce the Gospel today.
Everybody is invited and must feel duty-bound to announce Jesus to humanity today. This is the main objective of our reflection on a synodal Church.
A synodal Church is for me mainly a spiritual Church. We need more prayer. We need more prayer to avoid the risk that the Church becomes only a human convention, a human institution.
This is the reason why a few months ago, we sent an invitation to all bishops, so that during the month of May we organize a prayer at the feet of Mary, in the presence of Mary.
Because Mary, the mother of the Church, our mother, she will guide us, help us, accompany us in this particular moment of the Church. I invite everyone to take part even with prayer in this moment of grace.
Watch the full interview with Grech below.
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We all know how the left operates. As America’s Communist founder, Saul Alinsky, puts it in his blueprint for the revolution, “Rules For Radicals”:
***Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.***
The Synod on Synodality positions the Church perfectly for a deluxe Alinsky-style takedown, all under the guise of the workings of the Holy Spirit.
The Synod serves the purpose of freezing the Church, putting her immediately on the defensive. Then, when she does not comply with the demands of the organized, synchronized, sloganeering dissenters who will be channeling their own unholy spirit, she will be characterized as being in opposition to the God’s will.
The Catholics in the pews, unprepared for the storm of controversy and busy with their everyday lives, will be put off by the trumped up charges and scandals, will just hope that it all goes away.
Which it will, once the left has its way and the true Church is transformed into the ersatz, mirror-image, upside down ‘Catholic-ish’ church headed by the evil one.
Cardinal Grech is not a simpleton. He has to know what it means when the Synod’s participants are hand picked by the Holy See. The Holy Spirit does not require a stacked deck.
Save this comment for two years, then look at it again.
And in the meantime, pray hard that I’m wrong.
My vote is with brineyman. I wish I could trust those Church leaders involved in this Sunod. I don’t.
“Sin-Odd Church of Transformation and Accompany-ment with no Agenda”… more like it.
How much longer do we have to suffer this Unholy Meltdown of the Sacred and Divine by the Argentinian’s cherry-picked Eccles-ilogical Experts??
“These are two different words. Synod and synodality. There can be synodality without a synod. But there can no synod without synodality. I’m not playing with words. Yada, yada yada, yada.”
Got it – glad we cleared that up.
Brineyman – good point bringing Alinsky into this.
With all due respect to Cardinal Grech and his position, but from this particular interview on EWTN, a few unresolved observations:
We hear that the bishops of late are now “shepherds” and “leaders” while, synodally, they were identified “primarily as facilitators;” and wonder too at the signaling by the leader Cardinal Hollerich who appeals to undisclosed “sociological and scientific foundations” for upending natural law and human sexuality.
And, about the bishops’ leadership in contrast with the German “non-synodal” synodal way, we notice that the same mixed assembly imposed in Germany now penetrates into to Rome in 2023—a German fait accompli much more invasive than any particular and rogue German agenda item.
We hear that there are “issues” of concern and that these will be, what, placed on the “back burner;” that is, legitimized for a later date (?)…as in “Gone with the Wind” where Scarlet O’Hare (as now in red hat) proclaims that “tomorrow is another day!”
We hear echoes of an ordained collegiality—the “hierarchical communion” of bishops with the papacy (Lumen Gentium)—but now too much displaced by a collage of “aggregated, compiled, synthesized” concerns of all stripes.
But are groomed to suppose that the only 25 percent who will be non-bishops at the Synod are insignificant—knowing however that that a few swing votes, once legitimized, are what determines outcomes in a divided plebiscite (assuredly not a “democracy”).
We hear that there can be “synodality without synod, but cannot be a synod without synodality.” As validated by both the flip charts and the fictional Alice in Wonderland: “Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life.”
We hear about the Gospel and the blowing of the Holy Spirit, but not much clarity, really, about “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
So, we hear that there is no agenda but see how a momentum with neither compass nor rudder can be conjured from the one percent club and, despite the best intentions and subjective convictions, can default into a circular and self-referential Synod on Synodality!
So, a work in progress; and very much yes to both the sacramental Church and to ministries and charisms, all together in some coherent way, and to prayer–and hoping to be proved totally wrong about Grech’s package to date, butt…
I read this article and others on the synodal process and still have no idea what it means or why we are going through it. Seems like Catholics are being asked to sign a contract without being able to first read the fine print.
“…we realized we need to create more spaces for the young generation. We need to find a new language so we can communicate with them.”
How about Latin?
This word-salad “We don’t have an agenda” interview illustrates very clearly just how stupid the organizers of the Synod on Synodality consider the rest of us. And as far as lay participation is concerned, I wonder if Peter Kwasniewski received an invitation.
I find it not only hard to believe; but, IMPOSSIBLE to believe that no agenda has been the motivating reality beneath the synod. For rational creatures, intention is the first step in the order of action. Clearly, the mere act of calling a synod then necessitates some type of an agenda, “hidden” or otherwise. [Keep your eyes on McElroy and his ilk, he’s clearly motivated by an agenda.]
My understanding is that there is a group in this supposedly authorized synod composed of 22 members. I suggest that the reader check out the Wikipedia page on the significance of the number 22. There is one that is particularly relevant. Of course, coming right out and pointing it out would guarantee – AFAIK – that this comment wouldn’t be published.
Came across the passage in the Diary of St.Faustina – that she heard some loud noises to see some threatening demons around, that their ugliness is one of the torments of hell ; all she had to do was make a mental sign of the Cross and they disappear ! Power of being in a Covenantal / Synodal relationship with The Lord through our Mother – The Ark of The Covenant ! The Church too , seeking out more of same to undo the effects of the flood waters of broken covenantal relationships in marriage and other realms of Sacraments in our times – one example narrated below –
The fear / confusion that all ages and esp. the young can experience to be undone by claiming what is of the Rainbow Covenant of The Father – as The Truth – to help bring forth the Reign of The Divine Will in more hearts .
The visit of Holy Father to Fatima , to also coincide with the First Sunday of August – day celebrated as also Feast in honor of The Father and example of the sunshine of rich rainbow of relationships as Family Tree in our midst –
The Truth that we do belong to The Mother , in and through her to all the richness of relationships in The Incarnation – a life saving Ark and need of our times, to keep many from being swept away by the flood waters of the dragon as lies of contempt for the body , its role and purpose in a rich and joyful relationship with The Family – may there be many who would help bring the flood of graces such as by invoking ( 500 times a day ) –
‘Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ save us and the whole world’- to heal the wounds to allow the Holy Spirit to dry out the waters of alienation and impurities to instead let the Rainbow of the Father’s glory to reign !
Thanks for this interview. I’ll try to read it later if I can suspend my disbelief for five minutes.
Card Grech’s response to what he perceives a Synodal Church will “look like”, his response of a vast array of listeners awaiting messages from the heavens immediately invoked an extraordinary image of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory on the San Augustin Plains NM. An immense array of giant listening devices similar to ears pointed skyward. To date nothing had been reported from out there in space, except now the capture of sequential radio patterns that may indicate intelligence.
Will the Church remain breathless until our Synodal ‘ears’ hear similar indications that God may be listening to our desire for further revelation? If there is revelation what are the means for determining the revelation is from the Holy Spirit? Or whether it may be from what the Apostle Paul warned as the Spirit of the Air? Does no agenda mean no commitment to the Deposit of faith?
This from the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum, Ch. 1, n. 4):
“The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away, and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13).”
Personnel is policy…it will be very interesting to see which laity and religious etc. get hand picked to supposedly represent us. I have a strong suspicion the decks will be stacked.
Not having an agenda is not a reassurance of anything. It also deflects from what the Synod could be inviting and what it will produce. Saying grace all the time and promising it is making “spiritual conversation”, synod, mission and walking together, SYNONYMOUS; and that such functioning is “already Church”, “the Church itself”, must be some sort of teaching but I don’t know what. This is being “laid at the feet of Mary” and it will “go out to announce Jesus” from the “global Church”.
I have experienced instances where the word “spiritual” is introduced as a form of “acknowledgement” and “assurance” of “mutuality”, yet the Catholic things never get joined, processed or tabled. Bringing them up meets silence – “spiritual” was conceded already! You could spend your whole time “in prayer” and “devotion” and “sacrifice” while the rest of the crew get on with their own ideas never making them exactly explicit and never letting you know where you stand with them.
Even the word “agenda” was a buzz word. “You have an agenda. Targeting.”
This “not NGO” / ” not Parliament” imagery is something I brought in my parish group in the period 1995-2001, to describe a pattern of behaviours. I do not mean to get “credited” or acclaimed for that. I mentioned it before, what is being described above accurately SHOWS what was happening back then and deploys “Holy Spirit” language from that time with my “not NGO” language NOW thrown in over it …. with resistance to “agendas”.
I do not accept that this is a random, coincidental non-deliberated matching. The situation at that time was SATURATED with “charismatics” who were always “announcing the Holy Spirit”.
What would have been needed is not a Synod but a better enforcement of the existing document on that movement; which document had been produced by and under JPII/ Ratzinger.
Look at it this way. The Synod seems to be carrying forward the very thing to be corrected; meanwhile the means are available already to do the correcting. The reason for the gap between 1995 to the present, is JPII/Benedict.
‘ I’m not playing with words. It can happen that we have a synodal assembly without the spirit of synodality. We can and we need to become a more synodal Church, even without having a synod. ‘ – Cardinal Mario Grech
Some people involved in the Synod or the “Synod movement” or the “Synod moment” are well aware that what Grech “elaborates” AS “NOT AN AGENDA”, IS ACTUAL PRACTICE IN SOME DIOCESES going on now nearly two and a half decades. I am citing for this purpose CELAM and the Caribbean as examples, where certain connectivities have taken root. So hear what I am saying, it has 2 aspects.
1. It exists but you don’t have an agenda? Why can’t you acknowledge what is going on de facto right now and for a long time and that it has served to worsen diseases?
2. When it gets declared the “fruit of the Synod” and the “true Church from VATICAN II”, that is “now known for the first time”, you will say that is the Holy Spirit?
As more of a “simpleton” that Cardinal Grech (a charge withheld, above), yours truly looks to historical precedent for a possible definition of “synodality”…
Behold, in A.D. 1046 the lay Emperor Henry III arranged for a series of synods (!) which then deposed the three contending claimants to the papacy (the Western Schism). Notably, the synods included the Roman people as well as the bishops and abbots and the whole Roman clergy (as now at the lay/clerical Synod on Synodality in October 2023).
A millennium ago, the great reform internally, and against lay dominance (investiture of the ring and staff), was underway, initially with the selection of Pope Clement. (And, decades hence, leading finally to the independence of the Church in the selection of its own bishops: the Concordat of Worms, A.D. 1122). By A.D. 1059 papal elections were in the hands of the cardinal bishops—mostly reformers…
The synodal picture today is equally fractious, but apparently upside-down. This time, wallowing in a more contrived polarization between the “real” Council of 1962-65 and the bogus and populist “virtual” Council of Hans Kung et al. Today, cardinals and bishops cut down as synodal “facilitators;” the German “non-synod” useful as a foil but then admitted to the synod of the European continental Assembly; and the co-mingled lay and clerical structure in Germany superimposed on the perennial Church’s “hierarchical communion” (Lumen Gentium) for the Synod(s) on Synodality.
A confused time of harmonizing double-speak, with grooming open-endedness as the McElroy non-strategy!
Late in the game and on EWTN the straight-faced (double entendre intended) Cardinal Grech sees that all the chips are on the table—and yet hopes to draw to an inside straight! Balance the odds with a double (!) Synod on Synodality—one in 2023 and another in 2024!!
Perhaps there’s a bigger picture, and the Holy Spirit will intervene to turn the lights on.
Top line: “than”, not “that”.
I wonder what the Vatican and Cardinal will do if millions of laity just say “no thank you” and completely ignore the diktats of the Synod. I mean if everything is up for debate so is the authority of the Vatican, Cardinals and the Synod itself.
Perhaps too much talk and not enough prayer. We don’t need to seek to be relevant, we ARE relevant and have a message of repentance and salvation to convey, and we dont need to sugar coat it.It’s the same message of the early Church and its martyrs. Billy Graham did not sugar coat it and millions came to Christ. We can do the same and we have even more to offer. May God give us wisdom and courage and be willing to accept martyrdom if necessary.
Grech is Baldisseri’s successor in the Synod of Bishops.
Judging by TWITTER, pope Francis is reiterating Cardinal Grech but perfecting the thought without using the word agenda. At the same time it would show a type of agenda, a drive for “harmony” through “the Spirit at the centre”.
The phrase People of God, I imagine, is from VATICAN II; and so therefore what is being sought is the forming out of this concept in its ideal way through these designs “not an agenda” -or, if you wish, “through walking together in the Holy Spirit”. (On a very simplictic level, the Synod is composed with multifarious personalities “just as the Council was”.)
It seems clear to me this is a formalization of the charismatic offerings, definitions and behviours/lifestyle. Again I say these things exist already and these kinds of get=together already are pracriced/lived; it is not novel. Pope Francis has been trying to distinguish it from legalism, formalism and clericalism; and hence the need to be a Church who “do Synod” where “synod” is no longer what “it used to be”.
Pope Francis has been trying to protect it as “something very special”.
But, I mean, whatever the case, at least be sincere and admit that these things exist and have been existing for many years. Why the gaming?
I can position five reflections that would seem to cut right through all of that:
a) Our Father put Christ as our Shepherd and our Gate,
b) VATICAN II does not streamline our spirits into one expression global or other,
c) Spiritualist and charistmatics already do a lot of wrong things with impunity,
d) The intercession of the BVM can not encompass wrong modalities and,
e) the Holy Spirit does not give off wrong impressions.