"Instrumentum laboris" presented for the second session

Working paper for the Synod on Synodality: Call for transparency in the Church

Vatican City - The global synodal process is heading for the final spurt. The working paper for the second session in October has now been published. It emphasises that the vision of a synodal church will not be credible without concrete changes. Accordingly, proposals can be found in the document.

Published  on 09.07.2024 at 12:00  – 

The second round of the Synod on Synodality is to focus more on how decision-making processes in the church can be made more transparent at all levels. "A synodal church needs a culture and practice of transparency and accountability, which are essential to foster the mutual trust necessary to walk together and take co-responsibility for the common mission," reads the working paper ("Instrumentum laboris") published on Tuesday for the final session of the assembly, which will take place in the Vatican in October. The demand has arisen in particular as a result of the loss of credibility due to financial scandals and, in particular, sexual abuse.

"If the synodal Church wants to be welcoming, then accountability and transparency must be at the centre of its actions, at all levels and not just at the level of authority," it continues. However, the greater responsibility lies with the bishops and the Pope.

Reflection on the process to date

The 50-page document begins by reflecting on the process of the Synod on Synodality to date and addresses the foundations of the understanding of synodality. It then deals with the relationships between the faithful, the ways to strengthen synodal cooperation in the Church and finally the role of the local Church. The document states that it is not only a matter of improving church structures and procedures, but also of renewing the missionary commitment of all. "We can expect a deepening of the common understanding of synodality, a better focus on the practices of a synodal church and even the proposal of some changes in canon law (...), but certainly not the answer to all questions," the text states.

However, the document emphasises the fundamental need to make synodality visible in the Church through concrete changes. "Without concrete changes, the vision of a synodal church will not be credible, and this will alienate those members of the people of God who have drawn strength and hope from the synodal way." This applies all the more to the effective participation of women in decision-making processes, as promoted in many contributions.

With regard to the debate on a stronger role for women, the working paper emphasises that the need to recognise and strengthen their position in all areas of church life has become clear in the course of the synodal process. The contributions from all over the world called for a broader participation of women in all phases of church decision-making processes as well as better access to positions of responsibility in dioceses and church organisations in accordance with existing regulations.

Participants of the World Synod
Bild: ©Vatican Media/Romano Siciliani/KNA

The Instrumentum laboris emphasises the desire for more participation of women in decision-making processes in the Church.

The Instrumentum laboris goes on to address the issue of church ministries and offices for lay people. Among other things, it mentions that there are already regulations in the church that allow lay people to officiate at baptisms and weddings in exceptional circumstances. "It makes sense to continue thinking about how these ministries can be entrusted to the laity in a more stable form," it says. These considerations should be accompanied by thoughts on promoting other forms of lay ministry, including outside the liturgical sphere.

In terms of how the church can achieve more synodal cooperation, the paper focuses in particular on the organisation of decision-making processes. Here it is stated that it is primarily up to the local churches to increasingly implement all possibilities to bring to life authentic synodal decision-making processes that correspond to the particularities of the various contexts. "This is a task of great importance and urgency, as the successful realisation of the Synod largely depends on it."

Strengthening the role of the bishops' conferences

With regard to the role of the local churches, the Instrumentum laboris is in favour of strengthening the position of the bishops' conferences, as was already envisaged at the Second Vatican Council. "On the basis of what has emerged in the course of the synodal process, it is proposed that the bishops' conferences be recognised as ecclesial subjects endowed with doctrinal authority, embracing socio-cultural diversity within the framework of a diverse Church and promoting the valorisation of liturgical, disciplinary, theological and spiritual expressions appropriate to the various socio-cultural contexts."

The working paper explicitly recognises the plurality of local churches as positive. "Emphasising the importance of place does not mean giving in to particularism or relativism, but rather strengthening the concreteness in which a common experience of adherence to the manifestation of the saving God takes shape in space and time." The experience of the pluralism of cultures and the fruitfulness of the encounter and dialogue between them is a condition for the life of the Church and not a threat to its catholicity.

The synodal process of the universal Church was initiated by Pope Francis in 2021. After two years of local and continental consultations, the first meeting of the Synod on Synodality was held in Rome last October. At the second meeting next October, concrete proposals are to be drawn up for the Pope, on the basis of which he can then make decisions. He usually does this in a so-called post-synodal letter. Pope Francis' decision to remove controversial topics such as the diaconate of women from the synod and to set up ten study groups to deal with these topics recently caused criticism. (mal)