A theological seminar on the theme “Participate/Preside/Decide – sacramental root and communal dynamic in the journey of the people of God on mission” was held on Saturday 24th June 2023 in Loppiano (Incisa Valdarno, Florence, Italy).

Over thirty academics responded to the invitation of the Evangelii Gaudium Centre (CEG) of the Sophia University Institute, to develop a proposal to revise canon law in order to rebalance, as urged by the working document (Instrumentum laboris) of the XIV Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, the “relationship between the principle of authority, which is strongly affirmed in the current legislation, and the principle of participation”. Pope Francis assures us “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” (Amoris Laetizia, no. 3). It is therefore crucial to listen to the sensus fidelium of the entire People of God (clergy and faithful) with all its variety of cultures. In this way, the dialogue between theology and law is motivated by a sincere process of inculturation without which there is a real risk of laying the foundations for a practical non-observance of the general principles enunciated by the Church. Prof. Vincenzo Di Pilato, academic coordinator of the CEG commented, “The point is precisely this: how to make the active participation of all the faithful within our synodal assemblies effective? Will it just be advisory? Or will it also be deliberative? Will this mean reaching a negotiation for a juridical “concession” or “recognizing” the decision-making capacity of the collective subject of ecclesial action as it emerges from the ecclesiology of Vatican II and the post-conciliar magisterium? And therefore, will it be necessary to update the Code of Canon Law?”

In his initial greeting to the participants, Card. Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod, highlighted how the synodal journey is entering a new phase: it is called to become a generative dynamic and not simply one of many events. We cannot listen to the Holy Spirit without listening to the holy people of God in that “reciprocity” that constitutes it as the “Body of Christ”. In this communal bond, the particular methodology of conversation in the Spirit, well described on the occasion of the presentation of the Instrumentum laboris, takes shape. Hence the need, referred to several times by Card. Grech, to better articulate the principle of restitution. In other words, this means that the unity of the synodal process is guaranteed by the fact that it returns to where it started, to the local Churches, and this is an important moment of the “recognition” of what has matured in listening to what the Spirit is saying to the Church today. The synodal journey seems to stand, therefore, as a significant moment in ecclesial life, capable of stimulating and activating the creative impetus and evangelical proclamation that comes from the rediscovery of the relationship with God that innervates the relationship between believers, and also as a sign for a cultural context in which it houses a silent cry of fraternity in the search for the common good.

If in Prof. Severino Dianich’s  report “The problems of synodality between ecclesiology and canon law” the recovery of the Pauline ecclesiology of the being-body of Christ and the enhancement of the dynamic co-essentiality of hierarchical and charismatic gifts emerged,  for Prof. Alphonse Borras, this turning point requires a canonical clarification, which outlines a flexible procedural practice, capable of accompanying decision-making and participation processes through the various bodies already envisaged (episcopal council, presbytery, diocesan and parish pastoral programmes …).

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, former president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, seemed to agree with this line in his speech, “Ecclesial Synodality: is a rapid transition from the consultative to the deliberative conceivable?”. In his opinion it is possible to find in canon law a clear definition of synodality, understood as “communion of clergy and faithful in carrying out the activity of recognizing what is the good of the Church and in the ability to decide how to implement such an identified good”.

At the end of the seminar, many participants expressed the wish to see the speeches of the seminar published. The CEG is working to do this by September as a further contribution to the upcoming Synod.

Antonio Bergamo

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