NEW PROJECT: Parish Activities Center and Capital Campaign. See Sharing tab on the menu or click here.
Read more

What fruits will the ‘Idol Synod’ bear? Time will tell

By:

History is funny in the holdovers it keeps from its first draft — journalism — and in those it discards. Salacious or outlandish headlines rightly decried at the time events were unfolding often give events their names. This one might go down in history as the “Idol Synod.”

The sham trial of Pope Formosus in 897, for example, is known as the “Cadaver Synod.” It did involve a cadaver, but it wasn’t a synod. The Special Assembly for the Amazon, held in Rome from Oct. 6-27 in search of “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” was an exercise of an organ called the Synod of Bishops. Whether it was a synod in any other meaningful sense is doubtful. It probably didn’t involve idols.

If it sticks, the name for the 2019 Synod Assembly will have come from a ceremony in the Vatican Gardens on Oct. 4 — the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, in whose honor a tree was planted and to whose protection the gathering of bishops was to be entrusted. The ceremony also included some elements that were rather strange — unfamiliar to Western sensibilities and certainly not Roman, fairly said to be rather startling. Pope Francis, before whom the ceremony unfolded, declined to deliver his prepared remarks and offered only the Our Father before hastily departing the scene. The director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni, later explained to The Catholic Herald that the Holy Father had indeed placed the synod under the protection of the Poverello of Assisi.

Explaining the statues

Surely, an explanation was in order. Instead, message managers from the Vatican first told inquiring journalists they didn’t organize the thing that happened in the Vatican Gardens in the presence of the Roman Pontiff, which was broadcast on Vatican Media. They then offered their own personal opinions — often from the dais in the press room and during official press briefings — in lieu of a qualified explanation.

At least one of the participants in the ceremony did go on record to say the wood-carved image of a pregnant woman to which indigenous participants in the ceremony at one point knelt and bowed low to the ground was Our Lady of the Amazon, but that flew in the face of the semi-official unofficial narrative, according to which the statues were generic symbols of life and no rites of any kind were performed.

Then, on the last Friday of the synod, Paolo Ruffini, the prefect of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communications (also president of the Commission for Information of the Synod of Bishops) actually denied — in words — not only that there had been rites performed during the ceremony (there was some wiggle room on that point), but that there had been prostrations. Who are you going to believe? Ruffini, or your lyin’ eyes?

The secretary of the Synod of Bishops’ Committee for Information, Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa, wondered aloud and on the record at the whole line of questioning regarding the figures and the ceremony. He said he felt it was motivated by a desire to paint indigenous cultures in a bad light and perhaps to discredit the Vatican.

The Vatican could have stopped the mess before it started, and might have put an end to it easily, but didn’t.

Someone eventually subtracted the statues from their niches in Santa Maria in Traspontina and hurled them into the Tiber. That, too, was caught on video, which went viral. One part of the public hailed the would-be idol-smashers as a new Boniface for our times, while another condemned them as racist iconoclasts. The really disturbing thing about the whole sordid episode was how much everyone on every side seemed to be enjoying themselves.

In any case, the statuary was recovered. Pope Francis made an apology “as bishop of the Diocese [of Rome],” which he addressed to “the persons who were offended by this act.” Amply, Pope Francis told the Synod Fathers gathered on the final Friday afternoon of the assembly: “I want to say a word about the statues of the pachamama that were taken from the church of the Transpontina — which were there without idolatrous intentions — and were thrown into the Tiber.” Matteo Bruni clarified that the pope’s use of the name was merely a form of shorthand reference, but the use of it earned the business at least another full round of media coverage.

“First of all,” Pope Francis continued, “this happened in Rome, and, as bishop of the Diocese, I ask pardon of the persons who were offended by this act.” Careful parsing — always a good idea with Pope Francis — raises the question of whether “this act” referred to their placement in the church or the attempt at drowning them in the river. “Then,” he said, “I want to communicate to you that the statues which created such attention in the media, were retrieved from the Tiber,” undamaged, he specified.

On the return flight to Rome from Africa in September, Pope Francis warned journalists of the dangers of succumbing to the temptations of narrative. Whether by circumstance or by design, he and his communications cohort certainly fed both narratives throughout the whole sad and sorry episode.

Celibacy, women deacons

We were talking about the Synod. Right. On that point, two things emerged from the final document: qualified approval from participating bishops for a relaxation in the discipline for secular clerics in the Amazon, so that married “men of proven virtue” — viri probati — might be ordained to the presbyterate; and a call for greater recognition of the role of women in the life of the Church in the Amazon, including ordained ministries such as a permanent diaconate.

On the first — viri probati — it is worth noting that any concrete action is still a ways off and will not abolish celibacy, which will remain an essential and integral part of religious life, even if it does cease to be a defining characteristic of secular clerical culture. The synod is, as we were told time and again during the course of the Fathers’ most recent labors, a consultative body: the Fathers propose, the pope decides.

The theological part of the second major issue — women deacons — turns on a delicately balanced axis that requires a subtle distinction. Historically, there is no doubt regarding the existence of an order of deaconesses in several ritual churches, East and West, some of which continued into the second millennium. These were orders, members of which were ordained. We have some of the rites of ordination. The question, therefore, is not whether there were deaconesses — there have been — nor whether they were ordained — they were — but whether their ordination participated in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Those who say that women were never ordained and cannot be ordained are not flatly wrong. In fact, they appear to be right, if one allows “ordained” to be shorthand for “validly received the Sacrament of Holy Orders.” They are, however, technically imprecise. Many ritual churches still have minor orders. Pope St. Paul VI abolished the minor orders and the order of subdeacon (a major order in the West) in 1972. Historically, the order of deaconesses appears, in some places, at least, to have been roughly on par with (though not identical to) that of subdeacon.

In his closing remarks to the Synod Fathers, Pope Francis said he would consider reconvening the study commission he created a few years ago to examine the question.

Now, it’s a waiting game: Each numbered paragraph of the final document (120 of them over 29 block-set pages) received the necessary 2/3 majority approval of the Synod Fathers, but the whole thing was little more than a report with a series of recommendations or requests for further consideration. The pope will decide what, if anything, to do with the recommendations.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

 

Catholic News & Perspective

Provides information on the Church, the nation and the world from OSV, America's most popular and trusted national Catholic news source


Recent

Opening the Word: The Great Conflagration

Friday, November 15, 2019
By: Timothy P. O'Malley Over the last few years, we’ve looked closely at God’s mercy. In this column itself, it has been noted that in... Read More

Finding grace in the midst of outrage

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
By: Dr. Greg Popcak I have a confession to make. This column has been a tough one for me to write. I joked with my editor that I have been so angry... Read More

Should Joe Biden have been denied Communion?

Monday, November 11, 2019
By: Msgr. Owen F. Campion The recent report that a priest in the Diocese of Charleston, South Carolina, refused holy Communion to former Vice... Read More

Opening the Word: The redemption of death

Friday, November 8, 2019
By: Timothy P. O'Malley Those who attend a Catholic college or university often take courses in the history of the Bible. The student discovers... Read More

What fruits will the ‘Idol Synod’ bear? Time will tell

Wednesday, November 6, 2019
By: Christopher Altieri History is funny in the holdovers it keeps from its first draft — journalism — and in those it discards.... Read More

There’s been a lot of talk about priestly celibacy, but what does it mean?

Monday, November 4, 2019
By: Msgr. Owen F. Campion Throughout much of October, Pope Francis presided at a meeting of bishops from the Amazon River basin in South America,... Read More

The God who loves all

Friday, November 1, 2019
By: Timothy P. O'Malley At the time of Jesus, the Pharisee was a son of Israel who took the Law seriously. Aware of the temptation of religious... Read More

Safe injection sites fail the medical ethics ‘sniff test’

Wednesday, October 30, 2019
When a federal judge ruled Oct. 2 that Philadelphia’s proposed safe injection site would not violate current law, the court overlooked a few... Read More

When is silence not golden?

Monday, October 28, 2019
By: Teresa Tomeo We all can use more silence in our lives. We live in a culture bombarded by all kinds of noise and distractions. I should know. My... Read More

Opening the Word: Who is the Pharisee?

Friday, October 25, 2019
By:  Timothy P. O'Malley At the time of Jesus, the Pharisee was a son of Israel who toook the Law seriously.  Aware of the temptation of... Read More

Online Giving

Online Giving

Secure and Convenient Donate now!