Steering a ship of the Queen Mary’s enormous size calls for the use of very robust equipment. The steering gear that serves the vessel weighs 180 tons and occupies a space about 68 feet long and 25 feet wide. The huge ship does not turn easily or quickly. It’s a little bit like the Roman Catholic Church.
The Church of Rome is not generally recognized as a church open to dialogue and change. It is perceived by many Catholics and non-Catholics alike as an institution more inclined to declaiming than listening. Pope Francis has been working on changing that perception from the very outset of his papacy. He has set a model for candid, no-holds-barred speaking with his airplane Q & As and with his easy departures from his prepared speeches, giving ample room for spontaneity and inspiration (as well as for nervousness among his script-adhering aides).
This month, he hopes this openness will lead to change as a result of his Synod on Synodality in Rome. Cardinal Christof Schonborn, a synod veteran and sophisticated theologian, identifies this synod as a “historical phase as important for the Church as the Second Vatican Council”.
Vatican II was a mammoth battle between those championing conciliar infallibility (resistance to change) and aggiornamento (bringing the church up todate). Support for aggiornamento won out over resistance to change, and produced sixteen magisterial documents including an extensive reform of the liturgy, a renewed theology of the Church, of revelation and of the laity, and new approaches to relations between the Church and the world, to ecumenism, to non-Christian religions, and to religious freedom. This herculean change required the participation of hundreds of bishops, scholars, experts and the curia over a period of seven years (including needed preparation). It concluded with the Central Preparatory Commission carried out by 108 members (mostly cardinals) representing 57
Though more modest in scope, the Synod on Synodality will address arguably more controversial and emotional issues. These include the ordination of women, same-sex marriage, clerical celibacy, the status and rights of LGBTQ+ Catholics and climate
change. Though smaller in number, its participants represent refreshing inclusion. The synod has 465 participants, of which 365 are voting members including layman and 54 women.
The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s most powerful bulwark of Christianity. Its Catechism is the rich product of extensive religious research by thousands of religious
experts over two millennia. However, it is the product of fallible human beings. Thus, it is subject to error and to the human reluctance to admit error. After all, if Church doctrine must change, it must have been wrong!
As Vatican II did, can Francis’ more modest synod succeed in even slightly turning the Queen Mary? Is the change effected by his synod not as much needed today as Vatican II
was over a half-century ago?