THE success of next October's Synod on the Laity partly depends on completion and publication of its working paper.
It was hoped this would be completed by the end of February but March now seems a likelier date. It is not known whether, once completed, the working paper will be published. Working papers have not always been published before previous Synods, but it is argued that this Synod on the Laity demands unprecedented participation which would be fostered by the working paper's publication.
At least that is the opinion within the Vatican Council for the Laity. Whether the Synod Secretariat agrees remains to be seen. In preparing the Synod, it has not sought the advice of Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, the Argentinian Head of the Laity Council, or of his chief assistants.
The Synod Secretariat, headed by Archbishop Jan Schotte, argues that it acts for the college of bishops rather than for the Roman curial organism, the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
Of course, late completion of the working paper would have the same effect as its nonpublication-reduction of the chance of participation.
Yet preparations for this Synod should be well-advanced as it was set for last year but then postponed because John Paul II convoked an Extraordinary Synod.
Last October, the 15-member Council of the Synod analysed
the responses to the Lineamenti
(position paper) which had been sent to all episcopal conferences.
Since then, a commission has been incorporating the suggestions in several drafts of what will eventually be the working paper.
The working paper is expected to handle at least three major topics: lay identity and lay ministries, the role of lay associations and movements, and the laity's role in the world.
Since the Vatican Council there has been varied experiences of diocesan pastoral councils, laity councils and basic Christian communities. In many cases they have meant lay involvement in church administration, but now emphasis is falling increasingly on lay sharing in mission. This tendency could receive a boost from the Synod.
Basic Christian communities mean very different things in different places. In East Africa, for instance, they are often like subparishes, whereas in Latin America they often imply deep socio-political involvement. The Synod should make the hidden diveristy of these communities emerge. It is expected to examine the implications of large scale replacement of religious order-staff by laity in Catholic schools and the increasing pastoral responsibility of laity where priests are lacking.
The Synod must discuss the decline of old-style Catholic Action, and the emergence of movements such as Opus Dei, the Focolare. The neoCatechumenates, Charismatics and Comunione e Liberazione. There has been some revival of Catholic Action recently, but its overall decline is illustrated by the drop in members in Italy from the council period high of about 3 million to the present 5000,000.
Sometimes distinctions are blurred, but Catholic Action tends to start as an apostolate to a specific sector while movements tend to begin as a group coming together to live in the spirit, and then trying to draw others to this experience. Movements are less structured and less tied to the hierarchy than Catholic Action.
John Paul has been an enthusiastic supporter of movements which are more diverse than may at first appear. The cooperators of Opus Dei are very different from the members of the World Movement of Christian Workers. The discreet Focolare movement has a style which contrasts with that of the media-conscious Comunione e Liberazione.
The October Synod will be the biggest lay meeting in Rome in 20 years. In 1967 there was a tense, turbulent world assembly of Laity (The Third) in Rome and that experience convinced some Roman Curialists that the laity should be kept at a safe distance.
Perhaps they will still be at a safe distance this October. About 200 of the world's 3800 bishops will be present, but only about 40 of the 800 million lay Catholics. The 40 will not have voting rights, but it is expected, they will participate actively in the linguistic work groups. The laity's best chance of participation is in the preparatory phases which is why early completion and then publication of the working paper is important.