From Fr. JOHN HARRIOTT, S.J. in Rome
CORPSES make good copy, but there were no pools of blood in the Hall of Broken Heads when the Synodal Fathers adjourned for the last time on Monday. The Synod ended as it began—quietly.
Growth is a silent process. There is no dramatic explosion to mark the moment when the tree buds, or the child turns into a man. This Synod grew, like the Church, organically, and yet its short three weeks have marked a tremendous stage in development.
In years to come it may well he seen as the moment when the Church grew up. The bishops stood up like men and shouldered their responsibilities, so reversing the long process of centralisation which began in Avignon.: and in effect they agreed that what they claimed for themselves must be allowed to others.
Clergy and laity, too, will find their responsibilities and rights respected, as a consequence of this Synod.
It has been a week of detail. The nine work-groups spent most of it discussing the detailed proposals set out in working-papers delivered by Cardinal Marty (Paris) and Archbishop McGrath (Panama) for improving co-operation and communication between the episcopal conferences and the Holy See, and between the conferences themselves.
They voted on and passed 13 major propositions which will enable the bishops to exercise their joint responsibility with the Pope for the Government and service of the universal Church, and five major propositions for improving relationships between the conferences themselves.
The effect of these will be:
Constant and direct communication and consultation between the Pope and bishops over any matter of universal importance;
Freedom to decide at the local level issues which have no bearing on absolutely fundamental faith and discipline; and
A constant interflow of information and personal contacts between the various episcopal conferences and oriental synods.
Last Friday, Cardinal Heenan asked for immediate action to be taken on majority decisions of the Synod. Even he must have been surprised at the swiftness of the Pope's response.
On Monday morning the Pope endorsed the main practical proposals in a discourse which rounded-off the Synod's proceedings.
It was a powerful expression of the Pope's own satisfaction with the course of the Synod's deliberations.
Earlier in the week, Cardinal Marty had indicated in a short but important speech the kind of question which the bishops would like to have tabled for discussion. He himself thought there were three burning questions which should take priority:
The role of the priest in the modern world, and the question of celibacy; and the sacraments, especially matrimony, with regard to both faith and practice and the question of international justice.
PERSONAL PRESTIGE Cardinal Marty's personal prestige, which like that of Archbishop Carter, Canada, and Archbishop McGrath has grown enormously during the Synod, gives this opinion exceptional significance.
His last suggestion was reinforced by a document circulated among the fathers by Cardinal Cooke (New York), which asked for the setting up of a fund for human development.
It would co-operate with the Commission for Justice and Peace, aim at the abolition of illiteracy, the training of leaders in underdeveloped coune
tries, etc.. and in general be a collegial expression of support for the encyclical Populorum Progressio (Progress of Peoples).
It was also an indicator of the bishops' recognition that the Church exists in service of a wider world. and that they must not concentrate exclusively on narrowly ecclesiastical issues, GOOD SPEECHES In a week of good speeches, Cardinal Heenan's trenchant criticism of needless secrecy within the Church was one of the best. it will certainly influence the procedure of future Synods, a procedure which urgently needs improvement in other respects. It was, for example, this deficiency which prevented the fathers from voting on amendments to propositions before the Synod ended.
It is too early to digest all the consequences of the Synod's work. Some loose ends have been left trailing. The election of the Pope, the election of bishops, the role of nuncios are all matters intimately connected with collegiality.
Questions about them have been discussed but not settled during this past week, but they will not be allowed to drop.
On the positive side the importance of the local church has been firmly established, and henceforward there will be more room for local initiative in diocese, nation and continent. The cultural and social differences in various parts of the world has been recognised, a further step towards distinguishing between unity and uniformity.
CONSULTATION The bishops have accepted the importance of close consultation with their clergy and laity so that they may truly represent their dioceses and, above all, the supposed attack on the primacy has been identified for what it is, a desire that the careful terms in which the Pope's unique role was defined by the first Vatican Council should be respected. This will be for the good of the Pope as well as the Church.
The degree to which the lily has been gilded by the advocates of absolute monarchy was highlighted by the gentle rain of flowery compliments which introduced each general session, and the sense of wonderment when it was announced that the Pope was drinking morning coffee with his bishops.
Without malice, it must be said that it seemed a far cry from the first apostles' relationship to Peter. The breakdown of Papal isolation. is another hopeful sign in a week full of hope for the Church.