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Is the Synod out to overturn Church doctrines? CBCP head clarifies

By Felipe F. Salvosa II


VATICAN --- Is there a secret meeting in the Vatican that’s about to overturn two millennia of Church doctrine?

“Not at all,” according to the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan. David, the top Filipino delegate to the 2023 Synod of Bishops, spoke at length to CBCP News on Sunday about his thoughts on the big meeting going on at the Vatican and what happens to the Church moving forward.

The meetings that began on Oct. 4 are “confidential” but “not secretive” because the people of God deserve to know, he said. “We are keeping confidentiality because the synod is still a work in progress. There will be a second session [in 2024]. And at the end of that second session, hopefully, we will come up with some concrete resolutions,” David explained.

“But even the resolutions will be recommendations to the Holy Father,” he hastened to add. The pope’s decision will come out in the first quarter of 2025 at the earliest, in a document called an “Apostolic Exhortation,” he said.

‘Conversation in the Spirit’ Delegates to the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, as the meeting is officially called, can actually talk candidly about the process but not about positions or statements by specific individuals, said David, who was elected by Asian delegates to represent the continent in the synod’s Commission on Information.

David echoed the Vatican’s description of the synod as a “conversation in the Spirit.” “Sometimes, some people, come with very, very clear-cut kind of positions or convictions. But after listening to one another, they seem to get more enlightened. They get to see things from a different perspective. And then [there’s a new] consensus,” he said.

“That’s what’s beautiful about the Synod. That’s why we call it a conversation in the Spirit. Because what matters is not what we think. What matters is not our own personal convictions. What matters is where the Spirit is guiding us.”

The “Synod on Synodality,” convoked by Pope Francis in 2021 in a bid to make the Church more discerning and participative, took inputs from consultations at various levels – parish, vicariate, diocesan, national, and continental.

The 2023 synod general assembly has 365 voting delegates, 54 of which are women, a historic first.

Two documents are expected to come out of the 2023 synod, David said.

At the conclusion of the assembly on Oct. 29, the synod will issue a “Letter to the People of God” that will “tell as many people as possible, and especially those who have not yet been reached or involved in the synodal process, about the experience lived by the members of the Synod,” according to the Holy See Press Office.

The synod is also working on a synthesis document of the month-long proceedings, David said.

“It will contain basically three things … the matters of convergence, the matters of divergence, and the suggestions or propositions that are coming out from the synod delegates as a first installment,” David said.

There will be “further communal discernment” in the second session of the assembly in October 2024, he said.

Clericalism, petrified structures

To what direction is the synod taking the Church? “It’s too soon to tell,” said David, “but there is a common reaction in the synod against clericalism,” the term frequently used by Pope Francis to refer to a tendency by clerics to abuse authority. “What can we do about this? Because that’s the tendency for structures to get sort of petrified … you take for granted that this is how it has always been and how it should be forever and ever, hindi naman pala (turns out it doesn’t have to be like that),” he said.

The CBCP chief said the main meat and substance of the doctrine would remain the same. “Through the changing times, you have to also learn to respond to new developments. Otherwise, you’ll become very irrelevant,” he said. David pointed to the upheavals caused by digital technology.

“And now people are saying the digital technology is not anymore just a technology, they call it the ‘digital continent.’ It has become a new space of mission. And the church has to be present there also,” he said.


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