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Synod proposals: Mandatory pastoral councils and performance reviews for bishops

By Felipe F. Salvosa II

VATICAN --- The recently concluded 2023 Synod of Bishops is proposing major changes in Church decision-making processes and the way dioceses and parishes are governed.

The word “co-responsibility” is mentioned 16 times in the synthesis report of the first session of the “Synod on Synodality,” convoked by Pope Francis to make the Church more participative and listening and to stamp out what he calls “clericalism” among the clergy.

“The exercise of co-responsibility is essential for synodality and is necessary at all levels of the Church,” according to the official English translation of the 41-page report, originally written in Italian.

Two chapters focus on the role of bishops and how they could exercise co-responsibility and become more accountable. “It is necessary to implement, in forms legally yet to be defined, structures and processes for regular review of the bishop’s performance,” the report said.

The proposed review will look at the bishop’s style of authority, economic administration of diocesan assets, how participatory bodies are functioning, and actions taken against all possible kinds of abuse. “A culture of accountability is an integral part of a synodal Church that promotes co-responsibility, as well as safeguarding against abuses,” the report said.

Mandatory councils

The synod document said co-responsibility could be made “more operational, including in legal terms,” through the different diocesan bodies. This means changes in canon law to make mandatory the creation of episcopal councils and diocesan pastoral councils.

Synod fathers also suggested legislating an “obligatory nature” for pastoral councils in Christian communities and local churches. “It would also be desirable to strengthen the bodies of participation, with a proper presence of the laity, recognizing the role they can play in discerning decisions by virtue of their baptism,” it said.

Lay participation in the selection of bishops also need to be expanded, the report said. “The Assembly calls for a review of the criteria for selecting candidates for the episcopate, balancing the authority of the Apostolic Nuncio with participation of Episcopal Conferences,” it said. “There are also requests to expand consultation with the faithful People of God, and to involve a greater number of lay people and consecrated persons in the consultation process, taking care to avoid being put under any undue pressure in the selection process,” it added.

BECs to the center

Parish pastoral councils are not yet synodal, said Estela Padilla, a theologian and pastoral worker who was among lay delegates given voting rights in the synod.

“The first issue is membership. Members should not always come from the center. It has to be more representative,” she told CBCP News. The experience of basic ecclesial communities or BECs, small, parish-based grassroots units ministered by lay leaders, should rise to the center and not be confined to the margins, Padilla said. “Those who do not have a voice, how do they get in? How can the listening process be systemic in the life and decision-making of the Church?” she asked.

Malolos cleric Fr. Nicanor Lalog, a former parish priest, welcomed the proposal to institute performance reviews for bishops. “How they are going to implement that is a big question but having it laid down during the synod is already a big step in synodality,” he said. “In my experience as a former parish priest, much is expected from bishops to discipline the clergy, to see to it that priests are indeed shepherding the flock. They should spend more time visiting the people minus the pastor so people would speak,” Lalog said. (CBCP News)


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