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Bringing Synodal lessons from Rome to T&T

Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon recently returned from Rome, where he attended the Synod on Synodality, an event that drew considerable attention and expectations.

In the November 3 interview with Altos, he shed light on the main takeaways from the synod, which differed from the anticipated policy changes.

As Archbishop Gordon explained, “Synodality and this first sitting of the Synod gave us a model and a method of bringing communion to divergent views.” He emphasised the importance of “healing the divided world that we’re in and the divided Church that we’re in” through conversations conducted in the Spirit.

Revitalising Synodal structures

One of the striking revelations, as highlighted by the Archbishop, was that Synodal structures were already present in the Archdiocese through the Pastoral Council, the Ministry Animation Teams, the Finance Council, the Presbyterial Council, the clusters. What was absent however was “the Synodal structures operating in a Synodal way”.

“We have these structures. So, my takeaway is like you have a great vehicle, there’s a diesel engine, and you’re putting gasoline in it. It’s bucking and it’s doing something, but not what it’s supposed to do. Change the fuel; let’s bring conversation in the Spirit, discernment, into the mix in all of our Synodal structures,” he commented.

Describing his own experience as “hair-raising exciting”, the Archbishop said he sat at tables with people whose views “were North Pole and South Pole” but at the end of the process there was convergence.

“We had a report, and everybody was willing to sign off on the report. The report would have convergences, divergences, areas for deeper research and reflection. And we found a way in that the people could, agree, even what we agree and what we disagree to.”

The role of the laity

A significant focus of the Synod was the inclusion of the laity in the decision-making processes of the Church. Archbishop Gordon addressed the historical context of synods and councils, pointing out that “the inclusion of non-bishops in the synod or council is not new unless you’re looking at the Second Vatican Council.”

He emphasised that the laity’s involvement was not about taking away authority from priests: “The laity is not asking or begging for a place. They have been given a place as everyone in the Church [has] by their Baptism.” He did admit that priests and laity sitting at the same table was contentious during the sessions: “it kept coming up”.

He cited historian John O’Malley who wrote on the definitive works of the councils in the Church: Vatican I, Vatican II, and the Council of Trent. In his book, When Bishops Meet, O’Malley spoke about synods and councils in 1100s and before, at which there were always the king, the emperor, and the prince sitting in the council. In one of the main synods, it was both the emperor and the pope moderating over the synod. In other times, there were laity, priests, and abbots.

The inclusion of non-bishops in the synod or council the Archbishop said, “is not new unless you’re looking at the Second Vatican Council. And even there you had 20-something lay people…the pope was pressured to increase the number. And so even in the Second Vatican Council we had laity present.” Laity, priests, and bishops in a synod of bishops is therefore not a new concept.

The role of the laity is to transform the world and thus formation of laity was both necessary and urgent.

When asked about the impact of the Synod on declining church attendance, Archbishop Gordon acknowledged that declining numbers were not unique to the Catholic Church but a global issue, affecting various denominations.

He highlighted two approaches to growing a Church, stating, “You could grow a Church wide, or you could grow a Church deep.” He expressed his vision of growing a more relational and inclusive church through the synodal process.

Notable figures at the Synod

The interview also touched on notable figures at the synod, including Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, who provided remarkable leadership during the event. Archbishop Gordon praised Fr Radcliffe saying, “Timothy Radcliffe is like fine wine. He just keeps getting better as he goes along. He gave images and concepts that were deeply scriptural to open the mind of the participants to see the work of the synod in brand new ways.”

Archbishop Gordon also shared a humorous moment with Pope Francis during the Synod, stating, “The Pope, what a grand guy. You know, he and I shared a very humorous moment or two.” However, he kept the details of the jokes between them, leaving it a mystery.