When it comes to talking

When it comes to talking

Chris McDonnell

CT Friday October 19th2018


“Let’s talk about it shall we?”  That often seems to be the way out of an impasse, a point of pause before a decision is reached, a breathing time for reflection.

Watching the recent U.S. Senate hearings relating to membership of the Supreme Court it was clear to see how the urgency for an immediate solution eventually gave way to the buying of time for further discussion and enquiry.

Too often our rush to judgement ends in a cul-de-sac. We thought we knew all the relevant detail only to find the missing elements later bringing our case to a shuddering halt.

It is why Councils and Synods, national conferences of Bishops and yes, for those fortunate enough to have them, humble parish councils, are called and gather round a table of common concern. They do not happen at the drop of a hat, but demand careful preparation, thoughtful reflection and detailed analysis before ever the meeting begins. The Documentation that was gathered prior to the Council of the Vatican in the 60s is clear evidence of hard work and endeavour. No matter that significant adjustments were made, ranging from minor linguistic changes to outright rejection of papers; having the material there gave direction and substance to deliberation which would have been poorer if the table had been bare.

A discussion having shape is more likely to have firm results, to be of greater benefit for having been called. What is going to be discussed should be determined, to a large degree, by the participants. Being able to contribute to the Agenda shows an openness and transparency in argument and ensures a greater chance of acceptance of outcome.

The Synod of bishops gathered in Rome this month has been called to give a forum for the concerns of Youth. It is taking the formal theme “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment,” as its title. A background article on the Synod was published on the website of the National Catholic Reporter by their Vatican correspondent, Joshua McElwee, at the beginning of October, just prior to the opening of the Synod. He makes some interesting points.

Membership of the Synod gathering include “50 cardinals, 145 bishops and archbishops, 37 auxiliary bishops, and ten priests and brothers from religious orders. Thirty-four young people will be present as auditors, able to take part in all the discussions but unable to vote on the meeting’s expected final document.”So although young people are there to observe and contribute, they will have no voting power when push comes to shove. Much will depend on how good the assembled clerics are at listening, how much their hearing will be conditioned by pre-determined views, how open they are to the realities that face young people.

Yet for the average Joe, the agenda is unknown, the detail a matter of conjecture. With the forthcoming February meeting of Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences called specifically to consider the Abuse Crisis, it is difficult to imagine that the issue can be ignored this October. It would have been good to have seen published a list of topics that the Synod hopes to address; it would have encouraged confidence if nothing else. Surely a subject for a few pertinent words in a Sunday sermon? In a short press release on May 9thit was announced by the Synod office that the 15 bishop-members of its ordinary council had met together on May 7-8 with Pope Francis to finalize the  working document for the Synod following “an interesting exchange of opinions” about the document among the members of the organization’s governing board. I wonder what that meant? We must await the outcome even though there has already been a voice of dissent from within the very group that drew up that working document.

The cardinal organizing October’s meeting, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, has criticized Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, in a public rebuke. During a press conference on the October meeting, Cardinal Baldisseri said he did not understand why one bishop had decided to publish a critique of the Gathering’s Working Document. Without referring to Chaput by name, the cardinal noted that one member of the planning council had circulated a theologian’s concerns about the document. “The person in question is a member of the council,”said Baldisseri, the head of the Vatican’s synod office. “He was present at the moment this text was presented. If he had some objections, he could have demonstrated them; we would have inserted them, calmly.”Due process needs to be observed if outcomes are to have a good foundation.

So talking about an issue demands careful thought and honest preparation, that we listen to each other rather than  just hear noise. And we meet difference with respect, for peace begins with a smile.



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