The Synod Final Document: A Rush to Judgment

National Catholic Register, 27 October 2018

COMMENTARY: The process employed to draft and approve the final document renders implausible any claim that it is the fruit of mature deliberation by the synod members.

VATICAN CITY — “I don’t know if this document will do anything,” Pope Francis said in his brief, extemporaneous address to conclude the Synod on Youth. “We approved the document. The Holy Spirit gives us the document so that it can work in our hearts.”

The final document of the synod may do something indeed, as the new regulations promulgated just before this synod by Pope Francis make it possible that he may designate it as an act of the magisterium of the Church. As a novelty, it remains to be seen what exactly that would mean.

What decision the Holy Father will take in that regard has not yet been decided, as clarified at the final press briefing by Dr. Paolo Ruffini, head of Vatican communications. It will be some time until that decision is made.

The final document also included a reference to the Instrumentum laboris— the heavily criticized working document prepared months before the synod — saying that it should be read in “complementarity” with the final document. That adds a further question about status. The “working document” was not prepared by the synod, nor was it voted upon by them. How then could it have any status at all, let alone that of being “complementary” to a potentially magisterial document?

All of the paragraphs in the final document passed the necessary two-thirds threshold easily.

The paragraph regarding the status of the Instrumentum laborishad 43 negative votes out of 249, the highest number for any paragraph save for the paragraph on homosexuality. That paragraph could be read in an orthodox fashion, citing previous Church teaching, but was sufficiently ambiguous to garner 65 negative votes out of 248.

So it is clear that the final document received sufficient votes to pass, with most paragraphs achieving near-unanimity. What is not as clear is whether the synodal process allows sufficient time and space for the discernment necessary for a document that might be recognized as magisterial.

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