The Catholic Leader sat down with Fr Ormond Rush who has been invited to take part in the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome. Fr Rush is an associate professor of religion and theology with the Australian Catholic University. It is his first time participating in a synod.
- What’s your role in the synod? Will you be voting?
I am one of the 28 theologians from around the world who have been appointed to the Synod. As non-members, we don’t vote. We attend the plenary sessions of the Synod, but, except for the first week, we don’t take part in the small group sharing at tables.
Our job is to take all the summary reports that come from each of those tables and the plenary sessions, and to bring them into synthesis documents.
Another aspect of the theologians’ role is to be available for consultation on any topic that arises.
- The idea of synodality, “journeying together”, can be confusing/vague to many. How would you explain the idea of synodality?
The key to understanding what synodality means is to return to the primary way the Second Vatican Council regularly referred to the church—as the People of God.
That is, the basic and most important way to begin thinking of “what” the church is, is to think of “who” the church is.
The church is, first and foremost, all the baptised faithful, who have committed themselves to Jesus Christ, and who have been anointed at baptism with the Holy Spirit.
In Catholic belief, it is the Holy Spirit who, firstly, confirms us in “faith”, which is primarily our loving relationship with God.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit, along with the gift of faith, gives to each of the “faith”-ful, a capacity to understand, apply and live out that faith in the circumstances of their daily lives.
In theological jargon, this is called “a sense of the faith”, or in Latin, sensus fidei. When we speak of the whole Church’s sense of the faith, we call it “the sense of the faith of all the faithful”, or in Latin, the sensus fidelium.
A “synodal church” is a church that seeks to tap into the lived faith of the faithful.
It is a listening to the Holy Spirit guiding the Church as it tries to answer the new questions that are arising throughout the Catholic world and in society in the 21st century.
A faithful living out of “the Gospel of Jesus Christ” may mean different things in the ninth century, in the nineteenth century, or the twenty-first century.
A synodal church, what Pope Francis calls “a church which listens”, seeks to, as the Book of Revelation 2:7 urges: “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”.
Those “churches” are all the dioceses throughout the Catholic world. The role of the bishops in a synodal church is to foster this ecclesial listening to the Holy Spirit.
- When talking about the Church post Second Vatican Council, we often say that Second Vatican Council is still yet to be fully implemented/realised. In your opinion, how do you see this synod playing a part in that realisation of Second Vatican Council? Are there direct connections you can make to what the council set out?
Yes, I would agree that the vision of the Second Vatican Council, 60 years later, is far from being fully implemented into the soul of the church.
Pope Francis, with his notion of “synodality” is simply bringing together many elements of that vision of the council. I could give a long list of those elements.
But let me highlight just some of the conciliar themes that, taken together, envisage what Pope Francis is calling “a synodal church”:
(1) the whole body of the faithful as the recipient of divine revelation;
(2) the magisterium as not above the word of God but its servant;
(3) the participation of all the baptised, lay and ordained, in the mission of the church;
(4) the participation of all the baptised, not just the hierarchy, in the so-called three offices of Christ: the prophetic office (the teaching office of the church); the priestly office (the sanctifying office of the church); and the kingly office (the governing office of the church);
(5) the notion of collaboration between pastors and laity;
(6) the notion of the local church as the Catholic Church fully in that place;
(7) the notion of communion between all these local churches, and of the Catholic Church as a communion of churches;
(8) the call for dialogue, with other Christians, with other religions, and with unbelievers, but also, first and foremost, within the church, and not only within a local church but also among all the local churches that make up the church catholic;
and (9) the dignity of the human person, of their sensus fidei, of their charisms, and of their conscience.
So we can say that we are now entering into a deeper phase in the reception of the Second Vatican Council.
- One thing Pope Francis has made clear is that a synod is not a “parliament”. We are also seeing 70 non-bishop members with full voting rights at the synod. What’s your opinion on this inclusion?
I don’t think voting by non-bishops is the problem Pope Francis is talking about.
He is saying that a gathering “in Synod” is a sacred event.
The dynamic shouldn’t be like a debating club or some parliamentary debate.
These are so often a zero-sum game, where there is only a winner and a loser.
The term “conversation in the Spirit” captures the difference. It is a spiritual process. A time for encountering my sisters and brothers in love.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be differences, disagreements, tensions. But these must be shared under the canopy of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment, guidance and promptings.
Once that happens, then both “sides” can experience a synodal conversion—when I may come to see the limitations of my own perspective, and indeed, some of the truth in the other’s perspective.
In other words, for all it can be a learning process—learning to see the richness of Christ’s Gospel and its particular meaning for the context of the 21st century and its new questions.
And the one who can lead us to that new perspective is the Holy Spirit, the one who enlightens us to interpret faithfully “the Gospel of Jesus Christ”.
We can’t be a Christ-centred church if we are not a Spirit-led church.
- Australia’s Plenary Council was in many ways an early chance for Rome and the whole Church to see synodality in action on a large scale. What has Rome and the Church learned from Australia’s Plenary Council? How important was it in informing the Synod on Synodality?
The Secretariat for the Synod in Rome has certainly been keenly interested in Australia’s recent experience of the Plenary Council, and the bishops’ explicit appeal Pope Francis’ notion of a synodal church as their aim for the PC.
The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference during the preparation had been Archbishop Mark Coleridge.
When he heard a speech by Pope Francis on synodality, he remarked that now, synodality refers to “not some of the bishops some of the time but all of the church all of the time.”.
Now his successor as President of the Australian Bishops Conference is Archbishop Tim Costelloe from Perth, who officially presided over the Plenary Council.
He has been a member of the preparatory committee for the Rome Synod, and will be a member of the October meeting.