Pope Francis has called for widespread consultation of the faithful in preparation for the 14th Ordinary Synod scheduled for October 4-25, 2015, which is called to discuss and develop a response to the challenges facing families and marriage in today’s world.
Bishops who will gather for the meeting have been given the results of last year’s preparatory synod. This document of guidelines (lineamenta) will serve as a basis for discussions.
In a letter to Bishops around the world, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod, urged the dissemination of the document and widespread consultation with the Faithful. Included with the Lineamenta were a series of questions to help with the study of the document and the consultation.
In my humble opinion the committee which formulated the 46 questions attached to the Lineamenta has undermined the consultation process.
The questions are academic, esoteric, and sometimes downright enigmatic. What, for example, are we to understand by question #5: “How do Christian families bear witness, for succeeding generations, to the development and growth of a life of sentiment?” Even put in the context of sections 9-10 of the Lineamenta, the question lacks definition.
Question #9 (in reference to section 13 of the document) is at best torturous: “What human pedagogy needs to be taken into account –in keeping with divine pedagogy—so as better to understand what is required in the Church’s pastoral activity in light of the maturation of a couple’s life together which would lead to marriage in the future?”
Dioceses around the country will post these survey questions and ask Catholics to offer their observations. I suspect many who want to respond will lose interest by the time they get to question #10.
As I see it, Pope Francis’ desire for widespread consultation with all segments of the People of God is an exercise in tapping the so-called sensus fidei, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes as “A supernatural appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) shown by the universal consent in matters of faith and morals manifested by the whole body of the faithful under the guidance of the Magisterium" (92).
Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) acknowledged this concept in section 12: “The whole body of the faithful who have received an anointing which comes from the holy one (see 1 John 2:20, 27) cannot be mistaken in belief. It shows this characteristic through the entire people’s supernatural sense of the faith, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ it manifests a universal consensus in matters of faith and morals.”
Pope Francis and the Synod are asking, “What do we believe? How should we apply the Gospel to the conditions found in our world? How do we best minister to the people in the light of Christ’s mercy and love?”
Sensus fidei (sensus fidelium) is an elusive but nonetheless orthodox concept. It does not imply that the voice of the majority is therefore sound doctrine, but it does recognize that the experience of the faithful is a source for theology. It is why we are called "catholic." Some in the Church, however, are afraid of an application of the concept, skeptical that consultation with the faithful can bring acceptable (orthodox) replies.
Pope Francis recognizes the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in all levels or increments of the Church. His desire for a consultation with laity as well as clergy is an appeal for the Holy Spirit to speak and an opportunity for all the Church to take ownership of the Church’s message, mission and ministry.
While I am personally disappointed with the formulation of questions posed for the consultation I do recall the manifestation of the Spirit on Pentecost and that the crowds who gathered heard the message each in his own language.
Though the synodal questions have been composed in one language, it can be our prayer that all who participate in the consultation will hear them in his own tongue and be inspired to answer those questions accordingly.