Vatican's "Listening" Synod May Not Be Hearing From the Persecuted Church
How confident is the Vatican that the data being provided is truly representative of the voice of the Faithful...especially from the Persecuted?
VATICAN CITY—In October, 2021, Pope Francis announced a worldwide initiative within the Catholic Church—a “Synod on Synodality”. One year into the two-year endeavor, concerns over ensuring the accessibility and integrity of the responses from persecuted churches, such as in China, weigh heavily on the Vatican.
For this worldwide “Synod on Synodality”, instructions were issued by the Vatican that from 2021-2023, the hierarchy leading the nearly 2,900 Catholic dioceses worldwide and additional mission churches, would encourage and “listen” to the 1.36 Billion Catholics under their care. They would do this through questionnaires to parishes and group convocations. The questions would range on the faithful's concerns regarding the state of the Church and world; their discernments on where (or if) the Church should change and adapt, and their suggestions on how such change could take place. “There is no need to create another Church,” the Pope stated at the opening of the Synod, “But to create a different Church”.
Yet the vagueness presented, intentionally, by the Vatican on the development of this “listening” synod has seemingly left countries where persecution of Christians has lead to “underground” churches—such as in China, parts of Africa, Pakistan and Iran—in the peripheries. The clergy, already taxed with ministering to a suffering church, are now pressured to compete with wealthy, western European and American churches for the chance to be heard. In some churches, there is an additional concern to whether heavy handed political infiltration—such as by the Chinese Communist Party in their established “Patriotic Church—would produce genuine responses by the faithful.
With Vatican leadership insisting that “learning as they go” was the sole way to authentic response, what measures were there to protect the integrity of the responses from manipulation or filtering?
Could the opportunity for bad actors to change the church from within be too much a prize to waste?
Are there any assurances that the current results presented—as in the case of Germany—are legitimately representative of the “vox populi”, or are those of activists (not unlike those of the reformation) seeking to create a new Church?
Late last month, members of the leadership overseeing this “Synod on Synodality” held a press conference for the Holy See press corps, discussing results that had been submitted to the Vatican from countries such as Germany and France; the ongoing processes in Oceana; the closing of the initial “diocesan phase” of the worldwide initiative and the initiation of the second (or “Continental”) phase.
Aside from the general enthusiasm expressed by Cardinal Mario Grech of Malta and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, SJ, of Luxembourg, both men expressed concern to how the Church would ensure the integrity of responses from churches such as in China.
Sitting down, exclusively with me, Cardinal Hollerich responded to how the leaders of the Church would know the integrity of the responses from the Chinese church would be genuine, and not manipulated. “I can just give you one example on how I’d imagine it. You know, I lived a long time in Japan and in Japan we have a church for the Chinese people (refugees). They mostly come out of the underground church. They’re simple workers. I think they participated in the synodal process in the church in Japan…as a voice for China. Knowing this community as I do, I completely trust their response is the response of most of the mainland Chinese Catholics.”
When asked if he would speak to someone like Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Archbishop Emeritus of Hong Kong—ethnically Chinese, whose work with both the underground and Patriotic churches in Mainland China is well respected, Hollerich replied, “No. I know that, also, when I visited China and spoke to many Chinese people that Cardinal Zen is also controversial in mainland China. Of course, I respect him—he’s a brother Cardinal—but people (in China) say that every time Cardinal Zen speaks up, (they) get persecuted.”
Hollerich continued, “I think these people, however—they are always very good at saying things they have to say through nuances…and we have to perceive that. I know that, when I met with Chinese bishops in Japan, so often they’d normally have a translator with them. So, sometimes the bishop would speak other languages, enough to communicate to us what they intended—even “credo in unam apostolicam ecclesiam” So, you have to look at the nuances, and I think that’s possible, here.”
When I spoke with Cardinal Mario Grech on how the Church could guarantee the integrity of the responses from persecuted churches, such as China, he answered “Listen, this is a very important question, no? And it is a task for us, but at the same time we are at an early stage of the “synodal” church. We have to learn how we can really listen to all, without any filtering. I can’t tell you, however, the case to which you are referring has been filtered or not.” When asked if it would help for him to engage individuals such as Cardinal Joseph Zen, Grech replied, “Look, Cardinal Zen can, himself, submit his contribution—as long as he is representing himself. Listen, the process—we are still learning—it will continue. It will not end in October 2023.
Meanwhile, as reports from wealthy Western European countries, such as Germany, already headlining suggestions for dramatic changes (such as homosexual marriages, ordination of women) in the Catholic Church, it is hard to tell whether or not those whose faith is tested daily, though suffering, persecution or poverty, will share an equal voice in the coming Synod of the Universal Catholic Church.
This article was originally submitted to Epoch Times, but rejected due to editorial staff constraints and topical interest. If you wish to see more news of this nature covered in secular press—please make your voices known, here.