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Pope Francis: “Synodality is the medical record of the Italian Church”

Synodality as the “medical record”, canonical marriage reform yet to be applied, the relationship between bishops and priests as the “backbone.” These were the focal points of Pope Francis’ seventh address to the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) at the opening of its Assembly. A twenty-minute unwritten speech, followed by a “closed-door” meeting with the prelates

(Foto Siciliani-Gennari/SIR)

“Synodality and collegiality; reform of the marriage process; relationship between bishops and priests.” These three themes were at the centre of Pope Francis’ unwritten speech to the Italian bishops, at the opening of their General Assembly, taking place in the Vatican until 23 May. “I thank you for this meeting – Francis said – which I would like to be a moment of help in the pastoral discernment on the life and mission of the Italian Church.” “Thank you for coming!”, said Card. Gualtiero Bassetti, Archbishop of Perugia-Città della Pieve and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, to the Holy Father: “You welcome us with joy into this house of yours that we feel is also ours.” In a twenty-minute unwritten remarks, as he did last year, ahead of the “closed-door” meeting with the bishops, the Holy Father announced that he would resume the discussion on some of the issues already brought to the attention of the bishops, “to deepen them and integrate them with new matters to see where we stand.”

Synodality and collegiality. These were the first key-words of the Pope’s speech, who quoted from his address for the Ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, reiterating that “it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects from the Church of the Third millennium: a constitutive element of the Church.” Synodality, the Pope said with reference to the 2017 plenary of the International Theological Commission centred on this theme,
“is the medical record that describes the state of health of the Italian Church and of your pastoral and ecclesial service.”

The Pope mentioned “rumours” regarding the possibility of a Synod of bishops for Italy that have even reached Santa Marta, he revealed.

“If someone thinks of organising a Synod of the Italian episcopate, then we must start from the bottom up and the top down, with the Florence document.” It’s the direction indicated by the Pope, urging to start from the diocesan level  and adopt his address to the Italian Church on the occasion of its fifth convention, as the “Magna Charta”,  that “remains valid” still today. “This will  takes some time, but we will walk on the safe side, not on ideas.”The Pope said: “It is with regret that I note that the reform, after four years, remains far from being applied in the great majority of Italian dioceses”, despite the fact that the Italian Church “planned an update on the reform of the administrative system of ecclesiastical courts.” It’s the balance of the application of the reform of the matrimonial process in Canon Law codes enshrined in two Motu Proprio Apostolic letters  in 2015. The Pope called for their “full and immediate application in all the dioceses of the Country.” “We must never forget that the reforming thrust of canonical marriage – that makes the process quicker, more pastoral and less expensive- is aimed at showing that the Church is a mother that has at heart the good of her children, who in this case have been inflicted the wound of a broken love”, Bergoglio declared. “And therefore all ecclesiastical court officials must act for this to happen and not prioritise anything else that could prevent or slow down the application of the reform, regardless of its nature or interest.”
“The positive outcome of the reform depends on the conversion of structures and people”, the Pope pointed out: “Let us not allow the economic interests of some lawyers or the fear of the loss of power of some judicial vicars to stifle or delay the reform.” .“The relationship between us bishops and our priests is one of the most vital issues in the life of the Church, it is the backbone that sustains the diocesan community”, underlined the Pope, who went on to mention “the wise words” of Cardinal Bassetti: “In the event of a flaw in this relationship, the entire body would be weakened. And the same message would end up being weakened.” “The bishop is the shepherd, the sign of unity for the whole diocesan Church, the father and the guide of his own priests and of the whole community of believers”, said Francis, adding that
“unfortunately some bishops are struggling to establish acceptable relationships with their priests, thus risking the ruin of their mission and even weakening the mission of the Church itself.”“Priests are our closest collaborators and brothers. They are the nearest neighbour!”, he exclaimed. “Hierarchal communion in the Church collapses when it is infected by any form of personal power or self-gratification”, while “it is strengthened and grows when it is embraced by the spirit of total abandonment and service to the people of God.” A true shepherd lives “amidst his flock and his priests, without discrimination and without preferences, and knows how to listen to and welcome all without prejudices.” Francis cautioned “to not to fall into the temptation of welcoming only priests who are nice or are flatterers and avoid those who, according to the bishop, are unpleasant and forthright; not to give responsibilities and assignments only to the eager and to the “climbers,” ignoring those who are “shy, meek or problematic.”

“Our priests feel they are constantly targeted by the media,

ridiculed or condemned as a result of some mistakes or for the crimes committed by some of their colleagues – was the Pope’s cry of alarm – they have a deep need to find in the bishop the figure of an elder brother and father, who supports them in difficult moments.”

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