Pope Francis: Synod is unfinished business of Vatican II

19 October 2015 10:20 by Sean Smith – ‘The Tablet’

Pope Francis insisted that the Synod of Bishops in Rome is the unfinished business of Vatican II at an address to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of the synod as a permanent body.

Speaking at the commemoration at Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City on Saturday morning, Francis insisted that both the process and the substance of the Synod, currently in session, is as constitutive and expressive as the Church’s own nature and mission.

 “Journeying together,” said Pope Francis in an enlargement on the Greek words from which the English word ‘synod’ is derived, “laity, pastors, and the Bishop of Rome, is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice.”

The Holy Father went on to say that each and everyone has a place in the Church, and that the key to journeying well together is listening.



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“From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome I intended to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council,” Pope Francis said.

“A synodal Church is a Church of listening,” said Pope Francis. “It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn: the faithful, the College of Bishops, [and the] Bishop of Rome; each listening to the others; and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the ‘Spirit of truth’ (Jn 14, 17), to know what he ‘says to the Churches’ (Rev 2: 7).”

“The Synod of Bishops,” continued Pope Francis, “is the convergence point of this dynamism – this listening conducted at all levels of Church life,” starting with the people, who “also participate in Christ’s prophetic office” and who have a right and a duty to be heard on topics that touch the common life of the Church.

Then come the Synod Fathers, through whom, “[T]he bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, which [they] must be able carefully to distinguish from often shifting public opinion.”

In all this, the Successor to Peter is fundamental. “Finally,” explained Pope Francis, “the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, called upon to speak authoritatively [It. pronunciare] as ‘Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians’: not on the basis of his personal beliefs, but as the supreme witness of the Faith of the whole Church, the guarantor of the Church’s conformity with and obedience to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of the Church.”

The Holy Father went on to explain that the Synod always always acts cum Petro et sub Petro – with Peter and under Peter – a fact that does not constitute a restriction of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. “In fact,” he said, “the Pope is, by the will of the Lord, ‘the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful’.”


In his address, given to the assembled Roman Catholic Synod of Bishops in Rome – mid-way through the deliberations of the Synod, Pope Francis states categorically that the meeting is (has been) a definitive continuation of the Synod of Vatican II. The underlying implication here is that the work of renewal begun in Vatican II, and suspended in subsequent years, had to be resurrected in order to continue the mission of the Roman Catholic Church in our day.

Like the Fathers of Vatican II, Pope Francis has drawn attention to the need for the Church’s hierarchy to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit being uttered  through all of the levels of the Church – laity, clergy and bishops – in order that God’s will may be discerned in the whole body, rather then just at the episcopal level. Perhaps naturally, Pope Francis also reminded the Synod of the place of the Successor of Peter, the role of the Chief Pastor, in  providing a ‘guarantee’ of the unity of the Church, being the ‘supreme witness’ in the midst of the assembly.  

Here we have the genius of the Papacy: the willingness to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit coming through the whole Body of the Church; while yet ensuring that any conflicts will be settled by the traditional Chief Pastor – the Roman Pontiff – as the guarantee  of unity under Christ. This should help to silence any mumbling among the Synod members who might have disagreed with the need for further renewal. 

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand


About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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