One more thing on the “Open Letter” of Catholics for Renewal.
The main request of the letter is for diocesan synods in all dioceses across Australia. The letter references the Code of Canon Law, §§460-468.
The Code defines a “diocesan synod” as:
a group of selected priests and other members of the Christian faithful of a particular church who offer assistance to the diocesan bishop for the good of the whole diocesan community according to the norm of the following canons.
Note the word “selected”. More on that below.
When should a synod be held? “[W]hen circumstances suggest it in the judgment of the diocesan bishop after he has heard the presbyteral council.” (Can. 461 §1)
Who convokes and presides at the diocesan synod? The Diocesan Bishop (Can. 462 §§1,2)
Who must be involved in a Diocesan Synod? (Can. 463 §1.) The following must be called to a diocesan synod as members of the synod and are obliged to participate in it:
1/ a coadjutor bishop and auxiliary bishops;
2/ vicars general, episcopal vicars, and the judicial vicar;
3/ canons of the cathedral church;
4/ members of the presbyteral council;
5/ lay members of the Christian faithful, even members of institutes of consecrated life, chosen by the pastoral council in a manner and number to be determined by the diocesan bishop or, where this council does not exist, in a manner determined by the diocesan bishop;
6/ the rector of the diocesan major seminary;
7/ vicars forane;
8/ at least one presbyter from each vicariate forane, chosen by all those who have the care of souls there; also another presbyter must be chosen who, if the first is impeded, is to take his place;
9/ some superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life which have a house in the diocese, chosen in a number and manner determined by the diocesan bishop.
Note that in this list, only section 5 refers to the inclusion of laity in the diocesan synod, and the selection of and invitation to lay participants is completely up to the diocesan bishop. The Canons allow for others to be invited as well as the list above, but these invitations to are up to the bishop. (He can even invite observers from other Christian communities not in communion with the Catholic Church).
Although “all proposed questions are subject to the free discussion of the members during sessions of the synod” (Can. 465), “the only legislator in a diocesan synod is the diocesan bishop; the other members of the synod possess only a consultative vote” (Can. 466).
In other words, Catholics for Renewal may not have closely read the canons to which they wish to draw the Bishops’ attention. They are an instrument of the bishop, not of “the people”. They are predominantly opportunities for the bishop to consult his clergy and leaders in his diocese – something that he is able, of course, to do off his own bat whenever he wants to. There is no sense in which the diocesan synod could in any sense force the bishop’s hand, or make resolutions against his will. He can close or suspend the synod whenever he likes (Can. 468 §1). Curiously, the Code of Canon law doesn’t stipulate how the issues to be discussed at the synod are to be chosen – but I suspect that once again, it is the bishop and the bishop alone who determines what may and may not be discussed on the floor of a diocesan synod.
It is hard therefore to see how Catholics for Renewal think that the holding of diocesan synods would further their populist agenda. And if diocesan synods were inaugurated in all dioceses across Australia, here are some of the complaints you could expect afterward:
1) They didn’t chose me
2) They didn’t consult me
3) They chose the wrong people
4) The bishop only chose who he wanted to hear from
5) The agenda was totally determined by the bishop
6) The Synod voted against it, but the bishop went ahead and did it anyway
7) The Synod was loaded with priests
8) The bishop shut the discussion down because he didn’t like it
You could probably think of others! All of this is why the current code of canon law leaves the calling of diocesan synods completely up to the bishop according to his prudence and wisdom.