|THE BUCK STOPS HERE!|
Today, I decided to take a look at what Canon Law says about a synod. It's covered in Canons 342-348. Lest people misunderstand what's going on in Rome, here is the definition of a synod and what it can and cannot do:
Canon 342. The synod of bishops is that group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and who meet at stated times to foster a closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing faith and morals and in preserving and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions concerning the Church's activity in the world.Not the verbs that define the synod's role:
- to foster a closer unity between the pope and bishops
- to assist the pope by their counsel to safeguard and increase faith and morals
- to preserve and strengthen ecclesiastical discipline
Do you see anything there about changing doctrine or discipline? No, the bishops' duty is to safeguard and increase the faith and preserve and strengthen the discipline. Now they also may "consider questions about the Church's activity in the world." So, for example, the bishops of Africa might want the synod to consider measures to address the cultural problem of polygamy. The American bishops might want to talk about the impact of materialism on the faith. But there is NOTHING, absolutely nothing, in this definition that gives the bishops power. They are simply advisers to the pope.
And that advisory duty is made explicit in canon 343:
It is the role of the synod of bishops to discuss the questions on their agenda and to express their desires about them but not to resolve them or to issue decrees about them.Note the verbs again:
- to discuss questions
- to express desires
- NOT TO RESOLVE THEM
- NOT TO ISSUE DECREES
Now the pope can give them "deliberative power," but even in that case "it is his role to ratify [the synod's] decisions." You might compare the synod to the papal birth control commission that offered advice to Pope Paul VI about legitimizing artificial birth control. Their advice clearly contradicted the faith and the pope rightly rejected their advice and instead issued Humanae Vitae illustrating the protection of the Holy Spirit on the Church.
In fact, the pope, under Canon 344 has all the authority over a synod. Here's how the canon describes his "role":
- to convoke a synod
- to ratify election of members
- to designate other members
- to determine the topics
- to determine the agenda
- to preside in person or through others
- to conclude, transfer, suspend, and dissolve the synod
Everything about the synod comes with an invisible sign on the pope's forehead:
So, at the end of the Synod on the Family, the pope is ultimately responsible for the consequences either good or ill. Pray for the pope that the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow him and that he will affirm what a synod is meant to do -- safeguard and increase the faith and preserve and strengthen the discipline.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, protect the Church.