by Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Collegiality and synodality are “twin sisters” of a bishop’s work, according to Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa, who gave the annual Cardinal Dearden Lecture Feb. 18 at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
Cardinal Napier defined collegiality as “a cooperative relationship with colleagues,” as it is with the pope and the bishops.
“The bishops, while loyally respecting the primacy and pre-eminence of their head, exercise their own proper authority for the good of their faithful, indeed, even for the good of the whole church,” Cardinal Napier said, adding that this work is “strengthened by the continued influence of the Holy Spirit.”
He defined synodality as “the participation of the local church in the life and ministry of the universal church,” which has three elements to it: bishops listening to the faithful, bishops listening to each other, and bishops listening to the pope.
The role of the bishop, Cardinal Napier said, is to “act as an authentic custodian, interpreter and witness of the faith of the whole church.”
“This is what I see [Pope] Francis doing. He is calling the bishops together,” Cardinal Napier said.
The cardinal, ordained a priest in 1970 and a bishop just over 10 years later, recalled that in 1979, South Africa’s bishops’ conference was “still working on its true identity as a conference.” But, since “collegiality was the basic strength of the Catholic Church,” they fashioned a program “to enable the church to remove apartheid in their midst — apartheid speaking, apartheid acting — from its day-to-day life.” Within a year, the nation’s Catholic schools were open to enrollment by all children.
From that action, the South African bishops embraced what Cardinal Napier called a “mantra” that remains in effect more than two decades after apartheid was dismantled: “community serving humanity.”
Cardinal Napier called the 1994 Synod on Africa as the time “I can say, with some surety, that’s when the African church came of age.”
Each of the suggestions made during the synod, he said, “were firmly in the hands of the bishops,” and there was “transparency to the nth degree.”
At the end of the synod, the work had not been completed, though, and the participants had indicated they were willing to let the Vatican put the finishing touches on the document. But then-Archbishop Jan Schotte, who organized synods at the Vatican, told the synod, “There must not be the slightest suspicion that the secretariat had manipulated the process at any stage.” He told them to choose one English-speaking and one French-speaking bishop to remain in Rome and complete the synod’s work.
Cardinal Napier also spoke about the two-part synod in 2014 and 2015 on family life, and the “deeper levels of skepticism and distrust” that emanated from some synod participants after the mid-synod report in 2014 that appeared to show a greater Vatican tolerance for homosexual unions. Pope Francis, the cardinal remarked, called on delegates to remain open to the synod process rather than “wanting everything to be changed or wanting nothing to be changed.”
The pope at no time during the synod sessions ever expressed his own preferences. This was a good thing, Cardinal Napier said, adding that had Pope Francis spoken up in that manner, ‘what’s the point of [us] speaking if he’s gong to correct us? We might as well shut up.”
Pope Francis wanted the bishops to “speak openly and speak honestly.”
Changes in church governance may be in the offing, according to Cardinal Napier, but “how are we going to do this? By reforming the church from the top to the bottom, and from the bottom to the top.” Otherwise, “if we don’t do it together, we split, and our people will be split along the same lines.”
The annual Cardinal Dearden Lecture started in 1982 with an endowment by bishops who had worked with Cardinal John Dearden, by that time the retired archbishop of Detroit, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. Cardinal Dearden, known for his social justice work, was a key implementer of the Second Vatican Council’s reforms both in Detroit and at the national level in the late 1960s as the first president of what was then called the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The lecture, sponsored by Catholic University’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, generally touches upon one of the many aspect of Vatican II.