Pastoral theologian: Conflicts are part of the life of the Church

The Pope directed his church to a synodal trial. In an interview, the theologian pastor from Linz Klara Csiszar argues for greater synodality and competence for the local church. Because in a globalized world, the diversity is obvious.

Question: Professor Csiszar, the Pope directed the universal Church to the “synodal process”. What is this “synodality” that the Pope made one of his main concerns?

Csiszar: Synodality in itself is nothing new in the Church. Think of the many committees and councils, such as parish councils and the council of priests in the diocese. The term synod is derived from the Greek language and means something like the ordinary way. Special events are, for example, diocesan synods or synods of bishops that have been held for over 50 years. These assemblies study the signs of the times. They consult on how to translate Jesus’ message into the present day, and they do all this by listening to the Holy Spirit and praying together.

What is new in the Pope’s synodal process is the simultaneity and duration – and this in a world where local churches live completely differently. All the local churches were commissioned to ask people about the given, but very generally worded, megatemata.

Question: The first synod was the Apostolic Council presented in the New Testament. What can the Church today learn from this beginning and from subsequent synods and councils?

Csiszar: Cardinal Schönborn once described the Apostolic Council as the original synod. The architecture of this first synod is exciting and the result has been extremely successful. As you know, it all started with a great conflict. The excitement was great, and to the important question of life and salvation, the answer was different: do pagan Christians have to keep Jewish commandments and also be circumcised? What do we learn from the original synod? That questions and anxiety can be expressed openly and conflicts can be resolved. That tensions are not bad either, but on the contrary can contribute to the recognition of new life opportunities.

I participated in two diocesan synods. From this experience, I can say that disagreement is part of the life of the Church. The basic conditions for synodality are speaking openly, humbly listening and trusting that all want a good future for God’s people.

Question: While some have high hopes for the synodal process, some are also very skeptical. As a Romanian teacher in Austria, how do you see this process?

Csiszar: I live in two worlds, Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Expectations range from skepticism to indifference, fear and hope. Some Eastern European dioceses do not even want to bother to shape their own process in the best possible way, preferring to criticize the German synodal way, often not knowing the texts and working documents. This creates a lot of fear in these local churches in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, in Western Europe, I still hear that this process is our last chance. I see. I appreciate the efforts of the many committed lay people and priests. And how exciting the atmosphere is is part of it.

Question: Even before the pope’s synodal trial, German Catholics began their synodal journey. Some of them face harsh criticism from other countries. How do you classify this criticism?

Csiszar: I think it’s nice when people are worried about a church in Germany showing respect, love and brotherhood. At the same time, I would like us to trust the Church in Germany that it will be aware of the commission it has received from Jesus and that it will act out of a sense of mission and responsibility. He must look for a way so that the good news about Jesus does not fall at the mercy of the structures and goes to the side of the road, but is carried to the people.

I took a closer look at the synodal road with Hungarian theology students. Until then, they had no idea what the texts were actually saying, although everyone had heard or read that the German way was dangerous: the Church in Germany is breaking away from the universal Church and there is a risk of a new schism. However, they were deeply impressed with how brave the synodal path in Germany is to deal openly with issues, to speak theologically precise about the Church and today’s Gospel, to remove obstacles to preaching, and to find a way out of an apparent dead end.

That is why it is difficult for me to understand the concern of Polish bishops and other bishops for a synodal path in Germany. In this first phase of the World Synod, they should look after their own local church and look openly and boldly at how the gospel is lived there today, about power, leadership, the role of women, successful relationships, and the life of priests to get things done.

Question: It is foreseeable that very different images of the Church will collide in the synodal process of the universal Church. Is the Catholic Church as a whole facing a decisive test, or is this only true for Germany?

Csiszar: As you know, the bishops already at the Second Vatican Council spoke out in favor of the decentralization of church structures. Perhaps it is time to refresh that thought and think it through to the end. It is true that we live in a globalized world, but here the diversity is more evident than ever before. We will have to have more faith in local churches to find our own way of being a mission church. Of course, part of that is also fighting to do the right thing in harmony with the gospel and to keep the Catholic faith. Some groups have been gifted with a greater doctrinal sensitivity, while others have been gifted with a greater sensitivity to the signs of the times. This conflict is part of life.

We will have to trust that local churches recognize the structures they need to make God’s love tangible for people. This lived subsidiarity is based on trust, and where trust grows, so does solidarity. This will be the only possible future for the Catholic Church because of its diversity.

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