As the synodal sessions in Rome approach their half-time break, participants are preparing to vote on the text of an interim report on their work. The assembly has also decided to issue a “Letter to the People of God” — a novelty, given the make up of the institution.

The synodal assembly’s decision to address the whole Church on its own behalf is remarkable for a body which exists as a consultative help to the pope, and whose conclusions are meant to be subject to his discernment and authority.

Do attendees in Rome see themselves as dependent on Francis for legitimacy? Or is the body now setting itself up as its own voice, separate from the pope, and pursuing its own agenda?

If the latter, does it risk deepening the ecclesiastical divides the synodal process was meant to heal?

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of the Diocese of Essen used a synodal press conference Saturday to praise the German synodal way, which concluded recently despite consistent criticism from the Vatican and Pope Francis.

The bishop offered the German process as a model for the Church, despite Rome and the pope having said it not truly synodal at all, but an elitist and self-appointed institution aimed at supplanting the Church’s hierarchy.

That notwithstanding, Overbeck said, the German process was particularly suited to the “post secular” situation of the Church in Germany, but also as a template for the synod to break with “habit and tradition” and explore “other solutions” for living the “ecclesial spiritual experience.”

The bishop also nodded to the creation of a permanent synodal assembly — a plan which the Vatican has repeatedly opposed. According to Overbeck, the focus of the synod should be (as it was in Germany) for institutional reform “to make the Christian proclamation credible.”

As a statement of purpose, it is not novel; the German synodal way has been making this same case for several years.

It is unusual that Overbeck and other synodal delegates have made these arguments in Rome as the synod discusses the themes of “participation, governance, and authority,” but without seeming to pay much attention to Francis’ own thoughts on the subject….

From The Pillar