New pope should put collegiality into practice
The courageous decision of Pope Benedict to resign offers our Church a moment of special importance the kind which in the bible is called a Kairos time. So we must now pray and do whatever we can to ensure that our cardinals elect a person (not necessarily a cardinal or even an already ordained bishop), known to be deeply spiritual, compassionate, and committed to justice in society and the Church, and determined to eliminate pomp and careerism which are inappropriate to a follower of Jesus. We need to hope and pray that the person they choose will have made an explicit commitment to put into practice the collegiality which was fundamental to the process, the style, and the commitments of Vatican II.
One early example of what this will involve in practice will be the convoking of a Synod of Bishops which will function in a similar way to the Synod of 1971 which had fruitful interaction between the bishops, widely-known theologians from different parts of the world, and authoritative experts including Barbara Ward-Jackson, and which issued its own document rather than merely submitting material to be drawn on by the pope and Vatican officials. The topic for this Synod should be “Gender and Sexuality”. Prior to this Synod the pope should implement the recommendation of the 1971 Synod (no 43) which proposed the setting up of “a mixed commission of men and women, religious and lay people, of differing situations and competence” to examine the role of women in society and in the Church. The remit of this “mixed commission” should be widened to include the various aspects of sexuality and gender issues which have become so urgent in today’s world. This “mixed commission” should include theologians and experts nominated by bishops’ conferences throughout the world and by various associations of theologians and other professional bodies.
A second example of what the effective exercise of collegiality involves will be the implementation of the provisions of the Vatican II document on the Liturgy (§22, §36, §38, §39, and §40), which gave a major degree of responsibility to national and regional episcopal conferences in reforming and adapting the liturgy and determining the extent to which vernacular language is to be used.
A third way of implementing collegiality will be ensuring that the members and consultors of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will include recognized theologians from a variety of different theological traditions and nominated by episcopal conferences and theological associations in various countries and continents, as well as renowned experts on relevant areas of study.
A fourth urgent example of the exercise of collegiality will be the facilitating of a consensus of Church leaders from all over the world on the topics that are to be explored in future Synods of Bishops.
My own personal hope is that these will include a Synod on prayer and one on social justice and respect for creation. To illustrate the kind of process that is required I suggest that the bishops, theologians, and experts who participate in the Synod on justice and creation would of course draw on the developing tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, including the major contribution of Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate. But they would also take account of the contribution of the various strands of liberation theology and creation theology, and, particularly, of the direct experience of individuals, groups, and countries which have been marginalized or victimized by the present unjust economic and political structures of society or who have first-hand experience of the disastrous consequences of ecological damage.
I would hope that a Synod on prayer would itself be a particularly prayerful event, led by men and women notable for their deep involvement in various forms of prayer ministry.