John Allen skriver ved starten av årets ekstraordinære bispesynode (et stykke ned) på denne siden:
A viewer’s guide to the Synod of Bishops
Sunday marks the formal opening of the Synod of Bishops on the family, though to be honest there’s been so much public jockeying in the run-up it feels like the Oct. 5-19 summit of bishops actually started months ago.
… Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics is likely to be one flashpoint, but all manner of other issues should be in play too, given that there’s almost no hot-button concern that doesn’t somehow fall under the rubric of the family. … Here I’ll lay out a brief viewer’s guide to the Synod of Bishops, with four things to bear in mind as the drama unfolds.
1. It’s truly the journey that matters rather than the destination.
The point applies generically to any synod, since a synod is merely consultative. This isn’t a political convention, in which platform items will be voted in or out, candidates nominated or rejected, and so on.
At most, what a synod does is present recommendations to the pope, and it’s always up to him what to do. As a result, there will be no new policy in Catholicism on anything as of Oct. 19, when the synod ends.
This time the final product is even less decisive, because this synod is merely preparatory for another, larger synod on the family set for October 2015. At most, all that will be accomplished over the next two weeks is setting an agenda for the second meeting, and presumably Francis won’t make big-picture final decisions before both synods run their course.
As a result, the best way to view this synod is as a way to take the temperature of the bishops on a variety of issues, looking for clusters of opinion and surprising notes along the way, rather than investing much importance in whatever they come up with at the end.
2. There is no single narrative about “what happened” at the synod on any given day.
Although in theory there are themes for each day’s discussion in the synod, they’re extremely broad: “natural law,” for instance, or “difficult pastoral situations,” which can apply to basically everything under the sun.
In reality, the roughly 180 bishops and few dozen other participants can talk about whatever they want. Francis also has asked that time be set aside each afternoon for free discussion, and there’s no set theme for that period.
Each day, therefore, a wide variety of points will surface, and different media outlets and advocacy groups will highlight things of interest to them. One account may stress what a bishop from Europe said about gay marriage, and another what an African said on polygamy. Viewers probably will have to piece together the full picture.
Moreover, it’s also important to realize that the working sessions of the synod are closed, so reporters have to rely on daily briefings and after-the-fact conversations with participants. Given that, accounts will likely vary in terms of reaction in the room when certain points were made, what people were buzzing about over coffee breaks, and so on.
The bottom line is that covering a Synod of Bishops is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only without the picture on the box telling you what it’s supposed to look like at the end.
3. Perhaps the best thing about a Synod of Bishops is the global perspective on Catholicism it provides.
Truth to be told, most American Catholics probably won’t be terribly surprised by the kinds of things American and European bishops say at this synod, especially if you already know who the players are and the views they represent.
Americans will have something to learn from bishops and other participants from Asia, and from Latin America, and Africa, and the Middle East. They will relate experiences and perspectives we don’t generally hear, and thus the Synod of Bishops is a sort of graduate-level crash course in the realities of living in a global church. …
4. Finally, expect the unexpected.
This will be the ninth Synod of Bishops I’ve covered over the years, and in each of the previous eight there was some “black swan” development, meaning something out of the blue, that at least momentarily steered the debate down an unpredictable path. … The basic message is, don’t go to sleep on the synod, because you never know when something out of left field might change the game.