36. Is the synod of bishops a democratic parliament?
36. Is the synod of bishops a democratic parliament?

36. Is the synod of bishops a democratic parliament?

Last week, I discussed the differences between synod and synodality. Today, I explore if the concept of the synod of bishops neatly fits into the parliament in a democracy.

As discussed in the past, Jesus, by choosing to establish his Church on Peter, willed that the office of the Pope should be supreme, and from there, flows all authority. Therefore, submitting to the authority of the Pope (bond of ecclesiastical governance) is one of the conditions for full communion with the Catholic Church (Can. 205). Canon 344 states:

The synod of bishops is directly subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff who: 1 ° convokes a synod as often as it seems opportune to him and designates the place where its sessions are to be held; 2° ratifies the election of members who must be elected according to the norm of special law and designates and appoints other members; 3° determines at an appropriate time before the celebration of a synod the contents of the questions to be treated, according to the norm of special law; 4° defines the agenda; 5° presides at the synod personally or through others”.

After the discussions at the synod, the pope, after having evaluated the resolutions, issues the final official document known as the “post-synodal apostolic exhortation”. The pope is free to disagree with some recommendations. For instance, the final resolution of the 2020 Synod on the Amazon region suggested the idea of ordaining married men of proven virtue (viri probati) as priests to cater to the shortage of priests in the region. However, the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Querida Amazonia, excluded the proposition and recommended finding other ways of bringing the Eucharist to people in remote areas.  

Therefore, the functioning of the synod of bishops depends entirely on the pope. This is unlike the parliament in a democracy that enjoys autonomy according to the rule of law and separation of powers into the three arms of government. In some democracies, the president or the monarch opens the parliament every year and, in some cases, the president must assent to a bill discussed by the parliament before it becomes an Act.

Yet, the involvement of a president or a monarch with the parliament does not correspond to the role of the pope in the synod of bishops.

Although the president can refuse to assent to a bill sent by the parliament, the process differs in the Church. The reason is that while the president must send the bill back to the parliament for updating and must sign the final draft within a peremptory time limit; the Pope decides on the final document as well as when and where to issue it. There is no time limit to when he must do this. Since power devolves to the college of cardinals at the death of a pope just as it devolves to the parliament when the president and vice-president die in power or are impeded, is the college of cardinals perhaps more like a parliament?

No doubt, cardinals vote in a pope as the parliament chooses the president in some democracies, yet, immediately one becomes a pope, he acquires “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church” (Can. 331). No one can start a judicial trial can against him (Can. 1404). Democratic presidents do not enjoy these because it contradicts the separation of powers. The parliament enjoys the autonomy to direct its affairs, and, in fact, can decide to sit with the sole aim of impeaching the president or proposing a judicial trial against the president. This is not tenable in the Church. Moreover, unlike the parliament where the people vote in the representatives, it is only the pope that can promote one to the dignity of a cardinal (Can. 351).

The structure at the universal level also applies at the diocesan level. Just like the pope and the synod of bishops, the diocesan bishop exercises the same power within his diocese. Therefore, the diocesan synod (Can. 462, 466), presbyteral council (Can. 500), the college of consultors (Can. 502), and the pastoral council (Can. 514) are under the direct control of the bishop. He chooses when they meet and matters to be discussed.

May God continue to help us.🙏🏾


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