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The European Bishops Synod

 1. The division within the Roman Catholic Church

For the last decades, problems relating to faith and morality, politics, economics, social, sexual and family decisions, have all been the subject of such differing interpretations among Roman Catholics, that they have led to a split without precedent in the history of the Church. This division calls for careful analysis. It can be compared with the ongoing schisms between it and other Christian churches, in some cases for more than a millennium, and which have also played an important role in the conflicts between various European nations. On the occasion of the European Bishops Synod, we feel it worthwhile to focus on a number of considerations in respect of the division within the Roman Catholic Church.

1.1. Our analysis of the division in the Church

Social-religious studies show, without exception, that there is no unanimity among Roman Catholics in following official Church teaching. International and trans-cultural inquiries - such as that carried out by the North American sociologist Greeley - show particularly clearly how the faithful have reached totally different opinions, even in matters which Papal authority regards as closed for discussion (i.e. 'almost dogmas'), such as the ordination of women and married men. In many countries, the majority of the faithful think and act in a manner which the Church's teaching qualifies as 'erroneous'

This is particularly true of matters concerning family and sexual ethics :

  • The majority of Roman Catholics regard not only the Papal teaching on birth control as mistaken - to such an extent even that they have no 'guilt feelings' about it - but also the teaching on pre-marital sex, cohabitation, fertility interventi-ons, divorce and abortion, etc.
In the political and social field, the divisions are just as clear.
  • Roman Catholic advocates of pacifism and non-violence stand opposed to Roman Catholics who justify war (e.g. the NAVO bombings in the Balkans).
  • Roman Catholics in favour of ethnic and racial integration find themselves confronted by other Roman Catholics who have other opinions on the subject.
  • Roman Catholics favouring neo-liberal economic theories (with the market and profit at the centre) stand against other Roman Catholics who give their support to various movements which condemn capitalism and neo-liberalism as modern forms of 'mammon'.
  • Roman Catholics who see Roman Catholic schools as an expression of religious freedom, and Roman Catholics who see schools for the children of the rich as basic anti-democracy training grounds.
  • Roman Catholics who fight for an 'ethical state' (or even a confessional state') and Roman Catho-lics who struggle for a (laicised) 'constitutional state'.
  • Roman Catholic defenders of the social order by force (penal code, imprisonment, capital punishment, armed self-defence) against Roman Catholics who give preference to educative and rehabilitating measures (group therapy, training centres, self-defence committees, publicity campaigns, and so on.)
In the ecumenical field the divisions, although somewhat misty, are nonetheless consistent.
  • Against Roman Catholics who, together with other Christian churches, organise demon-strations, night vigils, prayer services or discussions, in the search for effective reconciliation and common solutions to serious social justice problems, stand other Roman Catholics who profess to speak on behalf of the 'One True Church', i.e. the Roman Catholic Church, and condemn any contact or meetings with 'dissidents' as concessionary.
In the field of dialogue with non-Christian religions, which represent three quarters of mankind, the division is almost total.
  • On the one hand, there are Roman Catholics, including theologians and bishops, who believe as a matter of principle that a new programme of evangelisation must take place on the basis of an effective enculturation, whereby Western categories which have conditioned the Christian message for two thousand years, are set aside; on the other hand, there are Catholics who believe that in defending and propagating Christianity, nothing of the Western tradition must be surrendered.
The contrast is no less apparent in the field of theology itself.
  • In the course of recent decades, supporters of liberation theology, 'native' theology, Asian theology, the theology of earthly reality (peace, politics, ecology etc.), have proposed interpretations of God, original sin, the sacraments, devotion to the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the jubilee year, which diverge greatly from 'Tradition', and which has provoked a way of thinking in the Church which stands in total opposition to the views of the 'traditionalists'.
The way in which the bishops conferences function, once again reveals sharp contrasts :
  • Whilst some national episcopates work together 'synodally' by stating the pro-blems (without bypassing the 'untouchable'), and inviting the Roman Catholic populati-on to deal with them in certain forums, other episcopates act in a totally different manner by excluding any form of consultation with the People of God.
The difference of opinion between what the Pope thinks about his role and what a large part of the Church thinks about it, is particularly striking. It is the result of open, conscious and diverse statements, 'position' declarations or working methods which can, however, be camouflaged by an 'apparent' conformism, even to the point of resulting in open indifference, lack of interest, or contempt.
  • A typical example of this is the case of the 'Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church' which was compiled by the Roman Curia; despite being sold in the millions, it has in practice been 'ignored' by nearly all bishops, priests, theologians and leaders of lay movements.
  • In spite of the Papal assertion that the use of contraceptives is both against nature and a mortal sin : the Church machine and the Church as a whole 'pretends' it knows nothing about it,and remains silent on this teaching.
  • Although the Pope solemnly declares that the chapter on the ordination of women and married priests has been closed, bishops and parishes, often without an unmarried cleric, resort to entrusting almost priestly tasks to the faithful. This has even reached the point at which the Holy See felt itself obliged to publish an 'instruction' calling on bishops to guard against the 'misuses' which run counter to decisions laid down in the official teaching.
  • If the Papal encyclicals were not published by the international press, they would hardly be known by Roman Catholics at all. With a few exceptions, bishops, priests, lay movements and the Roman Catholic press avoid studying them, commenting on them and especially distributing them, whereby they, in fact, isolate the Pope from the Roman Catholic community.
Even the awkward question of priestly celibacy is neatly avoided : 
  • With the prospects of the unpleasant consequences inherent in their 'return to the lay state' (unemployment, loss of accommodation and pension), many seek a solution to their sexual problems in another way (masturbation, secret relationship with a loved one, cohabitation, paedophilia, homosexuality, etc.), practically always with the 'complicity' of a bishop trapped between the fear of losing 'a servant of God' and the fear of revealing a scandal.
The lay movements and lay associations, too, cannot escape the divisions currently affecting the Roman Catholic Church. They are all aware of the existence of traditionalist, anti-communist, defenders of foetal 'life', lovers of the Church Triumphant, paladins of the 'Catholic' school,who usually possess important financial means and training centres for their own adherents. There is no doubt that they are favoured by the Vatican Curia which, by means of arranging meetings which are open exclusively to their lay leaders as trainers-informers, for bishops 'sympathetic' to these movements (Rome, June 1999).

Totally different is the situation of other lay movements which are usually difficult to identify because they have no training centres or publishing facilities, no businesses and no capital. Although they recognise the Church's authority, they do not spare it any criticism. They prefer a church community that constantly renews itself, throughout its history. They feel themselves more engaged with defending human rights, justice and peace. They read the Bible in the light of modern exegesis and today's events.

1.2. The church division according to Instrumentum Laboris

The actual division in the Church would seem, in fact, to be confirmed by Instrumentum Laboris, published by the General Secretariat of the Bishops Synod in July 1999, following long consultations among the European episcopate. The Vatican text recognizes that "there is a shift from a routine ritual practice of religion to one of greater conviction and personal involvement" (43), for which "A profound change in mentality is needed in each and every situation, a mentality which requires time, patience and formation on the part of those involved." (49), especially because "it is less and less possible to base pastoral programs on a presumed acceptance of a 'generally shared Christianity'" (15). There should, in fact, be at least two very different ways of understanding and organising the church.

  • On the one hand, it is a fact that "the church .... expresses a new vitality, especially in bible and liturgical renewal, in the active participation of the faithful in parish life, in the new experiences of community life ..., in the increase in magnanimous forms of service to the poorest of the poor and to the marginalised" (77); on the other hand, "some speak of a danger in continuing to devise a pastoral program which, no longer bearing the characteristics typical of a time when Christianity was the dominant religion, is psychologically incapable of accepting a position of reduced esteem and social recognition for the Church. Such people seek to save structures and the Church's influence at all cost, even to the point of compromise, permitting many persons to live a generic kind of belonging to the Church where there is no need to make clear fundamental choices." (15)
  • Even in the field of priests and laity working together, Instrumentum Laboris points to the fact that "As a result of the existence of various councils and structures of participation at the parochial level and beyond, a positive development in collaboration - and oftentimes in co-responsibility - is present among those who are actively involved in the life of the ecclesial community. This cooperation is based on a respect for the roles and competency of each as well as a recognised equality. In addition to parish life, this tendency is also seen in new movements and communities of the consecrated life.", and "Numerous situations, however, continue to exist in which priests maintain a rather domineering, authoritarian mentality which does not properly acknowledge the maturity of the faithful laity and their condition as adults who have responsibilities in many sectors of family and social life, nor the precious contribution which they can offer to the ecclesial community. Though there are signs that such a situation is progressively changing, oftentimes an effective collaboration in a shared mission remains a distant reality. There are many particular Churches where the collaboration of priest and laity is not seen as a priority." (49)
  • "In an ever-widening pluralism of faith and culture, there are some, formed in a kind of Christian Western mono-culture, who look at the situation with apprehension. Finding themselves unprepared to understand and interpret this pluralism." Another chapter sums up the fruits of such a Christian mono-culture as : "the temptation to give too much attention to temporal power, financial matters and a trouble-free running of organisations; a form - even if latent - of a new clericalism; the subtle tendency of serving self through authoritarianism in pastoral projects, with the danger of manipulating conscience and avoiding collaborating in the work of evangelisation; and the risk of yielding to hidden forms of paternalism in relation to charitable services and social assistance." (39).
  • Even in the liturgical area, this situation presents itself as problematical because, on the one hand, liturgical celebrations and prayers services which violate the prevailing norms and provoke an unacceptable proliferation of liturgical creativity, are shaped and improvised; on the other hand, there are experiences whereby the need to be appealing, overshadows the mystery dimension, experiences of liturgical celebrations and devotional practices which are so concerned with the rubrics that they are in fact spiritually dry and for many boring; and not forgetting all those traditionalist groups which by accentuating some of the outward liturgical forms, give them in fact an orthodox character.. (69) The conclusion is as follows : "Undoubtedly, these different and oftentimes opposing realities in understanding and celebrating liturgy lead frequently to polarisation. In this way, various aspects related to the matter come together to create a picture of the Church which gives the impression that there are two diverse ways of perceiving and living the Church, parallel to each other, when in reality, they are diametrically opposed to each other." (69).
The pre-synodal consultations for the European Bishops conference, for which Instrumen-tum Laboris is its mouthpiece, also acknowledges in the same way, that there are two different ways of understanding and experiencing Church, and that they stand in opposition to each other. (69)

 2. Two world views

If, at first sight, the situation in the Roman Catholic Church looks very much like a mixture of military uniformity (all give formal obedience to the leader) and of an actual anarchy (everyone buys or sells what he or she favours in the Roman Catholic supermarket), further reflection will show that the current 'crisis' is determined by one indisputable fact : the merging of two radically different world views, without discovering any authoritative mediator able to 'reconcile' the differences and set the wheels of a 'conversion' of the whole in motion.

2.1. The patriachal world view

The ideology that feeds the whole Roman Catholic sector in an extremely coherent fashion is, in essence, patriarchal (the patriarch assigns tasks to the whole family, which in turn is expected to give absolute obedience), machistic (the macho, the male, is superior to the 'little woman'), monarchic-theocratic (tends to assume a special status, with its own use of language, with private buildings and private leaders), clerical (all leading functions belong to ordained personnel who are also celibate), dogmatic (of divine origin, and the teaching is immutable).
This world view becomes concrete in the power, private possession, the wealth, laws, discipline, fear and, if necessary, suppression and violence. Every move against its authority is seen as sacrilege and is subjected to exclusion from the community (excommunication).

In this world view, the faithful believe that their primary duty is to follow the teachings in their entirety as laid down by the hierarchy, and which become 'infallible' in the person of the 'Holy' Father, as :

  • the only 'guardian' of the Church's material goods;
  • the highest judge, to such an extent that there is no possibility at all of appealing against his decisions;
  • the absolute law giver, the only person able to decree the Church's laws and norms;
  • the one who appoints all responsibility-carriers (bishops, cardinals, nuncios, and so on) and, according to his inscrutable judgement, dismisses from office those who do not stand in 'communion' with him;
  • the one who convenes Councils and Synods, exercises legal authority and disqualifies;
  • the one who designs a political approach towards internal organisations and heads of state with whom he maintains 'diplomatic' ties, often supported by means of 'concordats';
  • the one who justifies to no one what he does.
What characterizes a true believer is his degree of 'orthodoxy', in other words, his subjection to the world view of infallible authority : this explains the constant effort of that authority to distinguish orthodoxy from heresy, the endorsement of contradiction. Personal salvation depends on rigorous obedience to the norms and rites, stipulated and controlled by the church hierarchy. 

2.2. The brotherly and sisterly world view

The other world view on which the Church bases its inspiration, is completely opposite from the first. It is brotherly (all are equally the children of God and, therefore, brothers and sisters), egalitarian (equality of the sexes, ethnic groups, religions, and so on), democratic ('that which concerns everyone must be decided by everyone'), laicizing (independent of the religious, ordained powers) and charismatic (all have received the gifts of God which have contributed to the development of official teaching and norms with the possibility of authority but never with the pretension of infallibility). This world view means :

  • The Church manifests itself within a community of people who share material and spiritual goods with each other in service, dialogue, brotherly and sisterly love, mutual trust, and trust in God.
  • The Holy Spirit is their bond and strength. The first aim is 'to seek the Kingdom of God and His justice'.
  • It excludes 'heads', 'masters' and 'bosses'. Whoever has the capacity to be the first, must make him/herself the last.
  • The Church possesses no goods (no state, no banks, no schools etc.), no wealth, because it is poor, as was its founder.
  • Judgement is forbidden beyond strictly stated conditions : only the community can impose the punishment of exclusion, according to norms which are the fruit of consensus.
  • Infallibility belongs to the whole Church when the people 'from the bishops to the simplest of the faithful, expresses its universal unity in matters of faith and morals' (LG 12).
  • The faithful respect civil authority and maintain their critical autonomy.
Orthodoxy merges with orthopraxy : theological debates surrounding God-Christ-Church, constitute the second level in relation to caring for the poor and for brothers and sisters in difficulties. Eternal salvation is given, not by an abstract adoration of God, but by concrete help 'to those who are hungry and thirsty, imprisoned or sick'.

3. Two formation methods

Each of the two world views are nurtured by a formation process directed specifically to their survival. This explains why two fundamentally different viewpoints on upbringing can co-exist side by side.

3.1. The formation in a patriarchal perspective

The Church's pedagogical activity inspired by a patriarchal, dogmatic, clerical and monarchic mentality, tends of necessity and in a coherent manner, towards a kind of teaching for the faithful, children and adults, that :

  • has a preference for theoretical concepts (the written truths, summed up in the catechism);
  • works primarily towards passivity (lessons without exercises);
  • finds no inspiration in the logics of personal experience and promotes no critical spirit;
  • fails to use error as a source of knowledge;
  • has developed no skills in its own way of working and decision-making;
  • has no emotional content;
  • promotes neither self-reflection nor self-preservation;
  • takes no account of the group as a source of knowledge.
The knowledge acquired by Roman Catholics in this way is abstract in nature. It classifies and is archaic, with an absolute emphasis on the written texts, authorized by the hierarchy. It is primarily individualistic : what matters is saving the soul.

3.2. Formation from a brotherly perspective

The faithful formed according to the brotherly world view (basic communities, ecumenical groups, Bible groups, experimental catechetics, families, progressive parishes, etc.) tend to learn that faith :

  • stimulates interest in actual problems;
  • is particularly active in, and focused on, every day life;
  • develops personal experience, a critical spirit, expertise and a holistic mentality;
  • accepts the right to error and applies the cognitive capacity inherent in it;
  • compares theory and reality by means of repeated assessment;
  • promotes self-reflection, self-esteem and emotional participation;
  • develops the tendency to work together with those who are emotionally active.
The kind of knowledge that typifies the faithful with community experience, is exceptionally practical, contextual and based on the preference for verbal communication. It is important to 'seek the Kingdom of God and His justice'. (We are redeemed jointly.)

4. Two organisations

The two types of interpretation of God, of the Church and reality, presuppose two organisation types of which the implications are radically divergent.

4.1. The Church with a clergy at its centre

The patriarchal, monarchic, machistic and sacred world view, brings with it a organisation based on a centralised and bureaucratic machine with a strict hierarchy (in which power increases commensurate with the level of clerical career achieved) endowed with an ordained aura befitting a monarchy of divine origin. The members of this 'machine' :

  • are exempted from military service and manual work because of their dedication to the 'sacred';
  • follow a long curriculum of theological studies;
  • may not marry (ordination is irreconcilable with sex);
  • administer the sacraments, determine and control the teaching and religious formation of the faithful;
  • are appointed by the 'superior' to whom they are subject and on whom they are dependent for their upkeep, work and accommodation;
  • manage the real estate and financial assets of the church, and
  • have the right to veto in lay meetings.
The community of the faithful (the laity) cannot enjoy the privileges accorded to the clerical machine, nor carry out any task reserved exclusively for the 'clergy'. Legally and sociologically, the laity do not form part of the organisation but are merely 'consumers'. Their power is limited to the possibility of accepting or rejecting that which the 'producers' (hierarchy, clerics) offer them.

4.2. The Church with the people at its centre

The 'brotherly' model which has inspired the Church's organisation from the first century of Christianity, sees the gathering of the faithful (ecclesia), as a whole, as being jointly responsible for decisions relating to clerical and material matters, because they are 'partners in divine nature' and in 'the Spirit of Christ'. This model which, in the past, also constituted the basis of the poverty and church renewal movements, is the same as that which currently inspires the modern 'basic movements' (shared partly by religious orders). In these groups :

  • no one, not a single member, enjoys any privilege whatsoever (on the basis of status or work, etc.);
  • all take part in implementing the main concepts of official teaching (theology, liturgy) and of the organisation;
  • there is no man/woman, married/unmarried, discrimination;
  • the ministries are open to all and pre-suppose an attitude of service; there are no 'ordained' people;
  • relations are based on community, mutuality and equality, and
  • no one has a veto right.
In this type of organisation, power fans out to the 'base' which has the right to appoint its 'chairpersons' who, on their replacement, again become ordinary members of the group.

5.  Two paradigms

The two world views which currently stand in opposition to each other within the Roman Catholic Church, and which call for two formation and organisation models, also stand in relation to two metaphysical and epistemological premises ('paradigms') which again are totally divergent. According to Norgaard, they can be reduced to five.

5.1. The deterministic paradigm

The monarchic-patriarchal-machistic-bureaucratic paradigm premises have been largely responsible for Western technical-scientific-social developments, and they support, to a large extent, the philosophical-religious-political system. The five premises are :

  • 1. atomism : the system (be it social, religious or natural) would seem to be composed of unchangeable parts, and is ultimately nothing more than the sum total of those composite parts;
  • 2. mechanism : the relations between the different parts are pre-determined, and change manifests itself as uniform, is reversible and predictable;
  • 3. universalism : the parts of the system and their mutual relationships, are of one and the same nature, always and everywhere;
  • 4. objectivism : the system can be understood and controlled in an objective way without one becoming a part of it; the reality can be understood on the basis of abstract and personal values;
  • 5. monism : the different ways of knowing a system can be reduced to one only : the best; there is no diversity of good answers.
This paradigm is, in fact, fatalistic-deterministic and stands for the certainty that it is possible to foresee and control the development of future events by knowing and controlling the starting conditions. This ability to anticipate also includes disaster situations, which are experienced as inevitable, and implies no element of responsibility whatsoever.

The patriarchal-clerical-dogmatic Church is nurtured by this paradigm. It defends the contention that, as the elements of the church system (dogmas, rites, ethical and social norms) become unchangeable and non-renewable, mechanically integrated into the pastoral by means of its bureaucracy (the clergy), and become 'transplanted' throughout the world; the Church is able to meet the future, without any problem, because the future will simply be the extrapolation of today.

5.2. The probability paradigm

It is a new fact that, as a result of the simultaneous development of science, technology and society, the 'Western-patriarchal paradigm' has to a continuing degree been weakened to the point at which it universally no longer seems applicable. It is clear that completely deterministic rules and laws can bring forth an unforeseeable and chaotic movement which, paradoxically, could be called 'deterministic chaos'. This has resulted, in the course of recent decades, in the emergence of a new 'system paradigm' based on five metaphysical and epistemological premises which differ totally from the 'deterministic paradigm'. Namely;

  • 1. holism (the opposite of atomism) : the different elements cannot be understood by separating them from the whole of which they are a part, and the whole differs from the sum of the parts;
  • 2. evolutionism (the opposite of mechanism) : the systems can be mechanical, but also chaotic, unpredictable and with a high degree of discontinuity;
  • 3. contextualism (the opposite of universalism) : the various features are dependent on a large number of contingent time and place factors. Analogous features can be discerned in conditions which differ in time and place, even though they have arisen from different factors;
  • 4. subjectivism (the opposite of objectivism) : we cannot understand the systems independent of ourselves. Perception changes what is seen;
  • 5. pluralism (the opposite of monism) : the complex systems cannot be acknowledged unless by means of thought-models. These different models are not comparable, and cannot be reshaped to become one and the same.
The 'deterministic paradigm' crisis arose when, as a consequence of the exceptional technical-scientific acceleration, Man set himself the task of observing the invisible reality (of the atom, the genes, the sub-conscious, the atmosphere, and so on) and to intervene, whereby he discovers and advances the endless evolutive complexity of the cosmic system.

At the social level, it suffices to look back on the social irregularities which occurred when women raised the matter of their own place in creation and history, which also followed the transpersonal processes which have already been described above. Women provoked weighty reflection within the church, which saw itself forced for the first time in its history, to admit openly that God is not only 'father' but 'mother' too. Women unveiled the disturbing problem of women's access to the 'ministries of the ordination sacrament' that, traditionally, is open only to men.

All this made it necessary, from the 'deterministic' paradigm, that millennia was valid, to switch to a 'system paradigm', from which the dogmatic definitions, the liturgical and canonical regulations, the church organisation and the ethical norms, can only be formulated in an cautious, careful, contextual and intelligent (intus legere = inner reading) manner. It is impossible to analyze, programme, define, universally apply and centrally control this rigidity, on pain of their implosion and inapplicability. It would be like a state now taking it into its head to programme and rigidly define, for once and for all, the entire lives of its citizens, something that might be conceivable in a non-complex society.

6.  Surmounting the division

Changing the metaphysical-epistemological paradigm immediately would certainly demand 'metanoia' (conversion), which itself would comprise magnanimous willingness, not in order to change ideas, but rather the manner in which 'the reality' in its entirety, is observed and thought through.

6.1. System thinking

Thinking and acting in holistic terms, is very much the same as 'system thinking', i.e. integral and complex, with the whole typified as follows :

  • 1. life is an extremely complex example of eco-self-organisation. The human being is not the centre of creation, but a point of arrival in the plot of human life;
  • 2. the living organisation cannot be understood on the basis of the logic of a machine, of which the loss of one of its parts is sufficient to paralyse the whole. They both combine a large number of units and interactions, incalculable and indeterminable;
  • 3. living systems are integral 'wholes', in which there are no unconnected parts, and which contain their 'relations networks' which, in their turn, are incorporated into the greater wholes. Their function consists of other elements to assist in  producing and transforming whilst maintaining the network's global circularity;
  • 4. the living world comprises levels of variable complexity, whereby features which do not occur at the underlying level are revealed;
  • 5. structure exists simultaneously with change; the imbalance is the source of order, beauty and variety.
6.2. Complex thinking

The result is that system thinking is implicitly complex, because it acknowledges the possibility of not being able to dominate over inaccuracy, ambiguity and dissent. Tragedy cannot be expelled, such as when the scientist sees himself confronted by amazing discoveries which contrast with the traditional, theoretical, pattern.

According to E. Morin, complex thinking is, in fact, dialogue. For him, the order and the disorder are not each other's enemies, but each other's allies, and they keep the duality in unity's lap. Cause and consequence also change roles, such as the part and the whole which, in its turn, cannot be thought of independently of the parts (Pascal).

Through its being, complex thinking links the one with the many, without the one ever being absorbed by the many, or the many by the one.

It regards complete, perfect, infallible, universal and superior knowledge, as impossible. As St. Paul very realistically commented two thousand years ago : "Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror, but then we shall be seeing face to face." (I Cor. 13,12 - Jer. Bible). 

He does not reject order, nor determinism, nor logic, but establishes that reality also comprises the opposite.

Complex system thinking leads to appreciating even the smallest of living beings. Indeed, the degree to which the state is able to restore itself, to organise and procreate, its organisation is endlessly richer than that of a nuclear power plant. It integrates itself, in addition, into the cosmic organisation, including the orbiting of the earth and the transition from day to night.

This system viewpoint seems to have been prefigured in many passages in the Bible, and St. Paul systematised it even better when, for instance, he saw the church as 'the body of the Lord', a body of which the cells and organs share a mutual relationship, as well as with the cosmos in its totality. For Paul, Christ's disciples were people who manifested charismas of 'healing', 'leadership' and 'prophecy', in the interests of building the corporal-community of the Lord, a true network of uncontrollable and uncodifiable 'circular' relationships and movements. The community, by the same token, reflects the world of the Trinitarian God and of the Church as a whole.

For Paul, the foundation of all relationships lies in mutuality. He sees in the community a sanctuary of solidarity, "the ones with the others", where "strong efforts must be made to create a climate of mutual esteem", where people must : "be loved", "corrected", "cared for", "helped in carrying their burdens", "encouraged", "tolerated", "mutually forgiving", "each confess his/her faults", and "be hospitable" - where "the ones stand in the service of the others".

By virtue of such a 'relationship network', equipped with a certain order, although not free from imbalances and disruption, each community sets 'collective thought and action' in motion, thereby enabling it to organise itself, to differentiate itself from others, and to generate more complex 'relationship networks', without the need for 'central' assignments. 

Within such a 'relationship network', each element is assigned a role as 'activator', 'interpretative value consultant' and 'co-negotiator', whereby it contributes to the maintenance of a circular organisational solidarity, comparable to that attributed to a 'trinitarian' model. And on this basis, the concept of 'subsidiarity' is given meaning : the dominant party surrenders power so that the others can fulfil an inspirational function for the social body.

Receiving and applying system thinking, therefore, means re-encountering the source, not only of Biblical thought and action, but also of that exceptional intuition of a relational God, the One True and Trinitarian God (prime dogma of Christian faith). On the other hand, its rejection exposes the Church to being placed 'outside', even outside the ecological, pluralistic, problematical, democratic paradigm that constitutes the 'signs of the times' to which the whole world (religions, political parties, institutions, commercial organisations, and so on) is called to 'convert' on pain of destruction, not only of 'Jerusalem' but of the earth itself.

7. Opening the 'Pentecostal' spaces

The problem of division 'in' the Roman Catholic Church which, without doubt, is of a complex nature, can only be addressed in a complex manner and thus as a 'system' in which all is brought concretely into 'communion' with everything, and everything with each separate element.

Christians will be able to find their inspirational model again in the 'Pentecostal event' whereby only a few of the Lord's fearful disciples " ...whilst they were all at one place, were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in strange tongues as inspired by the Spirit".

Despite the considerable differences in race, sex and religions, they were able to speak the languages of 'foreigners', 'others' and 'heathens', so well in fact that these 'stood stunned and amazed'. What happened there? God's promise, as Joel had foretold, was fulfilled : "I will send my spirit out over all peoples, your sons and daughters will benefit, the young among you will see visions and the old will dream dreams" (Peter ...). Pentecost brought down the dikes of the patriarchal, machistic, dogmatic, priestly system in order to allow the water of the Spirit to flow freely. The Spirit "gives it to all to express"; the Spirit knows no infallibility and no absolute powers, no priestly bureaucracies, no divine rites; even less does the Spirit allow itself to be imprisoned in religious creeds. The Spirit creates consensus, solidarity, creativity; enables dreams and prophecy. It does exceptional things and miracles become reality. In short, the Spirit liberates history from determinism and orientates it in an evolutive, probabilistic direction.

7.1. The dynamic of Pentecost

The dynamic of Pentecost is comparable to the open, self-organising, dialogue system, with the following characteristics.

  • There are 'no heads, nor masters, nor lords", but only people who communicate, who adjust their image-forming to that of others in a succession of inter-active experiences (Von Glaserssfeld).
  • People enter a de-tideologized zone in which the confrontation with the other renounces the difference (in sex, race, religion and so on), and where they learn to speak the languages of the 'foreigner' and of the 'poor'.
  • All are called to conversion, the only one who could freely initiate a changed empathy with communicating people. 
We are happy to close this contribution, which is of course only partial and insufficient, with a quotation from Instrumentum Laboris, which states that the Church "is called to proceed in her life and mission by believing and professing in word and deed that the Spirit is capable of overcoming divisions and disunity", by fostering "the forging of a network of love relationships which are being formed by the Spirit himself in today's Europe and which are a reflection of the love of the Blessed Trinity."


"The time has now come for us, in the footsteps of the Pope, not only to re-establish that the Church is the community of Jesus' disciples, but to ensure that today's people really experience Church."
Bishop Peter James Cullinane
chairman of the New Zealand Bishops Conference
at the Oceania Synod, Autumn 1998

In order to be able to enter into intensive discussions of this text at the Forum of European Christians in Rome (7-9 October 1999), it will be necessary for large numbers of women and men to work and think with us.

We therefore ask all our readers to mail their comments as soon as possible, but no later than 15 September 1999, to the e-mail address given below. Bear in mind that we expect to process a very large number of contributions, and we ask you therefore to formulate your viewpoints as concisely as possible. We would also like to draw your attention to the  fact that if the expected number of mailings do reach us, then we will not be able to include all contributions in the final document.

We nonetheless look forward to your cooperative efforts; we hope thereby to liberate the synod from its golden Episcopal cage, and to turn it into a matter for the people of the Church as a whole.

Your comments please to:


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Webpage Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
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Posted 13 August 1999
Last revised 2 September 1999
Electronic text Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer