OPERATION SYNOD

There was one more step in the learning process which the Christian Solidarity International Congress, as the European Assembly had begun to be called since Amsterdam, had to complete. Amsterdam, for all practical purposes, was the first and last international congress of what was called, until the eve of the conference, the Assembly of European Priests. The Amsterdam event itself, with a noticeable contingent of extra-Europeans—not just Latin Americans— in attendance, was called the International Congress of Solidarity Groups. The next (and last) major international effort was a mobilization for the Second World Synod of the Catholic church, scheduled to begin its deliberations in the Eternal City on 30 September 1971. The topics for consideration at the Synod were ‘The Danger of a Fundamental Law other than the Gospel’, ‘Justice in the World’, and once again ‘The Priestly Ministry in the Church of Tomorrow’. Unlike what happened in October 1969, the radical priests were no longer keen to mobilize their troops for an international show of force in Rome. Actions of varying sorts were, however, to occur in a decentralized manner around the world. In practice, or so it seems, much of the ensuing action was coordinated from Western Europe. It was an impressive organizational challenge. Except for a handful of activists sent to Rome, working in coordination with the ever-present and tireless head of the IDOC, the

Dutchman Leo Alting von Geusau, all essential activities were to occur on location in each individual country, including the Philippines, South Korea, Jordan, Japan, Peru, the Congo, and Colombia.[1]

Little was to be left to chance. Perhaps unconsciously mirroring time-worn national stereotypes, the organizers devised an ingenious division of labour. ‘The coordination of technical activity of Operation Synod will be given to the centre at Frankfurt.’ ‘The coordination of the intellectual activity of the Operation will be given to the centre at Paris.’ ‘The coordination of financial activity of the Operation will be given to the centre at Zurich.’ Leuven was earmarked to continue its function as the general coordinating centre and, perhaps because of their reputation as mediators, the Dutch were entrusted to assist with the launching and strengthening of the various regional centres. ‘Amsterdam will establish a harmonious development between the different world participants.’[2]

Meetings, public relations efforts, and special church services were to alert Catholics around the world to what was at stake in Rome. IDOC would strive to publish all relevant documentation emerging from the Synod and related events in Rome. Equally, IDOC would endeavour to filter back into Rome significant statements emanating from the rest of the world. ‘This means that Operation Synod in Rome could relay to the Synod and the mass media present in Rome the reactions from other parts of the world, which IDOC will receive from their regional centres via telephone, within one or two days after important Synod documents have been sent around the world.’[3] To all intents and purposes, it was a massive, last-ditch international coordinating effort to change the course of the Catholic church.

To no avail. No noticeable changes of direction were recorded by the World Synod in Rome. The tender shoots of hope that were prominently registered during the October 1969 Extraordinary Synod vanished into thin air. Most importantly, an overwhelming majority of the Synod firmly rejected the priests’ demand for the abandonment of celibacy rules.[4] The 1971 Synod did adopt a text on ‘Justice in the World’ which remains a reference point in church doctrine until today because of its adoption of some elements from the language repertoire of liberation theology. But the final version of this document came across as a disappointment to grassroots activists after all. As Henry ter Kortenaar commented at the time: ‘Its theology is a good deal more challenging than that on the priesthood; some of its practical conclusions, on international and ecumenical cooperation, for development, etc., are excellent; it also denounces some of the major ills of the modern world (armaments, pollution, discrimination, etc.); yet it does not name any concrete situations of injustice, as several bishops had asked. Among the reasons given for this silence were the impossibility of naming them all, the difficulty of determining where concrete injustice lies, and the danger that some bishops might get in trouble.’[5] For the members of the Christian Solidarity International Congress it was too little, too late.

  • [1] Informational materials on what came to be called ‘Operation Synod’ can be consulted inKDC, LXX, fo. 162 (preparatory meeting in Leuven, 12-13 March 1971), fo. 195 (preparatorymeeting in Turin, 4-5 September 1971), and fo. 132 (including a detailed outline of theorganigrame for the Operation).
  • [2] ‘J. R. and L. N.’, ‘Operation Synode ’71’, pp. 465—KDC, LXX, fo. 132.
  • [3] ‘Operation Synode, Amsterdam—Rome, 3-9-71’—KDC, LXX, fo. 132.
  • [4] A cogent discussion of the Second World Synod in this respect is given in Denis Pelletier,La Crise catholique (Paris: Payot, 2002), pp. 221-6.
  • [5] Henry ter Kortenaar, ‘Go, and Synod No More’, Commonweal, 26 November 1971,p. 197. For ‘Justice and the World’ itself, see .
 
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