The Qala cardinal grabbing headlines at the Vatican

From urging the LGBTIQ+ community to depart the Catholic Church to a changed stance and a prominent role in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

There is a prominent figure in the Catholic Church whose journey from the quaint Gozitan village of Qala to the heart of the Holy See is capturing global attention. In the US, a National Catholic Reporter headline dubbed him a “central figure” in Pope Francis’ plan to change the Catholic Church.

At 66, Cardinal Mario Grech has climbed the ranks and entered the world of ecclesiastical collaboration and profound discussions within the realm of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, where the future of the Catholic Church takes shape. This Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which includes 363 voting members, including laymen and women for the first time, is taking place at the Vatican from October 4 to 29. The theme is “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.”

Why is there so much buzz surrounding the Synod of Bishops?

The Synod on Synodality is a gathering within the Catholic Church where bishops and other representatives come together to contemplate how the Church can become more inclusive and involve a broader spectrum of voices in its decision-making processes. It aims to facilitate better listening to the perspectives and experiences of Church members and make decisions that align more closely with the needs and concerns of the faithful. Essentially, it’s a meeting aimed at enhancing participation and collaboration within the Church and serves as a significant meeting to assist the Pope in making crucial decisions.

The significance of the Synod of Bishops in the modern world is a matter of perspective. Supporters argue that it offers a platform to address contemporary concerns and adapt Church doctrines and approaches. Critics contend that its impact is limited, and its effectiveness in addressing modern challenges depends on the Pope’s response to its recommendations. Its relevance remains a subject of ongoing discussion and debate within the Catholic Church.

Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops

Mario Grech held the position of Bishop of Gozo from 2005 to 2019. He assumed the role of Pro-Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in October 2019 and later became Secretary General, in September 2020. Pope Francis elevated him to the rank of cardinal on 28th November 2020.

As Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Grech serves as Pope Francis’ representative in organising and overseeing synod meetings in Rome, focusing on specific themes. Additionally, he plays a crucial role in incorporating synodality into the ongoing reforms during Francis’ papacy.

‘Synodality’ is a term used in the Catholic Church to describe a way of making decisions and governing that emphasises collaboration, dialogue, and participation among members of the Church. It’s the idea of “journeying together” in faith and decision-making.

Not Without Controversy

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI expressed strong reservations and criticisms of gender theory, primarily because it challenged traditional Catholic teachings about human sexuality and the nature of gender. Gender theory, also known as gender ideology or gender studies, is an academic and philosophical framework that explores the idea that gender identity is a social construct and can be distinct from one’s biological sex. It emphasises the fluidity and diversity of gender expressions and identities.

In response to Pope Benedict’s reservations, the then Bishop Mario Grech delivered a straightforward message, suggesting that those who do not accept Christ’s teachings should simply excommunicate themselves from the Church. Early in 2014, then, he accepted an invitation to an encounter with Drachma, a group of LGBTIQ+ persons and parents of LGBTIQ+ persons that was set up in 2004 to provide a welcome space for LGBTIQ+ Catholics and other people of faith. The National Catholic Reporter quoted a Drachma representative saying that, at an event organised by the group, Mgr Grech put his hand on his heart and asked for forgiveness on behalf of the Church. Similarly, Catholic World News notes that Cardinal Grech had very strong opinions about being gay and Catholic, which he then changed.  

Catholic News Agency gives weight to the fact that Cardinal Mario Grech asked Catholics around the world to pray for the Synod on Synodality.

America Magazine quotes Cardinal Grech stating that the synod ‘needs time’ on the question of married priests, whilst he is also quoted saying that he sees “a different church” emerging from the worldwide synodal process.

What Does His Current Role Entail?

As secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Mario Grech manages the logistics of the synodal meetings, including scheduling, preparing agendas, and ensuring that the synod sessions run smoothly.

He serves as a liaison between the Pope, the Synod Fathers (bishops and other participants in the synod), and other Vatican offices. In addition, his role entails maintaining records of the synodal meetings, including minutes, reports, and documentation of discussions. These records are essential for future reference and decision-making.

He must assist in drafting and preparing documents related to the synod, such as working documents, final reports, and guidance documents resulting from synodal deliberations. During the synod sessions, Cardinal Grech helps facilitate discussions among the participants, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to express their views and opinions. After the synod, he is involved in implementing the decisions and recommendations made during the synodal meetings, in coordination with other Vatican offices and the Pope.

Finally, as Secretary General, Cardinal Grech provides advice and information to the Pope regarding the synod’s deliberations and outcomes, helping the Pope make informed decisions for the Church.

A Remarkable Journey

The probability of someone from Gozo attaining such a significant role at the Vatican is relatively low, obviously due to the island’s size and the historically limited representation of individuals from smaller regions within the Catholic Church hierarchy.

Typically, those in high-ranking positions at the Vatican have come from larger dioceses and regions with more extensive ecclesiastical networks and influence.

However, Bishop Mario Grech’s ascent to the role of Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops and his subsequent appointment as a cardinal by Pope Francis represents a notable exception.

His journey from Gozo to the Vatican underscores the recognition of his leadership, capabilities, and the importance of his contributions to the Church, defying the odds and showcasing the exceptional nature of his rise within the Catholic hierarchy.

Main photo credit: CNS/Lola Gomez

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