OTTAWA (CCN) — Bishops who attend synods should spend more time in group discussions and less time listening to each other’s speeches, Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher proposed to Pope Francis.
“Better use should be made of the small groups,” Durocher said. “They should be used more extensively than they are now.”
Durocher had a chance to offer suggestions on how to improve the synod process during a Nov. 15 audience with Pope Francis.
The president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) was in Rome for 10 days with the CCCB vice-president Bishop Douglas Crosby and English-language assistant general secretary Bede Hubbard for the annual CCCB trip to Rome to meet with various dicasteries.
The archbishop said he made the comments to the pope not as CCCB president but as a synod father after attending October’s extraordinary synod on the family.
The pope seemed quite interested in hearing some of his suggestions how to improve the process, he said.
“I found the whole first week, when we spend days listening to each participant give a four-minute speech is not the best use of time, nor the most efficient way of engaging conversation,” Durocher said.
Asked if receiving the written texts of the bishops in advance would help, the archbishop agreed.
“Obviously, we can all read,” he joked.
“I would favour an approach that made more use of the small groups,” he said. Bishops could possibly make longer, more involved contributions that could develop into a consensus in a small group and then be brought back to the general assembly, he said. That could be “more fruitful as a process.”
This was Durocher’s second synod.
“I bring in my note pad and I try to summarize each talk that I listen to,” he said. “It forces me to listen but I must say it is a very exacting exercise.”
Next October’s ordinary synod will involve more participants: 350 participants means “it’s listening to 350 speeches in a row,” he said.
Pope Francis also sat through the first week of speeches in October.
“He’s been part of the process more than once, he knows it very well,” the archbishop said. “He’s trying to make the synod more dynamic, more participatory and to really engage dialogue among the bishops. He has expressed that is his hope.”
The meeting with the CCCB delegation involved a “very friendly, fraternal conversation full of good humour,” the archbishop said. “He made a number of jokes at different times. It was a really pleasant moment with him.
“We spoke about the past year in the conference, the impact of his letter on the Joy of the Gospel, the events around Quebec, in particular the canonizations of both Francois Laval and Marie de l’Incarnation, how that has been received in Canada as a real gift.”
Over the course of the 10-day visit that ended on Nov. 20, the delegation visited with the prefects of the Congregations for Bishops, for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Religious, for Priests, for Catholic Education, for Saints and Divine Worship.
They met with fellow Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, for one hour and “had a good exchange with him,” he said.
“His position is quite a demanding one,” Durocher said. “He’s a man of great integrity and a man who works very hard. It’s not an easy position and I admire him for the work he does.”
The Gatineau archbishop was back in his diocese only briefly before heading off again to London, England, Dec. 3 for the second St. Martha Group meeting, which is an effort on the part of national police organizations and conferences of bishops “to study how to build collaborative efforts in fighting against human trafficking,” he said.