Synodality: a process of dealing with wicked problems
In an earlier piece, I indicated that some of the challenges facing the Church today can be thought of as wicked problems – highly complex issues that intersect with other equally complex issues and for which it seems to be difficult to find solutions individually let alone in a combined way. Often included in the list of such problems are world hunger, wealth inequality, education design and sustainability. In terms of the Church, today common issues which seem like wicked problems are the tensions between participatory and magisterial governance; how to articulate an authentic Christian anthropology that remains genuinely welcoming to all; how to be merciful and forgiving while maintaining clear expectations. Perhaps most challenging of all – how do we genuinely hold to our Tradition and embrace the changing contexts in which we live. How do we adapt to and engage with the era of change?
The first recognition in dealing with wicked problems is to accept that any answer will take time. Time to understand, time to plan, time to emerge, time to implement and time to reconsider. None of this should be thought of as delaying or avoiding taking action. Pope Francis has made abundantly clear that doing nothing is not a Christian response to any problem. However, praying, engaging in dialogue and discerning is not doing nothing, not even only doing little. It is a commitment to move forward, to engage and to seek the common good to which Jesus calls us.
Where many in our Australian context seek to avoid pain, suffering and death – Christians seek these as the moments when Jesus speaks most clearly and offers so much.
The corporate text books say that wicked problems are those that are difficult or impossible to sole because there is insufficient data, contradictory information or experience, changing circumstances or an incomplete picture of the context. As Christians, we would hold that these are most likely the problems to which we are inexorably drawn. Consider the Church’s active ministries in social welfare, health, international development or education – ongoing situations and issues that have new aspects to be negotiated every few years. Where many in our Australian context seek to avoid pain, suffering and death – Christians seek these as the moments when Jesus speaks most clearly and offers so much.
Synodality is a process – it does seek solutions and concrete outcomes, but above all it is a process which says that conversations will always form the basis of good outocmes; dialogue is the key tool of social analysis; the foundational call of the Gospel to accept and champion the dignity of persons while working for the common good.
Synodality is a journey together being open to new ideas and insights, challenging assumptions and heeding the message that Jesus has been gifted to the world that we might have life and have it to the full. In stepping onto the synodal path we are taking the first steps to solving the wicked problem that faces our Church – how do we best bring Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus here in this time and this place. How do we do this to reach the smallest and least? Those who are at the margins and vulnerable? Those who are discarded and shunned? How are we to be an effective field hospital?
- Patrick McArdle is the Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn