Synodality is in the DNA of Protestants. What does she represent for you?
Anne-Laure Danet: It is a Church organization. For Protestants, the Church is first and foremost an event. It arises from the proclamation of the word of God through preaching and the sacraments (baptism and the supper). Worship has a central place because it is a place of healing where to hear this Word. The pastor has this function of preaching and administering the sacraments in the service of the Church. He does not have a state of life that sets him apart as the priest in the Catholic Church.
The life of the Church is everyone’s business, which is why we are organized according to a presbyterian-synodal system. Any subject is first studied in the local Church to then be worked on within the framework of the regional Synod if there is one as in France, then at the national Synod. In these assemblies, a pastor has the same place as a layman and a clever balance allows the whole of the Church to be represented. Finally, the conception of authority is not a one-way street. Both the Church and the Synod refer to the sole authority of God. That’s why there are always back and forths. We are talking about a circular, shared authority.
How do you view the Synod of the Catholic Church?
A.-L. D. : This Synod is an incredible opportunity. The strong tremors produced by the report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase) and by the health crisis have induced suffering in the people of the Catholic Church and the clergy. I sense in many faithful a considerable expectation, a desire for change. This question of synodality affects all Christian traditions. I think we can work together on this subject to enrich each other. Our Protestant experience does not pose as an example but can contribute to providing help in reflection. Let’s not forget that the challenge is to allow each believer to become an adult in the faith and to share this good news of Jesus Christ with others. For me, this is a strong subject of prayer because I believe that, where things are stuck, God opens up possibilities.
You have been engaged in ecumenical dialogue for thirty years. Where is this dialogue today, in particular between Protestants and Catholics?
A.-L. D. : He has come a long way. Between Catholics and Protestants, we discussed all the subjects. There are still three on which we are at an impasse: we have different understandings and definitions of the Church, and therefore of ministries and of the eucharist. To approach these questions in a new way, we are in a phase of renewing the methods of dialogue.
What are these new methods?
A.-L. D. : One method that has borne fruit is that of differentiated consensus. We note differences, but these are not divisive. And we agree on common elements strong enough to say that we share the essentials. This is how Lutherans and Catholics were able to sign in 1999 the joint declaration on the doctrine of justification which was the breaking point of the Reformation. It was then signed by Reformed, Anglicans and Methodists. Today, it is a question of making it known in our local Churches because, if we proclaim the same salvation, nothing prevents us from doing, for example, catechesis together.
Another method is receptive ecumenism. Until today, each exposed to the other its position. We saw the differences and the commonalities; we looked for convergences and we explained the divergences. From now on, instead of exposing my position, I start by listening to the other, asking myself what is strong about him, what is the specificity, the richness of his tradition. Sometimes it’s not differences that separate us, but accents. By listening to the other, I question my own tradition: what am I missing that he managed to develop? Of course, it is not a question of copying and pasting, but of adapting, of translating what I understand from the tradition of the other into mine. Thus, a certain porosity can take place, including inside each Church where there are different sensitivities.
Finally, a very interesting method is that of the healing of memories. For a very long time, Protestants defined themselves against Catholics. On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a work of memory resulted in a text entitled “From conflict to communion”, in which Catholics and Protestants wrote a common history of the Reformation. We can’t change the story, but the way we tell it can lead to peaceful relationships.
You mention a certain porosity. For there to be dialogue, must there be impregnation or displacement?
A.-L. D. : All dialogue is a process of conversion in the Gospel sense of the term: a change of direction. When I come out, I’m not the same. I see the other differently. He is no longer someone I discover, but someone I know with whom I will be able to share, move forward. When I was a pastor in the 14th arrondissement in Paris, I worked a lot with a Catholic priest friend. One day when we were discussing our relationship with Mary, he explained to me why he needed to pray to her. This allowed me to understand, not to adhere. When we met, we prayed the Our Father together and he also prayed to Mary. These small displacements, I perceive them even more in the common reading of the Bible. I develop an ecumenical version of lectio divina, this method of meditative reading of the Scriptures received from Catholics. When we trust each other and the text, something happens. A word suddenly strikes my existence and brightens up my day. These bursts of resurrection make me think and be differently. They help me make commitments in my life.
We are in the week of prayer for Christian unity. Why is this time necessary?
A.-L. D. : One of the challenges of ecumenism is “full communion”, that is to say to recognize each other fully as the Church of Jesus Christ. This week reminds us that we are still divided. It is suffering. Praying together is essential, dialogue in trust is a strength to better live our faith and share our joy of believing with our contemporaries. Christian life is about momentum, which is why reforms are good and allow us to refocus on the essentials. In the Bible, the word “crisis” designates the crossroads. It is a matter of discerning the direction to take, of making it a favorable moment.