Synodality and Cardijn’s ‘electrifying’ see-judge-act

Cardijn’s “electrifying” see-judge-act method lies at the heart of the synodality process, writes newly appointed Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego.

Can synodality become a deeper element of Catholic life in the United States? Our current process may prove this to be so. One of the central sentiments expressed in our diocesan synodal consultations has been that the people of God have at times not been meaningfully heard and responded to in the institutional life of the church, and they fear that the synodal process might be another in a series of moments when hopes are raised only to be frustrated. But the current synod process offers a glimpse of a church yet to come. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics have engaged with the church on their joys, their sorrows and their hopes for what the church can be today and tomorrow.

Across the United States, dioceses, parishes and religious communities have undertaken intensive processes of consultation and dialogue in order to help prepare for the global synod on synodality that will take place in Rome in October 2023. Soon, each local church will forward to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops a formal report on their consultation, which will contribute to the work of the global church.

Fortunately, the theology and practice of synodality that have already emerged from the Second Vatican Council and the writings and actions of Pope Francis provide an architecture for us to continue substantive synodal formation during the next two years. This architecture consists of three elements: the see-judge-act methodology that lies at the heart of the synodal process, the characteristics of a synodal church that Pope Francis has articulated, and the overwhelming imperative for constant and effective evangelization that has been a hallmark of the pontificates of St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

In the years following the First World War, Joseph Cardijn became a worker priest in Brussels, seeking to organize working men and women in pursuit of justice. While doing so, he came to understand that true work on behalf of justice and solidarity required a process of genuinely coming to know the real world situations that workers confronted, of judging these realities in the light of the Gospel and then of choosing to act concretely to transform the world they faced. “See-judge-act,” the dynamic of engagement that Cardijn brought to the world, became an electrifying construct for confronting injustice—revealing its contradictions to Catholic faith and generating bold and sustained action.

St John XXIII brought this penetrating insight and framework to the world in his encyclical “Mater et Magistra.” The church of Latin America adopted this framework as a primary method of engaging with the realities of human life and the renewal of the church. And the encuentro process that deeply enriched the church in the United States during the last decade placed “see-judge-act” at its very center. An understanding of the three steps of this basic framework in the context of our current synodal moment in the United States is helpful in appreciating its potential for advancing synodal formation during the next two years.


Bishop McElroy: Pope Francis and Vatican II give us a road map for the synodal process (America Magazine)

Pope Francis: New roles for lay people

After nearly nine years of preparation, Pope Francis has promulgated the Apostolic Constitution “Praedicate Evangelium,” reforming the Roman Curia and its structures.

Fundamental among the general principles in the new Constitution is the provision that anyone – including lay people – can be appointed to roles of government in the Roman Curia by virtue of the vicarious power of the Successor of Peter.

The preamble to the Constitution explains this in the following terms:

“Every Christian, by virtue of Baptism, is a missionary disciple to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus. One cannot fail to take this into account in the updating of the Curia, whose reform, therefore, must provide for the involvement of laymen and women, even in roles of government and responsibility.”

Noting that the “pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelisers in the Church,” the Constitution goes on to explain that the role of lay people in governance was “essential” because of their familiarity with family life and “social reality.”

Consequently, “any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism” if the pope decides they are qualified and appoints them, it provides.


Pope Francis promulgates Apostolic Constitution on Roman Curia ‘Praedicate Evangelium’ (Vatican News)

Pope rules baptised lay Catholics, including women, can lead Vatican departments (Reuters)


Pope Francis visits Palo Cathedral in one of his sorties in Leyte Province Saturday, January 17, 2015. / Malacañang Photo Bureau/ Picryl

Alberto Methol Ferré: Catholics and the diversity of civilisations

Alberto Methol Ferré (1929 – 2009) was a Uruguayan Catholic political theorist and theologian who was influenced by Jacques Maritain, Augusto Del Noce, and the JOC chaplain Lucio Gera, among others.

As a student, he was a co-editor of the International Catholic Movement of Students (IMCS) publication, Vispera, and he worked closely with leader of the JUC and JAC in Argentina. More recently, his work has also greatly influenced Pope Francis’ own thought.

Here we reproduce several excerpts from an important 1955 article on Catholics and western culture, translated by the Terre Nouvelle website.

The fundamental advent of history is not any secular revolution — be it French, fascist, or communist — but the Incarnation of Christ, the center and fullness of time. Only in and through Christ is man and the world restored, and any ideology which pretends otherwise remains in the margins of essential history, that is to say, it participates in it indirectly, insofar as it can not escape the providential designs of God. In such a sense even atheists and idolatries are instrumental collaborators of Providence within the eschatological, final structure of history.

The Incarnation diffused and communicated is the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, visible and sacramental presence of the eternal in time, which it perpetuates universally and according to the spirit of the ancient mission of Israel. The Church has its source in the transcendent, not purely immanent historical values.

However, if the Church, by essence, is supernatural, and civilizations are natural, in the sense that they intrinsically depend on space and time, it is evident that there can only exist a diversity of Christian civilizations, none of which expresses life in its plenitude. The same occurs with non-Christian civilizations, since the present [actualidad] and essence coincide in perfect identity only in God. Clearly, the only absolute “Christian civilization” is the Reign of God, which is already the Church in a “pilgrim, militant, crucified” condition and which will have full completion in the Parousia.

The whole mystery of the Church is beyond history, presenting and coexisting with history itself. The fundamental fact is that history is in Christianity and not the other way around, since, it has been said with justice, sacred history is a fourth dimension, but a dimension constituent of history.


Alberto Methol Ferré – Catholics and Western Culture (1955) (Terre Nouvelle)

Alberto Methol Ferré (Wikipedia)


Methol Ferré (Sadop Nación/YouTube)

Venerable Eduardo Pironio, precursor of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has promulgated a decree recognising the heroic virtues of Argentinian Cardinal (Venerable) Eduardo Francesco Pironio.

Born on 3 December, 1920, he was the last of 22 children of his Italian immigrant parents, José Pironio and Enriqueta Rosa Butazzoni.

At the age of eleven, he entered San José de La Plata Seminary. Twelve years later he was ordained on 5 December, 1943.

For fifteen years, he then taught literature, Latin, philosophy and theology successively at the Pío XII Seminary in Mercedes.

During this period, he also wrote regularly for the JOC chaplains’ magazine, Notas de Pastoral Jocista, where he was also a member of the editorial team.

From 1953-55, he studied theology in Rome, completing a doctoral thesis on the work of Belgian Benedictine monk, Dom Columba Marmion.

In 1958, he was appointed vicar-general of Mercedes Diocese. Soon after he became professor of theology at the new Catholic University of Argentina of which he became rector in 1963.

During this period, he also served as chaplain general to Argentine Catholic Action where, according to Claudia Carbajal, “his opportune word formed the lay conscience for a determined presence in the world and in their daily life to radiate the Good News in the commitments of the believer in daily life.”

In 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him as auxiliary bishop to the diocese of La Plata, enabling him to take part in Sessions Three and Four of the Second Vatican Council. In 1972, he was appointed bishop of Mar del Plata.

In 1967, he was elected Secretary-General of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), enabling him to play a key role in the CELAM conference at Medellin, Colombia in 1968. From 1972-75, he also served as president of CELAM.

During the turbulent 1970s which ended in military dictatorship, he came under strong attack from conservative forces in Argentina.

Pironio also took part in several Synods of Bishops meetings, including the 1974 Synod on Evangelisation in the Modern World where he was one of the General Rapporteurs. In this capacity, drawings on the writings of the Argentine jocist priest, Lucio Gera, he contributed significantly to the drafting of Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, particularly the section on evangelisation and culture.

In 1975, Pope Paul appointed him as Pro-Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes and a year later he was made Prefect after being made a cardinal.

On 8 April 1984 Pope John Paul II named him President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in which position he helped promote the first World Youth Day events.

As Austen Ivereigh has written:

Cardinal Pironio can be considered in certain aspects the precursor of Bergoglio. His mission was to apply the principles of the Second Vatican Council to Latin America; he had a clear “preferential option” for the poor, but he also distrusted ideologies and was convinced that the Gospel represented the basis of a new model of society that went beyond the capitalism-communism dichotomy. As Bergoglio would later, he alienated himself from conservatives by committing himself to social justice and alienated himself from the left by denying support for extremist versions of liberation theology.

Like Bergoglio, Pironio was not a revolutionary, but he had great spiritual depth: he was a radical defender of the Gospel, with a pastoral strategy that gave priority to the poor.

Cardinal Pironio died of bone cancer on 5 February, 1998.

Meeting with leaders of Argentine Catholic Action /Acción Católica Argentina


Pope recognizes Cardinal Pironio’s heroic virtues (Vatican News)

Eduardo Francisco Cardinal Pironio (Catholic Hierarchy)

Eduardo Francisco Pironio (Wikipedia)

Claudia Carbajal, Las “virtudes heroicas” del cardenal Pironio, el hombre humilde reconocido por el papa Francisco (Infobae)

Austen Ivereigh, The Great Reformer (Picador Paper, 2015)

Stefan Gigacz, The Pontifical Council for the Laity de-recognises the IYCW (Cardijn Research)


Thanks to Claudio Remeseira for providing information and background for this article.


Fr Pironio addressing an Argentine Catholic Action conference (Acción Católica Argentina)

Cardijn shaped Pope Francis’ destiny

Cardijn with young workers

“Fans of Vatican-themed intrigue undoubtedly would say that the Belgian cardinal with the greatest direct influence on Pope Francis has to be Godfried Danneels of Brussels, a member of the so-called “St. Gallen Group” of left-leaning Princes of the Church who, reportedly, tried to block the election of Benedict XVI in 2005, and remnants of which later allegedly helped propel Francis to the papacy,” writes John L. Allen Jr.

“More sober observers, however, probably would insist that the real answer actually is Belgian Cardinal Joseph Leo Cardijn, the famed pioneer of the “See-Judge-Act” method in applying Catholic social teaching, the 51st anniversary of whose death falls today.

The bond between Francis and Cardijn runs, in part, through St. Alberto Hurtado, a revered Chilean Jesuit deeply familiar to the future pope, since then-Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio spent a year in 1960 living in the same house of studies outside Santiago where Hurtado lived and worked for much of his career.”


Recalling the Belgian cardinal who truly shaped Francis’s destiny (Crux)
Un cardenal que marcó el destino de Francisco (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú)