CNS Photo/Vatican MediaPope Francis will lead a mass in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on October 29, marking the conclusion of the first session of the Synod of Bishops on the topic of synodality.
By CINDY WOODEN, Catholic News Service | Published on November 2, 2023
Here you can find the report in English with links to the document in other languages.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — A report summarizing discussions at the gathering of the Synod of Bishops said the church may need more welcoming pastoral approaches, particularly for people who feel excluded, but also acknowledged fears of traditional teachings and practices to betray the church.
Issues raised in the report included sexual abuse by clergy, the role of women in the church, support for the poor and the concept of “synodality” itself.
The assembly, with 364 voting members – including 365 with Pope Francis – met in working sessions six days a week from October 4 to 28, following a three-day retreat outside Rome. They were scheduled to meet with the pope on Oct. 29 for the congregation’s closing service.
After the vote on the synthesis was completed, the pope said he wanted to remind everyone that “the protagonist of the synod is the Holy Spirit.” He briefly thanked the synod officials and joined the members of the congregation in thanking God.
The assembly’s discussions set the stage for a year-long period of reflection that will culminate in the second and final synod assembly on the same topic at the end of 2024.
The 41-page synthesis report, voted on paragraph by paragraph on October 28, described its purpose as “presenting convergences, points of reflection and proposals arising from the dialogue” on topics that fall under the headings of synodality, communion, mission etc. were discussed participation.
Each point in the report was approved by at least two-thirds of the members present and voting, synod officials said. They released a full list of votes.
As part of the synod topics, members addressed the role of women in the church, including in decision-making, and the possibility of ordaining women deacons. The report called for more “theological and pastoral research on women’s access to the diaconate,” including a review of the conclusions of the commissions established by Pope Francis in 2016 and 2020.
The paragraph, one of several on the subject of women deacons, was approved by 279 votes to 67, more than the required two-thirds majority but still among the highest negative votes.
Among members of the congregation, the report said, some were convinced that the idea of female deacons would represent a break with tradition, while others insisted that it would “restore the practice of the early church,” including for Period of the New Testament where female deacons are mentioned.
“Others consider it an appropriate and necessary response to the signs of the times, faithful to tradition and resonating in the hearts of many who seek new energy and vitality in the Church,” it said. However, the report continued, some members felt that this would “connect the church with the spirit of the times.”
The paragraph about how various members expressed their support or opposition to women deacons was also approved by more than two-thirds of voting members, but received more negative votes than any other item, by a vote of 277 to 69.
Assembly members also discussed pastoral approaches to welcoming and including people who felt excluded into parish life, including the poor, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ Catholics and Catholics whose marriages are not recognized by the Church.
The synthesis report did not use the term “LGBTQ+” or even “homosexuality” and spoke only generally of issues related to “issues of identity and sexuality.”
Jesuit Father James Martin, a synod member who advocates for outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics, told Catholic News Service: “As far as I know, there was too much resistance to make the use of the term ‘LGBTQ’ viable, although it was included in the ‘Instrumentum’.” “Laboris” or working document of the Synod.
“This opposition was often expressed in the plenary sessions, along with others who argued from the other side, that is, for greater inclusion and for seeing LGBTQ people as people and not as an ideology,” he said.
The summary states: “In order to develop authentic ecclesial discernment in these and other areas, it is necessary to address these questions in the light of the Word of God and the teaching of the Church, appropriately informed and reflective.”
“To avoid repeating empty formulas, we must provide an opportunity for dialogue that includes the humanities and social sciences as well as philosophical and theological reflection,” she added.
The disagreement in the congregation reflected conflicting concerns: “When we apply doctrine harshly and with a judgmental attitude, we betray the gospel; When we practice mercy “cheaply,” we are not communicating the love of God.”
Nevertheless, it said: “In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their marital status, their identity or their sexuality also ask to be heard and accompanied.” There was a deep feeling of love in the gathering, Mercy and compassion for those who are hurt or neglected by the Church or who feel hurt and who are looking for a place to call “home” where they can feel safe, heard and respected without fear of themselves “to feel judged.”
Levels of listening
The report highlighted the “listening” that took place at local, national and continental levels before the gathering, and the “conversations in spirit” that took place during the gathering, where each person spoke in their small group, other participants also commenting first just what they noticed, then they think about it quietly and then discuss it.
At several points in the report, members of the congregation emphasized the need for greater efforts to listen to survivors of clergy sexual abuse and those who have suffered spiritual or psychological abuse.
“The openness to listen and accompany everyone, including those who were abused and injured in the church, has made visible many who had long felt invisible,” it said. “The long road to reconciliation and justice, including addressing the structural conditions that have fostered such abuse, still lies ahead and requires concrete gestures of remorse.”
Congregation members said the process helped them experience the church as “God’s home and family, a church closer to the lives of its people, less bureaucratic and more relational.”
However, the terms “synodal” and “synodality,” which “have been associated with this experience and desire,” require further clarification, including theological clarification and possibly in canon law.
Some participants questioned how a gathering in which approximately 21% of the participants were lay women, lay men, religious and priests could be called a synod of bishops.
The report also acknowledged concerns, including that “the Church’s teachings will be changed, which will cause us to depart from the apostolic faith of our ancestors, thereby betraying the expectations of those who hunger and thirst for God today.”
However, in response, members of the assembly said: “We are confident that the synodality is an expression of the dynamic and living tradition.”
“It is clear that some people are afraid of being forced to change; others fear that nothing will change at all or that there is too little courage to move at the pace of living tradition,” the report says.
“In addition,” it continued, “perplexity and resistance can sometimes mask the fear of loss of power and the resulting privileges.”
Members of the congregation described the synod process as “rooted in the tradition of the Church” and taking place in light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, particularly its emphasis on “the Church as mystery and people of God, called to holiness.” .”
Synodality, they said, “values the contribution that all the baptized make according to their respective vocations,” and thus “represents a genuine act of further reception of the Council.”
The report also emphasized that the purpose of the synodality is mission.
“As disciples of Jesus, we cannot shirk the responsibility of demonstrating and sharing the love and tenderness of God to a wounded humanity,” the report said.
Throughout the synod process, the report says, “many women expressed deep gratitude for the work of priests and bishops.” They also spoke of a Church that is hurting. Clericalism, a chauvinistic mentality and inappropriate expressions of authority continue to tarnish the face of the Church and harm its community.”
“A profound spiritual conversion is required as the basis for any effective structural change,” it said. “Sexual abuse and the abuse of power and authority continue to cry out for justice, healing and reconciliation.”