US synodal report: Seeds of Renewal

Amid a volatile political climate and internal Church tensions, the US’ synodal synthesis surprisingly revealed a faith-community that was united on more fronts than not.

Boasting a Catholic population of 66.8 million (according to the report cited in this article), the United States is home to one of the largest assemblage of Catholics in the world. 700,000 people took part in the US’ synodal process, with just over 22,000 reports being submitted.

With political instability and disharmony recently enveloping the US, perhaps surprisingly, the US synodal listening reportedly united Catholics to the point that they expressed a desire for greater parish and diocesan synodal listening. Here’s what the American faithful said.


In the Fall of 2021, the local churches in the United States of America joined the worldwide Catholic Church in entering the diocesan phase of the 2021-2023 Synod – For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission. The Church in the United States is made up of an estimated 66.8 million Catholics spread across one hundred and 178 Latin Church (arch) dioceses, including the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter that serves both the United States and Canada, and 18 Eastern Catholic (arch)eparchies.

For organisational purposes, the ecclesiastical provinces within the territory of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are grouped together into 15 administrative regions.

Confusion/fear led to surprise and agreement

Here in the US, the beginning of the diocesan phase of the Synod was met with a combination of excitement, confusion, and scepticism. “Several dioceses noted some apprehension and even opposition as they began their synodal listening – ranging from those who felt the process would be futile, to some who were afraid of what it would change, to clergy and parish staff who perceived it as an overwhelming task.” As the Synod continued, however, “many were surprised by a level of engagement and richness that surpassed their expectations. It was frequently noted how much agreement participants found when they listened to each other”.

A wide-reaching sentiment expressed by many was a “great appreciation for the synodal process. They were truly grateful for the opportunity to be heard and to listen, and for the spirit of openness. The ability to sit around the table with strangers and share joys, concerns, hopes, and suggestions without intense debate or fear encouraged and motivated many”.

Many who conducted listening sessions described being transformed by the process of listening to others’ stories and hearing about their faith journey. Those who shared their stories, especially those who participated in small group sessions, stated that they felt listened to by the Church for the first time. While synodal consultations conveyed many areas where we as Church can grow in communion, participation, and mission, there was also a deep sense of gratitude and love for the Church and the local community.

Overall, “participants expressed much appreciation and gratitude for the support they experience in serving the community and praying together. Parish life and social activities foster a sense of community and strengthen personal relationships among members”. Throughout the consultation process, this joy permeated through all the discussions, even when the conversations touched on very painful and difficult topics.

What follows is a synthesis of the honest and authentic contributions of the People of God in the United States. Highlighting the joys, hopes, and wounds present in our Church, these consultations express a deep desire for greater communion. Several common themes emerged; while by no means a complete account of the varied topics and perspectives that arose in the listening process, they express the fruit of listening, encounter, and dialogue from communities diverse in culture, language, and social setting. This synthesis aims to provide the matter for discernment as we continue this synodal journey.

Enduring wounds

Over the course of the diocesan phase, several enduring wounds emerged. Many of these wounds have been inflicted not only by individual members of the Church but often by the institution itself. “People shared their experiences, their dreams for the Church, and their concerns with openness and courage. Participants appreciated the opportunity to share their stories— including painful stories—without interruption, contradiction, or apologetics. Many expressed that the process and the experience were healing and hopeful, and desperately needed in the Church today.”

Chief wound- Sex abuse

Chief among the enduring wounds that afflict the people of God in the United States is the still unfolding effects of the sexual abuse crisis. “Trust in the hierarchy of the Church is weak and needs to be strengthened. The sex abuse scandals and the way the Church leadership handled the situation are seen as one of the strongest causes of a lack of trust and credibility on the part of the faithful. Feedback revealed the strong, lingering wound caused by the abuse of power and the physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse of the most innocent in our community. There was a recognition that this pain has had a compounding effect on priests and lay ministers’ willingness to develop closer relationships with the people they serve due to a fear of being misinterpreted or falsely accused.” The sin and crime of sexual abuse has eroded not only trust in the hierarchy and the moral integrity of the Church, but also created a culture of fear that keeps people from entering into relationship with one another and thus from experiencing the sense of belonging and connectedness for which they yearn.

The pandemic

The sense of community among the people of God has also suffered from the ongoing effects of the Covid19 pandemic. The pandemic itself “has led to the fraying of our communities in some ways, accelerating a trend towards disengagement and intensifying the isolation and loneliness of many, youth, and the elderly in particular. A large number of the faithful have not yet returned to worship”. Many acknowledged the strides made during the pandemic toward finding new and innovative ways to reach out to the community and remain connected, and that “absence heightened a sense of how important the experience of Church and, more particularly, Eucharist is for the life of faith”.

A Church deeply divided

Another enduring wound widely reflected in synodal consultations was the experience that the Church is deeply divided. Participants felt this division as a profound sense of pain and anxiety. As one participant shared, the divisive political ideologies present in our society have seeped into all aspects of our lives. Division regarding the celebration of the liturgy was reflected in synodal consultations. “Sadly, celebration of the Eucharist is also experienced as an area of division within the church. The most common issue regarding the liturgy is the celebration of the pre-Conciliar Mass.”

The limited access to the 1962 Missal was lamented; many felt that the differences over how to celebrate the liturgy “sometimes reach the level of animosity. People on each side of the issue reported feeling judged by those who differ from them”.

Lack of unity with the Pope

Many regional syntheses cited the perceived lack of unity among the bishops in the United States, and even of some individual bishops with the Holy Father, as a source of grave scandal. This perceived lack of unity within the hierarchy seems to, in turn, justify division at the local level. “People at both ends of the political spectrum have set up camp opposing the ‘others,’ forgetting that they are one in the Body of Christ. Partisan politics is infiltrating homilies and ministry, and this trend has created divisions and intimidation among believers.” Another regional synthesis highlighted how “our use of media increasingly serves to reinforce our preconceived notions or preferred ideology.”


Closely related to the wound of polarisation is the wound of marginalisation. Not only do those who experience this wound suffer, but their marginalisation has become a source of scandal for others, especially for some youth who perceive the Church as hypocritical and failing to act consistently with justice toward these diverse communities. Those who experience marginalisation, and thus a lack of representation in the Church, fall into two broad groups. The first includes those marginalised who are made vulnerable by their lack of social and/ or economic power, such as immigrant communities; ethnic minorities; those who are undocumented; the unborn and their mothers; people who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, or incarceration; those people who have disabilities or mental health issues; and people suffering from various addictions. Included also in this group are women, whose voices are frequently marginalised in the decision-making processes of the Church: “women on parish staff said they felt underappreciated, underpaid, not supported in seeking formation, worked long hours, and lacked good role models for self-care”.

The second group includes those who are marginalised because circumstances in their own lives are experienced as impediments to full participation in the life of the Church. Among these are members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church. Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.

Deep hunger for healing

The synodal consultations around the enduring wounds caused by the clergy sexual abuse scandal, the pandemic, polarisation, and marginalisation have exposed a deep hunger for healing and the strong desire for communion, community, and a sense of belonging and being united. “Throughout the synodal process, it was evident that most participants genuinely believe that support for one another is essential –laity and clergy; churched and unchurched; and those in need of healing.”

Enhancing Communion & participation

Specific topics repeatedly arose in almost every synodal consultation which can be understood as a common longing underlying the experience of the Church in the United States. These topics are invitations to discernment, reflection, and dialogue as we continue to walk the synodal path. The consultations all point to the fact that the People of God desire to draw closer to God and each other through a deeper knowledge of Scripture, prayer, and sacramental celebrations, especially the Eucharist.

Sacramental life

“While the people of God long for a true communion that can only begin through Christ as we know him in the Eucharist, a sufficient percentage of participants reported obstacles to community within their parishes, partly due to the divisive political climate and resulting polarisation in the country. A significant percentage of participants also indicate that receiving Eucharist does bring them more closely in solidarity with the poor. Suggestions on building communion around the Eucharist include items such as warmer hospitality, healing services, and more invigorating preaching by clergy.” One recommendation proposed a role for a more profound formation process, particularly in the context of sacramental preparation involving parents and their children, as a prelude to ongoing faith formation continuing into and throughout adult life. The Eucharist in the lives of Catholics was a significant starting point for many of the synodal consultations. While divisions exist, many saw the Eucharist as the source of hope for greater unity as the body of Christ.

A welcoming Church

The most common desire named in the synodal consultations was to be a more welcoming Church where all members of the people of God can find accompaniment on the journey. The synodal consultations mentioned several areas where there existed a tension between how to walk with people while remaining faithful to the teachings of the Church, “for many, the perception is that the blanket application of rules and policies is used as a means of wielding power or acting as a gatekeeper”. In no particular order, the following groups were frequently mentioned as integral to being a more welcoming Church. The hope for a welcoming Church expressed itself clearly with the desire to accompany with authenticity LGBTQ+ persons and their families.

Many “who identify as LGBTQ+ believe they are condemned by Church teachings”. There is “an urgent need for guidance as [one parish] begged, ‘we believe we are approaching a real crisis in how to minister to the LGBTQ+ community, some of whom are members of our own families. We need help, support, and clarity’”. Often families “feel torn between remaining in the church and supporting their loved ones”.

In order to become a more welcoming Church there is a deep need for ongoing discernment of the whole Church on how best to accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. Persons who have been divorced, whether remarried or not, often feel unwelcome within the Church.

Impact of Women Religious

Nearly all synodal consultations shared a deep appreciation for the powerful impact of women religious who have consistently led the way in carrying out the mission of the Church. Likewise, there was recognition for the centrality of women’s unparalleled contributions to the life of the Church, particularly in local communities.

Ordination of women as matter of justice

There was a desire for stronger leadership, discernment, and decision-making roles for women – both lay and religious – in their parishes and communities: “people mentioned a variety of ways in which women could exercise leadership, including preaching and ordination as deacon or priest. Ordination for women emerged not primarily as a solution to the problem of the priest shortage, but as a matter of justice”.

Many acknowledged the ongoing “need for deeper cultural understanding, more diversity in parish life: in faith formation, liturgical celebrations, and social experiences. Language barriers were mentioned frequently as obstacles although most dioceses felt they were making strides with multilingual masses and clergy.” The complex nature of parish life was raised as local communities weighed how best to balance the diverse communities within a single Church that desires to build bridges and fellowship. “Having different Masses in different languages may allow each member of the parish to participate in their first language, but does it promote communion among all parishioners?” Synodal consultations also expressed concerns around racism: “Catholic people of colour spoke of routine encounters with racism, both inside and outside the Church. Indigenous Catholics spoke of the generational trauma caused by racism and abuse in boarding schools”. Consultations noted that much still needs to be done: “The sinfulness of racism fuelled by events in our country in recent years must also remain an ever-present concern and be acknowledged by our Church. As we do so, we must continue to listen.

Deep ache for departed young people

Practically all synodal consultations shared a deep ache in the wake of the departure of young people and viewed this as integrally connected to becoming a more welcoming Church. Young people themselves voiced a feeling of exclusion and desired to participate more fully as members of the parish community. The feeling of exclusion also manifested itself in some youth seeking a sense of belonging in the Church’s ancient tradition of faith, prayer, and devotion. “Youth who participated in synodal sessions, however, stressed that they should not be seen and spoken of mostly as the future of the Church, but should be recognised for their importance now and given a significant voice in the present. They want to be both seen and heard and included more in Church life, especially by participating meaningfully in parish and diocesan councils and ministries.” Young people’s waning participation in parish life was a source of great pain for many older community members.

Ongoing formation for mission

Another common hope that emerged from the synodal consultations was the desire for life-long spiritual, pastoral, and catechetical formation as disciples. Synodal consultations made clear the importance of evangelisation as we continue to live out the Church’s mission, which requires stronger formation.

“Participants of every age and demographic group spoke of the need for lifelong formation. They would like to see more opportunities for Bible study, in-person and online courses, lectures, small group discussions, and convocations among other offerings. Members of all dioceses also wish the church would do more to support their spiritual growth by exposing them to many aspects of the rich heritage of Catholic spirituality. They ask for retreats and other opportunities to pray and reflect together as well as for encouragement in their individual spiritual lives.” In addition, the accompaniment of families throughout a life-long formation was understood as being crucially needed. “Parents and children must make choices between Church and other activities, rather than being active in both. Reports said there is no longer a widely accepted day dedicated for Church involvement in communities— activities, practices, or games can happen any day of the week.”

Social mission of the Church

The need for ongoing formation was keenly seen in the area of social mission, “not surprisingly, since our social teaching is routinely described as our church’s best-kept secret, there were very few explicit mentions of Catholic social doctrine or even the issues of justice in the region. However, when we consider the component themes of Catholic social teaching and the issues addressed, these concerns did surface regularly throughout the region.” Synodal consultations acknowledged that “the Church needs to help parishioners understand the connection between Catholic social teaching and outreach beyond the borders of the parish”.


Synodal consultations frequently expressed a hope for the Church to commit to strengthening communication. Many commented that “improvement in communication between (arch)dioceses and parishes, between parishes and parishioners, and between parishes in the same (arch) dioceses, could lead to unity and reduce the spread of misinformation”.

Other consultations saw the Church’s use of digital media as essential to bringing the faith to the public square. One synthesis noted the Church’s need for improvement in “using media and technology for communications to serve in missionary discipleship — sharing the gospel— and covering geographic distances, to serve as the Church’s voice in social and political arenas, and to be a place to learn demographics and needs and connect the Church and society”.

Communication and transparency

More poignantly, nearly all of the synodal consultations saw clear, concise, and consistent communication as key to the strong desire for appropriate transparency. “The general category of transparency was mentioned over and over again: Transparency in the sex abuse crisis, transparency in making difficult decisions, transparency in financial matters, transparency in admitting when something goes wrong, transparency in planning, transparency in leadership. Transparency brings accountability which many people feel is lacking in the Church.

To be a trustworthy Church, transparency is going to need to be an essential component in every level and aspect”. As the Church seeks to continue down the synodal path, a commitment to clear, transparent, and consistent communication will be crucial.


A genuine appreciation for the role of the laity in the Church and its mission was a hope that arose in many of the synodal consultations. This insight reflected a recognition of the tension between a genuine love for clergy expressed frequently in the synodal experience, balanced by an awareness of clericalism preventing full accompaniment and collaboration by the laity. “A great deal of what must be done in a parish does not require ordination and many lay people have administrative and organisational skills. They could relieve pastors of some of the burden, freeing priests to be present and to develop relationships with people of the parish – something both priests and lay people desire. Some priests would need help with letting lay people take over parish tasks for which they seem convinced they have final responsibility and must therefore have the final word in all things”.

Engaging discernment

The synodal experience has enabled hundreds of thousands of Catholics throughout the United States to re-engage in the simple practice of gathering, praying together, and listening to one another. There was wide acknowledgment from the regions that the call to participate in a synodal time in the Church was initially met with scepticism and suspicion; however, the regions also report that the experience itself dispelled many of the misgivings that participants brought with them to the process.

A seed of renewal

Within a context of pandemic, polarisation, and ongoing wounds of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, there has appeared a seed of renewal, “a commitment to re-learn the art of listening and envision a new mission, goals, and priorities – remembering that we are on a pilgrimage together”. The next step for the US Church is to give special attention to its parishes and dioceses, even as we continue participation in the continental and universal phases of the Synod, for that is where the People of God most concretely encounter the Spirit at work and where the first fruits of this discernment will be realised.

The call is an ongoing challenge. At this moment in the synodal journey, one may agree or disagree with some of the perceptions heard and expressed, but we cannot assume they have no importance in lived reality. To the extent persons of differing experiences and perceptions of “what’s really going on” in the Church continue to meet and listen to one another, perceptions become more realistic and less based on broader cultural or political narratives.

Many dioceses report that the listening experience provided valuable participatory input concerning local parish and diocesan priorities and plans. This indicates that the local fruits of synodality are of enduring value.

A common thread throughout the various consultations was that parishes hoped to continue to build on the foundation that has been established in the synodal consultations. Discernment going forward must also involve continued engagement with communities that our initial efforts at synodality have not robustly engaged.

“African Catholics, deaf Catholics, and disabled Catholics all told stories of being overlooked and unseen”. This includes further encounters with indigenous peoples as well as diverse ethnic and cultural communities, including immigrant communities from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and other recent arrivals.

Many experience the effects of displacement and live a kind of “invisibility” in the midst of the wider Church. Linguistic and cultural diversity is a persistent challenge to local parishes. It is particularly noteworthy that local discernment is taking place about how to overcome standoffish or elitist attitudes, and how to welcome without judging.

Engaging and discerning with our sisters and brothers who experience the woundedness of marginalisation, as well as those whose voices were underrepresented within the synodal process, will be essential for the unfolding of the synodal journey in our dioceses and in our country.

Throughout all the synodal consultations, the People of God have continually shared their expressions of joy and gratitude for the invitation to journey together on the synodal path. These spiritual conversations and fraternal dialogues have renewed a sense of common love and responsibility for the good of our Church—in our parishes, in our dioceses, and in our country. Through participation in the diocesan phase of the Synod, the people of God have already begun to build the Church for which they hope.

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