End of year timeline: Where we’ve been and where we’re going in 2023

A special guide from The Synodal Times detailing where we’ve been on our synodal journey and what to expect for the upcoming year.

The National Synthesis that formed the Church in Ireland’s contribution to the Church’s Synod was furnished and officially released by the Steering Committee on August 16, 2022 and reflected on the hitherto discussed themes mentioned in Ireland’s dioceses and the Pre-National Synodal Assembly such as: The strong desire for women’s involvement in leadership and ministries – ordained and non-ordained, concern around the Church’s approach to the LGBTQI+ community and to the hurt experienced by its members and the desire for greater lay involvement and participation.

Sharing our yields: The Continental Stage

August 2022: The second phase of the synodal process began on August 26, 2022 as the Continental Stage was launched by the Vatican. The main objective of the Continental Stage (the stage we’re currently at now) is to combine the National Syntheses reports submitted by each of the nations of the Church and condense these themes into a single Continental Document featuring the diverse responses from the faithful around the world.

As you may have noticed by this point, although the scope of people participating during each stage becomes broader, the method of processing the data remains the same, whether collected in a parish or during the Continental Stage.

The key characteristic of the process is the fusion of each document with another larger sample of faithful until the collective voices of the Universal Church situated around the world form part of the Church’s official Synod report.

However, the facilitation of the Church in Ireland’s synodal process was not without criticism, most surprisingly amongst members of its own hierarchy, as just a few days after the initiation of the Continental Stage, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore Alphonsus Cullinan, described it as “rushed, revealing and disturbing”.

With this public criticism, Bishop Cullinan became the first and thus far only prelate in Ireland to openly question the efficacy and accuracy of the Church’s synodal process in Ireland. Writing on the Waterford and Lismore diocesan website about the synthesis submitted by the Church in Ireland and the synodal process, Bishop Cullinan described it as “a snap-shot” of where those who attended the parish conversation and listening sessions were at, with no reference to the “poor, sick, homeless and the unborn”.

Parish listening sessions were completed “with little time to ensure deep reflection, have meaningful conversations and prayerful consideration of the questions posed”, Bishop Cullinan said. Of the national gathering in Athlone, he said very little had been heard at it on mission and the missionary outreach of the Church.

“There was far too much introspection. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit was in the synodal process, but maybe more in the gaps than in the utterances. I believe that we need to observe where the Church is flourishing in Ireland, where people, especially the youth, are being formed in character and in the faith.”

In speaking out, Bishop Cullinan’s comments supported the accusation made by 500 young Irish Catholics the previous month, that asserted that their voices were not listened to and challenged the widespread perception that younger people in the Church want teachings to change (some of whom The Synodal Times interviewed in our November edition).

September 2022: Two of the most radical examples of the Synod inducing reform occurred in Germany and Belgium respectively as influenced by will of the faithful’s synodal submissions, participants of the controversial German Synodal Way voted to create a Synodal Council that would permanently oversee the Church in Germany, contravening an advance Vatican warning that explicitly stressed no reform be approved at the meetings. All synodal way members will gather again in Frankfurt on March 9-11 for final votes on the initiative’s remaining documents.

In Belgium, the bishops hastily moved to develop a liturgy centred around the pastoral care of Catholics who identify as LGBT, which includes a text allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples. The Flemish bishops’ text said that homosexual couples who choose to live “in lasting and faithful union with a partner” deserve “appreciation and support”. The Flemish bishops’ document, which repeatedly referred to Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation, Amoris laetitia, issued at the culmination of another Synod, concluded with a “Prayer for love and fidelity” — which has been widely received as being a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex couples.

The bishops of Flanders said that the three-page document, entitled “Being pastorally close to homosexuals: For a welcoming Church that excludes no one,” aims to “structurally anchor [the Church’s] pastoral commitment to homosexual persons and couples”.

October 2022: On the morning of October 16, at the end of the Sunday Angelus, the Holy Father unexpectedly announced that the upcoming 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will be held in two moments.

The first from 4th to 29th October 2023, and the second in October 2024, which consequently extended the Synod for another year. The Pope said there were already many first fruits from the ongoing Synod, but added that more time is needed in order for them to become fully mature.

Therefore, the Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will also take on a processual dimension, configuring itself as “a journey within the journey” to foster more mature reflection for the greater good of the Church. On October 27, 2022 the Vatican formally published the document for the Continental Stage.

The Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) is the labour of the syntheses received from 112 Bishops’ Conferences, including Ireland, following the consultation of the people of God in the diocesan phase of the synodal process. Two of the contributions to the Church in Ireland’s National Synthesis document feature as part of the Vatican’s Continental Stage document.

These two contributions illuminate the regret that certain Catholics feel when certain communities are absent from the Church and also touch on the rampant consumerism and materialism that permeate contemporaneous Irish society.

Primate of All-Ireland and President of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Eamon Martin, welcomed the publication of the Working Document for the Continental Stage, expressing that he: “Encourages as many people as possible to read the working document. It is good note that the contribution of Ireland’s National Synthesis to the universal synodal process has been expressly referenced in today’s document. Overall the document gives us a glimpse of what people from around the universal Church are thinking about their participation in the mission of the Church at the beginning of this third millennium.

“In the coming weeks, dioceses and groups across Ireland will be invited to consider the working document, alongside their original submissions to the Irish Bishops’ Conference from earlier this year. It will be interesting to identify those areas of commonality and diversity, as well as to discern more deeply what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church at this time”.

A glimpse into the future

January – March 2023: Between January and March, there will be 7 Continental Synodal Assemblies, with the European Assembly taking place in Prague between February 5-12. Each assembly will reflect on the Working Document in their regional and continental contexts.

The assembly groupings will correspond to existing organisations that bring together episcopal conferences across each continent, such as CELAM in Latin America and FABC in Asia. However, the CCCB and USCCB don’t have a similar organization for North America, so Canadian and American delegates will meet in a new “North American Assembly”. There will also be a special gathering for representatives from the Middle East and the sui iuris Eastern Catholic Churches.

Each Continental Assembly will draft its own Final Document of a maximum of about twenty pages confronting the three questions answered in the synodal meetings from its own specific context. The Final Documents are to be submitted by each Continental Task Force to the Synod Secretariat by March 31, 2023.

The Synod’s instrumentum laboris will be drafted in June. Each Continental Assembly is called to put in place a discernment process on the DCS that is appropriate to its local context, and draft a Final Document to account for it.

The Final Documents of the seven Continental Assemblies will be used as the basis for drafting the Instrumentum Laboris. The instrumentum laboris is not an indicator of what the conclusions of the Synod will be, but can give an idea of the general consensus in the Church on the subject of discussion. Pope John Paul II stated that the document was “a sign and builder of communion, [since] it expresses the voice of the Church, and at the same time it fosters an exchange which enriches that voice in the common task.”

October 2023: After all of the meticulous preparation has been completed, the first session of the Sixteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in October 2023 will commence in Rome, where the fruits of the faithful’s discernment, as reflected in the Working Document submitted for the purpose of the event, will be laid bare and meditated upon by the leaders of the Church.

Leave a comment

Subscribe to The Synodal Times weekly newsletter


Become a Member

Ireland’s only synodal publication is available for under €2.50 a month.

Join today to access all the latest analysis from the ongoing Irish Synod.

Members also receive a FREE eBook of The Synodal Pathway.

€25 per annum