The Synod on Synodality has thus far demonstrated the “joys, hopes, and wounds” shared by members of the Church in the United States, according to a report on the process issued last week.
“These consultations express a deep desire for greater communion,” read the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Synthesis Document released on September 19.
The fruit of consultation in the Latin-rite dioceses in the US, as well as Catholic associations, organisations, and national ministries, the synthesis noted several themes: enduring wounds, especially those inflicted by the sexual abuse crisis; enhancing communion and participation in the life of the Church; ongoing formation for mission; and engaging discernment.
In a letter prefacing the report, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, chair of the US bishops’ doctrine committee, wrote that it is “an expression of what we as a Church have heard each other say when asked about our deepest preoccupations and hopes for the Church of which, by the grace of God, we are all a vital part”.
He emphasised that “the publication of this document is not a concluding moment, however; it is a reflective, forward-moving moment. It is an invitation to listen, to discuss together and to discern together as the Church, about how best to understand and act upon those matters that sit deeply in the hearts and minds of Catholics in the US”.
The report noted that the abuse crisis “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”.
Despite ambitious goals and the Church’s concerted effort to provide all baptised members of the faithful with an opportunity to speak, the Synod struggled to attract participation from more than 1% of Catholics in most of the West and these trends continued in the US with approximately 700,000 Catholics out of a population of 66.8 million taking part in the Church in America’s synodal process.
Richard Coll, a USCCB employee who organised the USCCB involvement in the process believed that those offering criticisms or suggestions should be entitled to do so without stigma or prejudice:
“I don’t think I would be critical of anybody who has suggestions, comments, criticisms, or observations, because this is a process, this isn’t an end result cast in stone. This is accompanying one another on the journey, which we hope will be a continuing one.
“And we will continue to learn, and grow, and be sure that as many of those voices that want to be heard are effectively heard. So we’re not critiquing anybody for misgivings they might have, or any concerns they might have had about whether they were able to access as much participating as they wanted … But this is an ongoing journey. And I’m sure we will all be learning about how to better integrate everybody who wants to be heard”, he said.
Similarly, Julie McStravog, a USCCB synod project manager, also acknowledged that all wasn’t accordingly: “We needed to start exercising the synodal muscle, and so it’s not perfect — this process was not perfect, but if we really are supposed to be a synodal Church, the ‘Church of the third millennium’ as Pope Francis called it, we need to start practicing”.
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 amid a fraught political climate.