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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

564 Let's listen, talk and share our visions and gifts. That's a synod.

Day 564 Thursday, September 30, 2021

"Priests are not accustomed to collaborating with laypeople in this country, in part because the way we have tried to garner vocations has been to emphasize how set apart they are, and that’s a legacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who continued that,"

Francis is set to open a worldwide synod process.

US dioceses don't seem prepared.

With about three weeks to go before Catholic prelates around the world are due to open a first-of-its-kind grassroots consultation period as part of an expanded vision for the Vatican's Synod of Bishops, church officials across the U.S. are still figuring out exactly what that process will look like.

A range of dioceses contacted by NCR in recent weeks said they were still working out the details for the consultation period and would be in a better position to comment on the synod in coming weeks, after Pope Francis formally opens the two-year synod process with a ceremony in Rome on Oct. 9.

Officials who agreed to interviews described plans that relied on parish listening sessions, online surveys, Zoom meetings and other avenues to get feedback from laity.

"It's a great opportunity for me to learn and for bishops all over the world to develop better habits of consultation with our people," Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, told NCR.

Here's a link to the Synod Workbook in PDF format for downloading

Workbook for the Synod Process Vademecum-EN-A4
Download PDF • 6.92MB

"Whatever comes out of this really good effort is one that, more than anything else, hopefully will invite us to begin to see each other more in the sense of a collegial church, a church in which all the members have access to the Holy Spirit and have something to say within the work of the church as we strive within the tradition of the church to live in this culture," Coyne said.

Synods of Bishops have been held in the Catholic Church since 1967. In the past, they have normally involved hundreds of bishops coming to Rome for a few weeks to discuss a prescribed set of topics.

Francis announced in May that he would be expanding the scope of the next synod, originally set for 2022. He postponed the Vatican meeting of bishops, now set for October 2023, to allow first for periods of consultation in every local diocese and at the continental level.

Although Francis has previously asked for local consultation to occur before other synods during his pontificate, no earlier process has been so wide-ranging.

The entire 2021-23 process will still focus on the theme of synodality, the kind of "walking together" that Francis has characterized as a central theme for how the Catholic Church should move forward in the third millennium. The formal title for the newly enlarged synod process is "For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission."

"It’s a wonderful opportunity to live out what Vatican II called us to 60 years ago as a church," said St. Joseph Sr. Katie Eiffe, the director of synodal planning for the Diocese of Syracuse, New York. Eiffe told NCR that the synod on synodality is not meant to be "a one-time meeting."

"This is Francis' dream for the church, this church that engages the entire people of God, that is a listening church and a learning church. It’s a wonderful image of church," - Sister Katie Eiffe

Per the instructions that the Vatican sent out last May, each U.S. bishop is supposed to open his local consultation process on Oct. 17. He is to collect input from local parishes, lay movements, religious institutions, schools, universities, ecumenical communities and other groups.

The bishop then has to synthesize that data into a 10-page report by April 2022 for submission to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which, like bishops' conferences across the world, is to pass on a summary of the country's work to the Vatican. Those summaries will be used to help create a working document that will be the start of discussions during continental synod meetings that will run from September 2022-March 2023.

A Handbook about the synod process that the Vatican released on Sept. 7 said the goal of the local phase of the process is "not to overwhelm dioceses and parishes, but rather to integrate the Synodal Process into the life of the local Church in creative ways."

"This diocesan phase is an opportunity for parishes and dioceses to encounter, experience, and live out the synodal journey together, thus discovering or developing synodal tools and pathways that are best suited for their local context,"

However, it appears that many U.S. dioceses are not yet quite prepared to open their local consultation process.

Several major diocesan websites across the country do not mention the synod on their home pages, or on pages dedicated to press releases and bishops' blogs and columns in their diocesan newspapers. Eight of 15 dioceses contacted by NCR in recent weeks either did not return emails or said they could not comment because they were still in the early planning stages. Two others did not follow through on initial messages regarding interview requests.

"I expected some more show or effort to say, 'Yes, we're doing something,' but I don't even see that. That is the most surprising thing," said Massimo Faggioli, a theologian at Villanova University who has written about synodality.

Faggioli told NCR that in many locations, it appears that only Catholics who follow church affairs would know about the synod. He said that trend is consistent with a general tension that exists between synodality, a development that he said comes out of Vatican II and that assumes a certain unity of people, and the Catholic Church in the United States, which is fragmented ideologically, with some bishops openly resistant to Francis, and highly clerical.

"It's very difficult to explain synodality to a church that has stopped talking about Vatican II," Faggioli said. "That is a serious problem, intellectually."

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a religious studies professor at Manhattan College who teaches courses on Vatican II and contemporary Catholicism, told NCR that there are several factors to explain the tensions between Francis' vision of a synodal church and the church in the United States. Among them, she said, is a particular brand of clericalism where priests used to the style of ministry of the late Pope John Paul II effectively "are the ones running the church" in the country.

"Priests are not accustomed to collaborating with laypeople in this country, in part because the way we have tried to garner vocations has been to emphasize how set apart they are, and that’s a legacy of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who continued that," Lee said.

Part 1 of a 2 part series by Brian Fraga

Another story about the synod and which diocese are sending communication (many if these communications are for priests only). Diocese of Sonoma has not responded in any way.

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