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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

January 31, 2024: The Synod Report unabashedly calls for significant structural change

 Wednesday, January 31, 2024: The Synod Report unabashedly calls for significant structural change

Reflection excerpted from NCR: by CHRISTINE SCHENK

I was pleasantly surprised by the synthesis report, "A Synodal Church in Mission," from last October's first session of the synod on synodality. The full text is available here:


The report unabashedly calls for significant structural change — including, where indicated, a review of canon law and in other authoritative church documents.  The goal is to create more inclusive and accountable structures that will ensure the effective exercise of co-responsibility within the Roman Catholic Church.


Such changes could have profound implications for how governance and ministry function in a synodal church. Perhaps most surprising (to me at least) is the call for mechanisms of evaluation and accountability for priests, deacons and bishops and for an examination of the relationship between holy orders and jurisdiction.


In September 2018 I wrote a column suggesting theologian Leonardo Boff's book Church, Charism and Power, offered the church a way out of clericalism.


I suggested convening a worldwide synod "at which representation from all the people of God would have deliberative voice alongside bishops." It would include experts who would "recommend changes in canon law and in church policy to hold bishops accountable and integrate laity into decision-making so that we have deliberative voice (not just consultative) at every level."


I can hardly believe such prescience. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit works in many hearts as well as my own.

Boff was among the first to listen to the Spirit's voice in God's people. In his 1985 Introduction to Church, Charism and Power he wrote: "There are powerful and living forces, particularly at the grassroots, that are not sufficiently recognized. … The grassroots are asking for a new structure, a new ecclesial division of labor and of religious power. For this, a new vision of the Church is necessary."


Our synodal path shows the need for relational renewal and structural changes. In this way we can better welcome the participation and contribution of all … as co-responsible disciples in the work of mission.


In addition to ongoing consideration of female deacons, synod proposals call for inclusive language in liturgical texts, expansion of women's access to theological studies, equal remuneration for pastoral work and allowing female judges to preside at canonical trials. Topic 8 also asks for consideration of lay preaching.


One proposal calls for a revision "in a synodal manner" of Mutuae Relationes, a 1978 document addressing relationships between bishops and religious communities. In 2013 Pope Francis promised such an update in the wake of the disastrous Vatican attempt to discredit U.S. religious communities of women.


One courageous — and paradigm-shifting — proposal said:

We ask local churches to identify processes and structures that allow for a regular audit of how priests and deacons are carrying out roles of responsibility in the exercise of their ministry.


Another noteworthy proposal asks that priests who have left the active ministry be included in "pastoral services that recognize their formation and experience." It is shocking that priests who left the active ministry are currently forbidden to serve as lectors and communion ministers, ministries commonly performed by laypeople.


As next October's second session of the synod unfolds, the jurisdiction issue is one to watch. If a corresponding proposal is sent to Pope Francis, it could have wide-ranging implications for church ministry and decision-making.


Given all of the above, there is good reason to hope that the synod on synodality will recommend substantive structural change to Pope Francis next October.


I hope I have piqued your interest in reading the synthesis report in its entirety.

It seemed a fulfillment of Chuck Lathrop's much-loved 1977 poem, "In Search of a Roundtable."


Concerning the why

and how

and what

and who of ministry,

one image keeps surfacing:

A table that is round.


It will take some sawing to be roundtabled,

some redefining and redesigning

Such redoing and rebirthing of narrowlong Churching

can painful be for people and tables


But so was the cross,

a painful too table of giving and yes

And from such death comes life,

from such dying comes rising,

in search of roundtabling

And what would roundtable Churching mean?


It would mean no diasing & throning,

for but one King is there,

He was a footwasher, at table no less…

For at narrowlong tables,

servant and mirror

became picture framed and centers of attention


And crosses became but gilded ornaments

on bare stone walls

in buildings used but once a week only

But the times and the tables are changing and rearranging


And what of narrowlong table ministers,

when they confront a roundtable people,

after years of working up the table

(as in ‘up the ladder’)

to finally sit at its head,

only to discover

that the table has turned around???

Continued rarified air will only isolate

for there are no people there,

only roles


They must be loved into roundness,

where apart is spelled a part

and the call is to the gathering

For God has called a People,

not ‘them and us’

“Them and us’ are unable to gather around,

for at a roundtable, there are no sides

And ALL are invited to wholeness and to food.


At one time

Our narrowing churches

Were built to resemble the Cross

But it does no good

For building to do so,

If lives do not.

Round tabling means

No preferred seating,

No first and last,

No better, and no corners

For the “least of these”.


Roundtabling means no preferred seating,

no first & last,

no better,

no corners for ‘the least of these’

Roundtabling means being with,

a part of,


and one

It means room for the Spirit and gifts

and disturbing profound peace for all.


And it is we in the present

who are mixing and kneading the dough for the future.

We can no longer prepare for the past.

To be Church,

And if He calls for other than a round table

We are bound to follow.

Leaving the sawdust

And chips, designs and redesigns

Behind, in search of and in presence of

The Kingdom

That is His and not ours.


– by Chuck Lathrop


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