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Synod Interim Stage Synthesis

During Lent of 2024, FutureChurch organized three listening sessions for the interim stage of the Synod on Communion, Participation, and Mission (Synod on Synodality). More than 100 individuals responded to our invitation to engage in Conversations in the Spirit based on the questions offered by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and to discern the movement of the Spirit in our midst. An additional 88 responses were collected through our online questionnaire, which posed the same questions.

A small writing team which included FutureChurch staff and board members undertook the task of synthesizing our listening sessions and questionnaire responses as a sacred responsibility and privilege, and we proudly share the fruits of our conversations with the larger Church.

FutureChurch submitted the report below to the United States Synod team as well as the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. In addition, we have been shared the report with a number of US-based delegates, experts, and consultants to the Synod.

To very briefly summarize: Our conversations revealed a sense that the Church best lives into its call to be a community of love and mercy when all the baptized are involved as co-equals in the life and mission of the Church. We fail to live into that call when we rigidly cling to dogmas and practices that deny or diminish human dignity, and the Spirit that dwells within, thereby preventing dialogue and encounter.  We sensed that the Spirit is calling us to move forward as a synodal Church rooted in the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council – free of clericalism – with an empowered laity, an open and reformed priesthood, and a commitment to engaging and living Catholic Social Teaching in the world.

Read FutureChurch’s Interim Stage Synthesis

 

Conversations in the Spirit: FutureChurch Interim Stage Listening Sessions for the Synod on Synodality

Please Note: These sessions have now concluded
and our Interim Stage Synthesis was submitted to the US Synod Team
and to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome
on April 8, 2024. 

Join FutureChurch as we engage together in “Conversations in the Spirit” to deepen our engagement with one another and continue our journey toward the October 2024 Assembly of the Synod on Communion, Participation, and Mission.

FutureChurch will host three stand-alone sessions at different times to allow for as much participation as possible. Each session will last approximately 2 hours. Pick the session that works best for you and your schedule:

  • Saturday, March 9 at 9 -11am ET
  • Monday, March 11 at 7-9pm ET
  • Saturday, March 16 at 12N – 2pm ET

Please note: Small breakout groups engaging in conversations with others will be integral to these sessions. If you are unwilling or unable to participate in a breakout group, these aren’t the sessions for you. Instead, we invite you to fill out our questionnaire. Your input, regardless of whether or not you attend a listening session, will be incorporated into our report, which we will send to the USCCB Synod Committee and post to our website.

In this interim phase, the USCCB Synod Committee has posed two questions which will guide our conversations and subsequent synthesis report:

  1. Where have I seen or experienced successes—and distresses—within the Church’s structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that encourage or hinder the mission?
  2. How can the structures and organization of the Church help all the baptized to respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel and to live as a community of love and mercy in Christ?

Resources for Preparation:
To prepare for these Conversations in the Spirit we encourage you to spend some time reviewing the following resources:

Please Respond to Our Questionnaire

https://futurechurch.org/interim-stage-questionnaire/

We have developed a questionnaire based on the questions posed by the USCCB Synod Committee. Your responses to the questionnaire will serve two functions 1. Preparing you to make your contributions to your small group if you are joining one of our listening sessions and 2. Providing data to us as we develop our written report, which we will send to the USCCB committee.

How to Have a Conversation in the Spirit

The 2021-2024 Synod on Communion, Participation, and Mission has introduced Catholics to a way of discerning together called “Conversations in the Spirit.” This is the method was used by delegates at the October 2023 Assembly and is a method that the entire Church is being invited into, particularly during the interim phase of the Synod leading to the October 2024 Assembly. More than exchange of ideas, it is a spiritual journey to help discover and name convergences and overcome divergences and to uncover steps the Holy Spirit is revealing. The method is meant to draw participants closer to one another as they listen to one another and together for what The Spirit is calling forth from the Church.

Below are the steps in having a Conversation in the Spirit.

Step One: Personal Preparation

Each person begins on their own by entering into prayer to meditate on the question(s) being asked and to consider their own future contributions to the larger group.

Step Two: Taking the Word and Listening

The communal discernment begins with a silence, prayer, and listening to the Word of God. Then each participant takes turns speaking from his or her own experience and prayer while also listening attentively to the others. This initial exchange is followed by a time of prayerful silence.

Step Three: Making Space for Others and The Other

Then after having listened to what others have said and prayed with it, each individual shares what has resonated most with him or her or what has aroused the most resistance in him or her, allowing himself or herself to be guided by the Holy Spirit: “When, listening,
did my heart burn within me?” After each has shared there is another moment of prayerful silence.

Step Four: Building Together

Together we dialogue on the basis of what emerged earlier in order to discern and gather the fruit of the conversation in the Spirit: to recognize intuitions and convergences; to identify discordances, obstacles and new questions; to allow prophetic voices to emerge. It is important that everyone can feel represented by the outcome of the work. “To what steps is the Holy Spirit calling us together?”

Step Five: Final Prayer or Song of Thanksgiving to God


Additional Resources

Fr. David McCallum, SJ, Executive Director of Discerning Leadership and facilitator at the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod leads a webinar on Conversations in the Spirit

View

 

 

 

What’s new with the Synod? Up to date readings and more.

Many Catholics are interested in what will be happening with the Synod on Synodality as we go forward this year and into the next meeting in Rome in October 2024.  We will keep you informed with current articles and gatherings that may be of interest to you.  This is a big process and we’ll need to work together to bring synodality to life in our church.

Articles

(Click on the title of the article):

Resources and Action Guide

Here are some resources for education and action in your own parish or community.

LECTIONARY

WOMEN DEACONS

SYNODALITY

FutureChurch overview of final Synod Synthesis:

FutureChurch resource on The Women of the Synod:  The Whole Story

ADVOCACY

  • Reach out to bishops/participants on Women in Ministry, Lectionary and Language Upgrades, LGBTQ+ inclusion UPCOMING RESOURCE! (The USCCB will have synodality on the agenda at their Nov meeting)

FutureChurch Gatherings

November 9 Presentation on Synod Synthesis

The Synodal process is a new way of being church and the final synthesis document offered both newfound hope and some painful disappointments.  Still, there is no doubt, this is an extraordinary moment in our Church and a major turning point as 54 women discerned and voted as full co-equal members at the Synod meeting alongside prelates.  FutureChurch co-director, Deborah Rose, offers commentary and analysis on the October 2023 Synod Assembly and the resulting final Synthesis.

View the PowerPoint slides:  CLICK HERE

View FutureChurch’s Tribute to The Women of the Synod: CLICK HERE

Synodal comments of participants from November 9th Gathering:  CLICK HERE

Synod Synthesis Offers Signs of Hope for New Inclusive Processes in the Church; An Urgent Call for Women’s Inclusion in Governance and Ministry; Delivers a Blow to LGBTQ+ Catholics and Allies

Photo by Sheila Pires

With the stated goal of restructuring the way discernment and decision making is taken up in the Church, the Synod on Synodality advanced a new model.  The Final Synthesis also offers signs of authentic progress for women in the Church but failed miserably to capture the growing consensus among Catholics in the lead up to the October meeting regarding justice and inclusion for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

The Current Potential and Limits of the Synodal Structure on Display

Synodality has tremendous transforming potential for the Church. As a continuation of the Second Vatican Council, it holds promise for renewing the structures, ministries, teachings, liturgy, and practices of the church to better serve the demands of the Gospel for our time.  This is all the more true as synodality leads us to a healthier focus on meeting the needs of the local church. 

And while it holds promise, signs of its current limitations were on full display at the October meeting.  While the local, diocesan, national, and continental listening phases reflected promising expressions of the sensus fidelium and the best of what it means to be Catholic, the outsized presence of bishops at the synod had a tragic cooling effect what the Holy Spirit seemed to be saying through the experience, faith, and love of God’s people.

Marianne Duddy Burke with Pope Francis

The Abysmal Failure of the synthesis document on LGBTQ+ inclusion and justice

In terms of LGBTQ+ justice and inclusion, the document was a crushing blow to a church that desperately needs to be more pastoral and welcoming to our LGBTQ+ family.  The document’s vague and non-committal language was particularly devastating given the Pope’s pre-synod remarks on blessing gay relationships; the shattering stories of LGBTQ+ youth who committed suicide that were told in the Synod hall; his public meetings with Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Marianne Duddy Burke of DignityUSA; not to mention, the appointment of James Martin SJ, an advocate for LGBTQ+ Catholics who is also leading the church toward a new era of justice, inclusion, and compassion.

The Urgent Call for Women in Governance and Ministry

Sr. Nathalie Becquart

First and foremost, the fact that 54 women were co-equal voting members of the Synod was not only historic, their presence brought life-giving energy for lifting up women and other excluded populations in the Church and in the world.  Sadly, the compassion, hunger for justice, and resilient faith of the women of the synod was not fully reflected in the document.  And while the synthesis contained indicators of progress, the intense energy and hunger for women’s leadership, authority, and ministry that was on display in earlier consensus documents was muted.

Still, there were many proposals in the synthesis that will advance women’s roles and ministry in the Church as they are developed over the next year.

Part II, Section 9 of the synthesis describes the need for inclusive language that more fully lifts up women’s faith and includes a richer set of images, words, and narratives that recalls their apostleship, discipleship, and early ministries as they innovated and shaped the Tradition. As many Catholics are already aware, the current Lectionary omits or distorts many of the stories of our foremothers in faith from both the First and Second Testaments. Exposing Catholics to this lopsided set of narratives reinforces patriarchal authority muting the synodal Spirit found throughout much of our history.  Because of the damage it has caused, FutureChurch will continue its work recovering the stories of our ‘hidden sisters” through our Catholic Women Preach platform and FutureChurch advocacy and resources.

Another proposal in Section 9 uses the word “urgent” to describe the need to open more doors to women’s ministry and authority in decision making bodies. The proposal for studying ordination for women to the diaconate is a continuation of the rather striking progress made on this issue since it was first mentioned at a synod by a single prelate, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, at the 2015 Synod on the Family.  In 2019, the notion was further advanced when a great number of women and prelates, especially from the Amazon region, argued convincingly that ordination for women should be conferred since women were already acting as deacons in those remote regions.

Part II, Section 8 speaks of expanding lay preaching as part of the Ministry of the Word.  The language is somewhat convoluted, and it is not entirely clear if this preaching would take place in the Liturgy or outside of it.  None the less, lay preaching is up for discussion and study and we will continue our grassroots effort to make this a reality.

The synthesis continues to try to break the stranglehold of centralized authority by placing emphasis on meeting the needs of the local church.  That is very important for all regions, but it is especially hopeful when looking at regions like the Amazon and Germany where local bishops are ready to move forward on issues that had very little chance of gaining traction in prior decades.

Finally, FutureChurch congratulates the women who participated and voted in the Synod. They created sacred space as they prophetically embraced and encouraged new paths for women’s ministry and authority and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized peoples.

Prophetic Pioneers of Faith

We are also profoundly grateful for those who made this historical year possible.  Women

Photo Credit: CBC

having the vote would have not been possible without people like Sr. Sally Hodgdon, CSJ, Kate McElwee, Sr. Nathalie Becquart, the Benedictine nuns from Fahr Monastery near Basel, Switzerland and so many more who worked at the grassroots level and behind the scenes to open this door for women in the Church.

Our Church will never be the same as women religious who have practiced synodality and offered ministry to the most despised for centuries, as well as lay women who embody justice, empathy, and radical love in their ministries, advance the Gospel within a church that has been blinded by patriarchy and clericalism — constricting the flow of God’s radical love in our lives.

Sr. Sally Hodgdon CSJ (3rd from right), Sr. Nathalie Becquart, and others at 2018 synod. Sr. Sally was one of the women who worked behind the scenes to get the vote for women.

For the faith, love, and tenacity of women in our Church, we are forever grateful.

A Tribute to The Women of the Synod

To find FutureChurch’s tribute to the Women of the Synod go to: https://youtu.be/cAfoJENIM-8?si=Mf4b1jzEyN86o0gD

Learn more about the final synthesis

Curious to learn more about the final synthesis document?  Join us on November 9 at 7pm ET as we spend 90 minutes discussing the final document and creating ideas for what we can do to advance women’s authority, preaching, and ministry as we head towards the second meeting of the Synod on Synodality in October 2024.

Sign up at:  https://futurechurch.org/civicrm/event/register/?reset=1&id=273

 

SynodWatch RoundUP for Oct. 28: Here Is the Final Report; Women Deacons Forward; A Crushing Blow on LGBTQ Justice

Today the synod members had the opportunity to read the final document, heard it read in the assembly, and vote on it paragraph by paragraph.

The document is forty pages long  and while a consensus was achieved, the document was tragically lacking. It should have been much bolder given the input received from around the world during the past two years. One can’t help but feel that in this winnowing down process where the voices and wisdom of  the laity and women fall away and bishops become the great majority of decision makers, we are forever being held back from our full potential by those who like things just the way they are. Our efforts to evolve toward a more synodal church have just begun, but if we keep the same players and structures in place, can we actually do what the Spirit is calling us to do?  And if Paolo Ruffini is correct, it looks like the same players will be back next year.  That makes sense in many ways, but it would be a more authentically synodal process if they increased the number and percentage of women who participate and vote.  We certainly need them.

The Final Synthesis

You can read the official Vatican Synthesis report which was in Italian along with the voting results.  I have also uploaded an unofficial translated version in English.  An official version the English will come out, but sometimes that takes a while.

Discerning Deacons in Rome: Photo by Tracy Kemme, SC

Women Deacons Forward but Not a Word About Women Priests

Here is what was discerned about women:

b) In Christ women and men are clothed with the same baptismal dignity and receive equally the variety of gifts of the Spirit (cf. Gal 3:28). Men and women are called to a communion characterized by non-competitive co-responsibility, to be embodied at every level of the Church’s life. As Pope Francis has told us, together we are “People summoned and called by the power of the Beatitudes.”

c) During the Assembly we experienced the beauty of reciprocity between women and men. Together we revive the call of the previous stages of the synod process, and ask the Church to grow in its commitment to understand and accompany women, pastorally and sacramentally. Women desire to share the spiritual experience of walking toward holiness in the different stages of life: as young people, as mothers, in friendship relationships, in family life at all ages, in the world of work and in consecrated life. They claim justice in societies still deeply marked by sexual violence and economic inequality, and the tendency to treat them as objects. They bear the scars of human trafficking, forced migration and wars. Accompaniment and determined advocacy for women go hand in hand.

d) Women constitute the majority of those who attend churches and are often the first missionaries of the faith in the family. Consecrated women, in contemplative and apostolic life, constitute a gift, sign and witness of fundamental importance in our midst. The long history of women missionaries, saints, theologians and mystics is a powerful source of inspiration and nourishment for the women and men of our time.

e) Mary of Nazareth, a woman of faith and mother of God, remains for all an extraordinary source of meaning theologically, ecclesially and spiritually. Mary reminds us of the universal call to listen attentively to God and to remain open to the Holy Spirit. She has known the joy of giving birth and making grow and has endured pain and suffering. She gave birth in precarious conditions, experienced being a refugee, and experienced the heartbreak of the brutal killing of her Son. But she has also known the splendor of the resurrection and the glory of Pentecost.

f) Many women expressed deep gratitude for the work of priests and bishops, but they also spoke of a Church that wounds. Clericalism, machismo and inappropriate use of authority continue to scar the face of the Church and damage communion. A deep spiritual conversion is needed as the basis for any structural change. Sexual, power and economic abuses continue to demand justice, healing and reconciliation. We ask how the Church can become a space capable of protecting all.

g) When dignity and justice in relationships between men and women are harmed in the Church, the credibility of the proclamation we address to the world is weakened. The synod process shows that there is a need for a renewal of relationships and structural changes. In this way we will be better able to welcome the participation and contribution of all – lay men and women, consecrated men and women, deacons, priests and bishops – as co-responsible disciples of the mission.

h) The Assembly asks that we avoid repeating the mistake of talking about women as an issue or problem. Instead, we wish to promote a Church in which men and women dialogue for the purpose of better understanding the depth of God’s plan, in which they appear together as protagonists, without subordination, exclusion, or competition.

Issues to be addressed

i) Churches around the world have clearly formulated the call for greater recognition and enhancement of women’s contributions and growth in the pastoral responsibilities entrusted to them in all areas of the Church’s life and mission. In order to give better expression to everyone’s charisms and better respond to pastoral needs, how can the Church include more women in existing roles and ministries? If new ministries are needed, whose responsibility is it to discern, at what level and in what ways?

j) Different positions have been expressed regarding women’s access to diaconal ministry. Some consider that this step would be unacceptable as it would be in discontinuity with Tradition. For others, however, granting women access to the diaconate would restore a practice of the early Church. Still others discern in this step an appropriate and necessary response to the signs of the times, faithful to Tradition and capable of finding an echo in the hearts of many who seek renewed vitality and energy in the Church. Some express fear that this request is an expression of a dangerous anthropological confusion, embracing which the Church would align itself with the spirit of the times.

k) The discussion in this regard is also connected to the broader reflection on the theology of the diaconate (see infra ch. 11, h – i).

Proposals

Women at the Synod/photo by Sheila Pires

l) Local churches in particular are encouraged to broaden their service of listening, accompanying and caring for women who are most marginalized in different social contexts.

m) There is an urgent need to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles o f responsibility in pastoral care and ministry. The Holy Father has significantly increased the number of women in positions of responsibility in the Roman Curia. The same should happen at other levels of Church life. Canon law should be adapted accordingly.

n) Theological and pastoral research on women’s access to the diaconate should be continuedtaking advantage of the results of the commissions specially established by the Holy Father and the theological, historical and exegetical research already carried out. If possible, the results should be presented at the next Session of the Assembly.

o) Cases of employment discrimination and unequal remuneration within the Church be addressed and resolved, particularly with regard to consecrated women who are too often considered cheap labor.

p) There is a need to expand women’s access to training programs and theological studies. Let women be included in seminary teaching and training programs to foster better formation for ordained ministry.

q) Let liturgical texts and Church documents be more attentive not only to the use of language that holds men and women equally, but also to the inclusion of a range of words, images and narratives that draw with greater vitality on women’s experience.

r) We propose that properly trained women can be judges in all canonical trials.

There are a lot of ways that we can foster the issues that are on the table including advocacy and education on the women who are missing or misrepresented in the Lectionary and a vocabulary that uses inclusive language, promoting women preaching, educating Catholics in the parish about women deacons, educating and advocating for women’s ordination to the priesthood, and advocating for women’s authority and inclusion at every level, but especially at the parish and diocesan levels.

New Ways Team/CNS photo

A Crushing Blow on LGBTQ Justice

After some very heartwarming  meetings between LGBTQ+ advocates at DignityUSA/Rainbow Catholics Coalition and New Ways Ministry and Pope Francis, the discernment of the synod’s participants fell flat.  And that felt crushing…again.

It was with tears in my eyes that I read Frank DeBernardo’s words:

With no positive statement on LGBTQ+ issues in the document, and with only two references which simply state what was known when the Synod began, Catholics globally will be greatly disappointed. After two years of calling on the church to have a more positive approach to LGBTQ+ people, repeated over and over around the globe and in every phase of the Synod consultations, it is clear that Catholics want a more inclusive church.

Stating LGBTQ+ issues are controversial in the church does not raise new questions, as the report suggests, for this fact was known well before the Synod even began. Church leaders have had decades to learn about scientific and theological developments about gender and sexuality. Likewise, acknowledging people excluded by the church because of identity or sexuality seek to be heard is well-known. The questions the report claims are now are not, in fact, new.

The only acknowledgment that the church needs to grow is a single sentence which admits that current Catholic anthropological categories do not sufficiently respond to new information which is being discovered from experience or scientific knowledge. Yet the vagueness with which this acknowledgement is described does not provide sufficient confidence that change can be envisioned.

While LGBTQ+ Catholics and their supporters will be disappointed, we pray that they will not also become discouraged. When New Ways Ministry’s co-founder and staff met with Pope Francis this month during the Synod assembly, he counseled us never to give up hope, quoting St. Paul: “Hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).

The Catholic LGBTQ+ community must take Pope Francis’ message to heart. The report’s shortcomings are an invitation to speak anew about their joys, their sorrows, and their faith during the remaining year of this synodal journey.

When will the bishops of this church learn to love our LGBTQ+ family?  I pray for their redemption.

Other important articles:

By Cindy Wooden: https://www.usccb.org/news/2023/synod-synthesis-shows-agreement-divergences-including-synodality

By Christopher White: https://www.ncronline.org/vatican/vatican-news/popes-major-vatican-summit-ends-without-action-women-deacons-mention-lgbtq

Stay tuned

FutureChurch will offer an overview of the final synthesis along with a time for reflection and discussion of the synod process thus far.  Join us as we talk about the ways we can use this next 11 months to advance the issues that are important to us and important for the life of the church.