More than a year ago, Pope Francis announced the Synod on Synodality, an initiative aimed at taking the pulse of the Catholic Church. American Catholics have mostly remained silent on this effort, but in several countries, including Australia, France, England and Wales, and Germany, things are moving full steam ahead.
Two major problems have repeatedly arisen: clericalism and the place of women in the Church.
If you haven’t heard much about the effort, which wraps up its first phase this summer, you’re not alone. In May 2021, six months before the synod opened in October 2021, the Vatican asked the bishops of the world to appoint synod coordinators in their dioceses, who were to organize a program of public meetings for Catholics, ex-Catholics and non-Catholics to talk about the church.
Some have. Some did not. Yet, in one way or another, most American dioceses, 95%, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, have written reports, although relatively few are published. Participating dioceses merged parish reports into diocesan reports, which were combined into regional reports. From the regional reports, as well as reports from some 110 independent Catholic organizations, the USCCB will create a 10-page report, expected in Rome.
Some diocesan reports, such as those from Buffalo, Louisville, Salt Lake City and Trenton, point to clericalism and the lack of women in leadership as problematic. Louisville, Trenton and Salt Lake City noted calls for female deacons. The Buffalo Report found that the scandal of abuse (and) disrespect for women, as manifested in an all-male clergy, has led to declining church attendance and membership.
Even San Francisco, led by conservative Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, has admitted clericalism, and the pink report from Washington, DC notes a basic fact: people don’t trust bishops.
The synod is a global event, and early reports from episcopal conferences outside the United States tell the same story: clericalism is a blight on the church, and women are neither respected nor included in leadership.
Australia recently survived a turbulent meeting of the Plenary Council, in which the country’s bishops rejected a statement testifying to the equal dignity of women and men, apparently because it included a demand for reinstatement of women. in the ordained diaconate. After nearly a quarter of council members protested, refusing to sit down after a tea break, emergency meetings softened the statement to say the bishops would accept Rome’s decision on women deacons.
France reported deep dissatisfaction with the place of women in the Church and the need to recognize their suffering and their expectations.
England and Wales recognized that women were a silent majority, unacknowledged, excluded from leadership and ministry.
Germany has gone so far on these and other issues that it has received a published reminder from the Vatican: While they could discern, Rome would decide.
Once all the national reports arrive in Rome, the plan is to create an overarching document for another round of discussion next year, in preparation for the October 2023 synodal meeting of some 300 representatives in Rome.
Historically, synods are synods of bishops, but so far at least one woman, Xaverian Sister Nathalie Becquart, one of the two (second) undersecretaries of the Rome synod office, will have a vote. . The list of synod members, observers and experts should appear by the end of the year.
No one knows if anything will come of all these efforts, but strong words in several languages call upon haughty clerics who, convinced that they control access to heaven, ruin the church and drive out the members, especially the women and girls. On the whole, people agree with François. These clerics do not. It is not certain that clericalism can block the calls for reform emanating from the synod.
How can this be?
For starters, the so-called organic solution touted by conservative Catholics is taking hold. As partisan priests and bishops of the Second Vatican Council and Francis grow old or die in place, they are replaced by a group of bishops ordained priests during the reign of Pope John Paul II, who in turn appoint conservative pastors ordained under the reign. of Pope Benedict XVI. François, as strong and alert as he is today, is not getting any younger.
Positive views of the situation say that the voice of the Holy Spirit is being heard through the people, and that God will stabilize Peter’s boat. But meanwhile, the Catholic Church as a force for good continues to lose influence inside and outside its walls, largely because of the way too many of its clerics treat people. women.