Plans for 'synod on synodality' underway

News: Synod of Bishops

With fewer than three months before a multi-year synodal process is set to begin, U.S. bishops are expected to discuss in coming weeks logistics for the diocesan phase of consultation that will precede the Church’s 2023 assembly of bishops on synodality.

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With diocesan, national, and continental listening and prayers sessions on the Church’s schedule ahead of a 2023 meeting in Rome, the U.S. bishops’ conference has appointed a staffer to serve as coordinator between dioceses and the USCCB.

The Vatican announced in May that its upcoming “synond on synodality” would take place in October 2023, after the series of consultations and meetings in dioceses around the world set to begin in October 2021.

The synod was not on the agenda of the June virtual meeting of the U.S. bishops, but bishops have told The Pillar they expect that logistics will be discussed at forthcoming regional meetings.

According to the Vatican’s May 21 announcement, dioceses will be expected to hold opening Masses of the synod process in late October, before conducting listening sessions and consultations with local Catholics, which will be guided by questionnaires and guidelines that will be sent to local leaders from the Holy See.

“Consultation with the People of God in each local church will conclude with a presynodal meeting, which will be the culmination of diocesan discernment,” the Vatican’s synodal timeline explained. 

Diocesan consultations are expected to include questions for laity, religious, and clerics, and conclude in April 2022. Religious orders, Catholic universities, and “international lay movements” will also take part in the initial consultation phase.

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The consultation process, according to the Vatican’s news release, aims for “mutual listening to the Holy Spirit at every level of the Church's life,” by “help[ing] to make possible a true listening to the People of God to ensure the participation of all in the synodal process.”

The global process, carried out in phases, is “not just an event, but also a process that involves in synergy the People of God, the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome, each according to their proper function,” the Vatican has explained. 

While questions for discussion have not themselves been released or made available, the process aims to discuss the idea of synodality itself — a concept Pope Francis describes as a way of discerning God’s will through a process of ecclesial conversations. 

After the diocesan listening sessions, episcopal conferences will meet, and then the process will shift to meetings of bishops from across each populated continent, which will take place between September 2022 and March 2023.

Both dioceses and episcopal conferences are expected to appoint a “contact person” responsible for helping to organize synodal consultations and and coordinating with other organizations. 

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The USCCB told The Pillar last month that Richard Coll, executive director of the conference’s Office of Justice, Peace and Human Development, will serve as liaison to U.S. dioceses during the synod process. Coll would seem to offer familiarity both with the Vatican’s synodal process and with ecclesial dialogues involving laity, religious and clergy, having served as a North American delegate for the Casa Comûn symposium, an event which took place in Rome during the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. 

Taking place alongside the bishops’ meeting, the symposium event included “a broader and more diverse array of voices, including indigenous leaders, church leaders, lay people and secular activists,” and was “designed to highlight these voices, bringing life to the issues of the Amazon and fostering spirituality, awareness raising, dialogue and reflection, and advocacy,” according to a press release announcing Coll’s participation.   

At the conclusion of the global process on synodality, bishops will meet in October 2023 in Rome for a month-long final session, after which the pope will likely promulgate a set of reflections on the process, called an apostolic exhortation.

U.S. bishops are also expected to discuss at upcoming regional meetings their views on the possibility of publishing a catechetical document on the Eucharist, which was the subject of controversy in June, when discussion of the document largely focused on whether it would admonish Catholic politicians supportive of legal protection for abortion to refrain from receiving the Eucharist.