The U.S. bishops’ conference has been granted a Vatican extension to file its synthesis report on the diocesan consultation phase of the Church’s synod on synodality.
As part of the global consultation process that began last year, episcopal conferences around the world were expected to file by Aug. 15 summaries of the diocesan phase of the Church’s two-year synodal process.
But a USCCB official confirmed to The Pillar on Monday that the U.S. conference has been granted an extension.
According to the official, the conference now has until the end of August to send its report to the Vatican’s General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, the office coordinating the synod on synodality process.
The national synthesis report is supposed to “gather and express the fruits of the synodal process in a way that is understandable even to those who did not participate, indicating how the Holy Spirit’s call to the Church has been understood in the local context,” according to the Vatican’s guidelines.
In the United States, the task of summarizing more than 150 diocesan reports falls to a team led by staffer Richard Coll, who was appointed last summer to be the USCCB’s coordinator of synod-related activities.
The synod on synodality began last October, with each diocese around the world assigned to conduct listening sessions, to which both practicing and non-practicing Catholics would be invited, in order to discuss questions supplied by the Vatican:
“A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”
Each diocese was expected to synthesize the results of those listening sessions into a 10-page report, and forward that to the relevant episcopal conference. After diocesan reports were filed, the episcopal conference was to summarize them into a singular synthesis document of no more than 10 pages.
The national “synthesis reports” were initially due to the Vatican in April 2022, but the Vatican gave a four-month extension last October, saying the reports should could come in by August 15 — and has now given the U.S. bishops’ conference an extension of two weeks on that revised due date.
The USCCB asked U.S. dioceses to file their reports no later than June 30, but at least one diocese told reporters last week it was still working on its write-up.
While the USCCB concludes its work on a national synthesis document, other episcopal conferences have already released their own reports.
After all national synthesis reports are received, the Vatican will develop a working document for an October 2023 meeting of bishops in Rome.
Before that Rome gathering, bishops will meet at international “continental assemblies” to discuss the notion of synodality - an idea frequently emphasized during the pontificate of Pope Francis.
Francis has said the global consultation process is meant to be an exercise for the Church in learning to hear the will of God through prayerful conversation, listening, and discernment.
At an October 2021 opening Mass for the synod process, the pope said Catholics should “become experts in the art of encounter,” and aim to “look others in the eye and listen to what they have to say.”
While Francis called for a broad consultation, local results have not met with his initial expectations.
The pope said last year that dioceses should aim for a broad consultation, to “pass beyond the 3 or 4 percent that are closest to us, to broaden our range and to listen to others.”
“Don’t limit yourself to those who come to church or think as you do – they may be no more than 3, 4, or 5 percent,” Pope Francis urged Catholics in the Rome diocese last September.
But preliminary numbers indicate the participation rate of baptized Catholics in the first phase of the synod rarely has exceeded 2%. Even among Mass-going Catholics, participation in most places has not exceeded 10%.
In its report, the Diocese of Pittsburgh suggested that many of its listening sessions did not reach a broad cross-section of participants.
“Demographically, the majority of parish sessions saw greatest participation from Caucasian adults, with more women than men in attendance, and an average age of 60 and over,” the Pittsburgh report explained.
Supporters of the project say the synod listening sessions are “a beginning,” and will lead to more consultation, but critics have suggested that the process has mostly failed to reach both practicing and disaffected Catholics.
It is not yet clear whether dioceses or bishops’ conferences have assessed the financial cost of the synod process.