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The Vatican has not responded to questions regarding the expense it incurred to organize and host October’s synod of bishops on synodality, a month-long meeting of more than 400 people, held in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.

But sources have confirmed to The Pillar that many of the costs associated with the meeting will be be borne by bishops’ conferences and local dioceses around the world, and that the same is expected for an October 2024 meeting that will conclude the process.

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The synod on synodality was announced by Pope Francis in March 2020, as a years-long process of common prayer, discernment and consultation among ecclesial leaders and lay Catholics. 

The synod was meant to engage Catholics around the world in a “synodal” process of common prayer and spiritual conversation, to assess how the Church could better invite more Catholics into decision-making processes, and — in so doing — better hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

The process began in late 2021, with a Vatican directive for parishes to organize local meetings discussing the notion of “journeying together” in “synodality.”

After those parish meetings, dioceses were instructed to hold their own meetings, based upon the feedback of parishes. 

Diocesan reports on synodality were sent to national episcopal conferences and compiled, before “continental” consultative sessions organized in each region of the world.

After those processes, 365 voting delegates — more than 75% of them bishops — were invited to spend four weeks in October in Rome, discussing the topic of synodality, and compiling a list of recommendations to Pope Francis. Those recommmendations will form the basis for another gathering of the same delegates next October, expected to last for three or four weeks.

In addition to those voting delegates, the daily synod meetings in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall included almost 100 staffers, observers, and subject area experts invited to consult or take in the meeting.  

But while the synodality synod has emphasized transparency and lay participation in the Church, organizers have declined to respond to multiple questions from The Pillar regarding the financial costs of the synod to the Vatican.

A representative of the Vatican press office initially referred The Pillar’s questions to the Vatican’s synod secretariat office. Because that office does not admit journalists, a representative eventually urged The Pillar to email the press office questions about the financial costs of the synod. An initial email and several follow-ups have gone unanswered. 

Sources close to the synod estimate that the costs for the Vatican could easily amount to several hundred thousand euro for the month-long gathering.

In addition to securing the organizing staff for the meeting, the Vatican incurred the costs of developing documents ahead of the gathering, and of arranging the technology infrastructure that allowed delegates, and small groups working at tables, to have ready access to documents and other resources, to file their own reports, to propose amendments and changes, and ultimately, to make use of an encrypted voting system.

To streamline deliberations, each participant was issued a tablet for the meeting, which one delegate told The Pillar was new, and “quite a nice machine.”

Still, several bishops told The Pillar that episcopal conferences seemed largely to bear the costs of travel to Rome and lodging during the month-long meeting for delegates from their nations.

While a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops’ conference told The Pillar that information about USCCB costs was not available, American bishops and delegates were mostly housed at the Pontifical North American College and other ecclesiastical residences managed by the bishops’ conference — and travel and other costs were expected to be covered as well, sources close to the conference told The Pillar.

The synod on synodality came amid a period of belt-tightening in the Vatican itself.

In March, the Vatican announced new austerity measures while telling officials that it was facing a “particularly serious economic crisis.” 

In 2021, senior Vatican staffers saw an 8% salary cut, and cardinals living in Rome saw a 10% cut to their monthly stipends. In that year, the Vatican booked a 3 million euro budget deficit, while projecting significantly bigger financial deficits in upcoming years.

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