Vatican Synod on synodality will be multi-year global process

News: Vatican synods

The Church’s upcoming synod on synodality will be a two-year process that involves meetings at the levels of dioceses and episcopal conferences, meetings and discussions among the bishops of each continent, and finally a meeting of bishops in Rome.

The process was announced while an ongoing national synod in Germany has roiled the Vatican, and set forth sharp lines of division over doctrinal disputes in the Church.  

The upcoming global synodal process aims to help the Church “grow together through a concrete experience of synodality,” according to a letter sent to bishops Thursday, and obtained by The Pillar.

Calling the synodal process an “ecclesial adventure,” Cardinal Mario Grech wrote to bishops that “since we are all ‘connected,’ the contribution of everyone is precious in this process of mutual listening to the Holy Spirit.”

Grech, who heads the Vatican’s office for synods, sent May 20 a letter explaining the multi-step synodal process, which 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.

While Cardinal Grech’s letter did not explain the substantive topics expected to be discussed in the the long-anticipated Vatican synod on synodality, it did offer a detailed timeline.

The synod will open in October with Masses in Rome, and with Masses in each diocese of the Church, according to the schedule.

From October 2021 until April 2022, dioceses will be expected to conduct listening sessions, using preparatory documents, questionnaires, and guidelines provided by the Holy See.

Religious orders, Catholic universities, and “international lay movements” will also take part in that process.

“The objective of this phase is to consult the People of God so that the synodal process is carried out through listening to all of the baptised, who are the subject of the sensus fidei – infallible – in credendo,” the timeline said.

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The timeline did not indicate what costs dioceses might incur in the “presynodal” process, but Grech did acknowledge that the process could present challenges for the Church in many parts of the world. 

“As I write this letter, I am aware of the many difficulties caused by the pandemic, as well as those countries suffering from war and violence. I hope that this synodal process, in a sense of renewed communion, might help the local churches notwithstanding the great challenges they face,” the cardinal wrote. 

“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 synod timeline explained.

After the diocesan process, according to the timeline, 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.

At the process’ conclusion, in October 2023, bishops will meet 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.

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The synod schedule was sent to bishops amid ongoing tension between the Holy See and the Catholic bishops in Germany, where a multi-year “synodal process” of lay Catholics and bishops has proposed changes to Catholic doctrine, particularly in the areas of sexual morality, the ordination of women, and the relationship of the Church to non-Catholics. 

Those proposals have not been definitively approved by the German synodal body, but they have catalyzed events that run counter to explicit directives from the Vatican, including liturgical blessings of same-sex couples, and events at which Protestants have been invited to receive the Eucharist.

While some Church officials in Germany have expressed hope that the upcoming synod would rein in the excesses of the German synodal process, the protracted timeline of the global synod suggests the series of meetings is unlikely to have impact on the tensions in Germany, which, some Vatican cardinals have said, seem to be leading toward the possibility of formal ecclesiastical schism.

Rather than indicate topics to be discussed, the timeline indicated that among the primary aims of the synod is the experience of participation itself.

“The articulation of the different phases of the synodal process makes possible a real listening to the People of God including all bishops at the different levels of ecclesial life...In this way, the participation of all in the synodal process is guaranteed and the exercise of collegiality is configured within the exercise of synodality, as emphasized by Pope Francis on the 50th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops,” the document concluded.

The synodal process schedule is expected to be announced publicly by the Vatican on Friday.