Throughout the diocesan phase of the Synod on Synodality, U.S. Catholics consistently highlighted several “enduring wounds” that plague the nation’s church, including the still-unfolding effects of the sexual abuse crisis, divisions over the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, and a perceived lack of unity among the nation’s bishops.
The feedback was published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Sept. 19, in a national synthesis of the diocesan synod phase. The synthesis is the culmination of diocesan Synod reports and contributions from other Catholic entities since last fall.
An estimated 700,000 people out of an estimated 66.8 million U.S. Catholics contributed to the feedback that went into creating the synthesis.
Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, the USCCB’s committee on doctrine chair who oversaw the national process, called the document a “significant moment” for the U.S. church, while cautioning that it’s only the first step in a larger process.
“It is an invitation to listen, to discuss together and to discern together as the church, about how best to understand and act upon those matters that sit deeply in the hearts and minds of the Catholics in the U.S,” Flores said in an introductory statement to the 16-page document. “We have taken the first steps of this path, and we have learned much; we have more to learn and more to do.”
The first section, “Enduring Wounds,” is summarized as having “exposed a deep hunger for healing and the strong desire for communion, community, and a sense of belonging and being united.” The section leads with commentary on the sexual abuse crisis, saying that it is “chief among the enduring wounds” that afflict the people of God in the U.S.
“The sin and the crime of sexual abuse has eroded not only trust in the hierarchy and moral integrity of the church, but also created a culture of fear that keeps people from entering into relationship with one another and thus from experiencing the sense of belonging and connectedness for which they yearn,” according to the synthesis.
On the perceived lack of unity among the nation’s bishops, the synthesis adds that there is also a perceived lack of unity among some individual U.S. bishops and Pope Francis, which the faithful cited as a “grave source of scandal.”
Other “enduring wounds” highlighted in the synthesis are lingering effects on church communities from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the divisions over the Traditional Latin Mass, which was cited as sometimes reaching levels of animosity among parishioners.
The most common desire named in synodal consultations, according to the document, is for a “more welcoming church where all members of the people of God can find accompaniment on the journey.” In particular, the synthesis identifies the LGBTQ+ community, divorced Catholics, and women as those that the U.S. church needs to be more welcoming toward.
On the LGBTQ+ community, the report states that the “hope for a welcoming church expressed itself clearly with the desire to accompany with authenticity LGBTQ+ persons and their families.”
“In order to become a more welcoming church there is a deep need for ongoing discernment of the whole church on how to best accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters,” the synthesis states.
For divorced persons, the report cites general feedback that they often feel unwelcome in the church, and that there should be a more “transparent and clear annulment process.” And on women – both lay and religious – there was a “desire for stronger leadership, discernment, and decision-making roles.”
The need to remove barriers and embrace those with special needs and their families to receive the sacraments, working to welcome diverse cultural and ethnic communities, and addressing the departure of young people from the church were also mentioned in this section titled, “A Welcoming Church.”
To condense the feedback from 178 dioceses into a more digestible form for the national synthesis’s authors, these contributions were then gathered regionally to produce 14 regional syntheses, which were then used for the development of the national report.
The Eastern Catholic Churches shared their reports directly to the Holy See, to be incorporated along with the U.S. Latin Church’s national synthesis in the document for the continental stage that begins this fall. A 16th region was created to incorporate contributions from the Catholic associations, organizations, and national ministries in the U.S., as well as individual contributions.
There were 112 submissions for the 16th region. Combined with the 178 diocesan syntheses, there’s a total of 290 documents considered for the national synthesis. The report cites collected data showing that there were over 30,000 opportunities to participate in the Synod nationwide through in-person and virtual listening sessions, as well as online surveys.
Other emphases of the faithful expressed in the synthesis included the importance of co-responsibility between laity and clergy. The report acknowledges that a culture of clericalism in some places prevents “full accompaniment and collaboration by the laity.”
The faithful also highlighted the importance of good communication between (arch)dioceses and the faithful, clergy and the faithful, among parishes, etc., to develop unity and reduce the spread of misinformation. The synthesis’s authors acknowledged as much is true, especially when it comes to the continuing synod phases.
“Nearly all of the synodal consultations saw clear, concise, and consistent communication as key to the strong desire for appropriate transparency,” the report states. “As the church seeks to continue down the synodal path, a commitment to clear, transparent, and consistent communication will be crucial.”
Now that both the U.S. bishops and Canadian bishops have completed their national synod syntheses’ reports, both sides will work together on the continental phase of the Synod on Synodality that Pope Francis launched this month.
The USCCB expects the Document for the Continental Stage (DCS) from the Synod Secretariat in the coming months. The U.S. and Canadian Synod teams will then be holding regional listening sessions regarding the DCS towards the end of this year and early next, and then the two sides will gather in late winter 2023 to compose the continental synthesis: due to the Vatican on March 31, 2023.
That will be the last step in the global Synod on Synodality for the Synod of Bishops next October.