That the process of synodality has unsettled conservative Catholics in the West is nothing new. It has been a feature of the right’s critiques of Pope Francis and the synodal journey since the pontiff launched a revival of a consultative ecclesial method with consecutive global meetings on the family in 2014 and 2015.
That the critiques have morphed into increasingly alarmist campaigns against the synodal process is, perhaps, a sign that this shift to a more inclusive and missional style of Catholicism is taking hold. Last year Pope Francis not only expanded the traditional month-long synod meetings at the Vatican to be preceded by a global consultation, but he also extended the October 2023 “Synod on Synodality” in Rome to a second year to allow greater time for wider engagement and deeper discernment.
The fear of synodal inevitability seems to have focused the approach of the critics from praying that the synod process would flounder or go away, or that Francis would flounder or go away, to a tactic of turning the very term “synodality” into something sinister. It’s a clever and common, if insidious, move: No one knows what synodality really is, they claim, and that “confusion” actually proves that synodality is a cover for some Bolshevik-style takeover of the church.
The only ones sowing confusion about the synod process are those standing on the sidelines. They don’t like what’s going on, but they don’t want to participate because they may not get all that they want. That’s their problem, because synodality is something that needs to be lived to be truly understood, and millions of Catholics around the world are doing just that.
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David Gibson is a journalist and author and director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University.
With thanks to Go, Rebuild My House, a publication of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States.