Synthesis for the synod captures tensions, hopes of US church

By Michael Sean Winters, 8 June 2024
A view of a community conversation co-hosted at St. Barnabas Parish in the Archdiocese of Chicago in March 2022. Image: Archdiocese of Chicago/Facebook.


The title of the newly released document — “National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America for the Interim Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod” — is almost as dry as a set of jury instructions. But the contents, the result of a round of nationwide consultations since last October’s Synod meeting in Rome, capture the dynamics of the church in this country that ring true.

The opening section sets forth two images, the church as a “Safe Harbor” for people and the sense that ours is a “Fiery Communion.” Both metaphors are well-chosen. The report notes that the staples of parish life from prayer groups and Bible studies to Catholic schools are the places where people experience that deep sense of community to which the church is called.

The “Fiery Communion” speaks to some of the tensions found within the Catholic community, and the document does not obfuscate or sugarcoat those tensions. Region III’s submission noted that some Catholics “were challenged by the Church’s ‘indecisiveness,’ by ‘lack of reverence,’ and by the perception that the Church is ‘changing the traditional methods’ and accepting current ‘things against our church rules.’ ” Region VIII noted, “some are very worried about how the Church responds to LGBTQ and other marginalized people … others want to stand firm in the Church’s teaching and not shy away from the truth.”

The tensions point to the need for the synodal process itself. Region VII’s submission said, “If we don’t talk about difficult topics, we can become like a dysfunctional family.” The submission from Region XIII acknowledged that healing the divisions within the church will be something of a slog: “Listening to others will have its challenges. We will find disagreements, we will find the need for greater discussion, we will find a troubling in our souls, we will at times be presented with such hopeful possibilities. But we cannot know these things if we are not present to each other.”

Other challenges are addressed, including the need for better “formation for evangelization.” I wish there had been more details about what such formation would look like. Here is an area for further elaboration and study. Similarly, the subject of “Existential Obedience” needs much greater focus in our willful culture than the single paragraph it receives here.

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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared. 

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