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Pope Francis and the Synod: what makes it so confusing?


In 2021, Pope Francis announced the start of what he called “a Synod on Synodality” – a two-year process meant to explore ways to promote a more “Synodal Church”. 

Unfortunately, many people still don’t know what that means. Unless they speak ancient Greek, in which case they’d know that the word “synod” means “journeying together”, literally “on the same path”. 

While the word may begin to make sense, a lot of the headlines relating to the synodal process don’t. Instead of “journeying together on the same path”, the whole operation sometimes looks like a free-for-all: social media is abuzz with calls to end priestly celibacy and ordain women priests, demands to restructure local parish management, and more. 

But, according to Pope Francis, that’s what makes it a process. And that’s why it takes so long. “A synodal Church,” he says, “is a Church that listens.”

“Listening” has been at the heart of nearly all the Church’s attempts at renewal since the momentous days of the 2nd Vatican Council. The Council only concluded in 1965. Which is not that long ago. At least for some of us. 

It brought together thousands of bishops, and others, from all over the world, to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and to open up new paths for the Church in the modern world. 

Cardinal Mario Grech is Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops. During an exclusive interview with Rome Reports, he described the present Synod on Synodality in a way that’s not very different from previous descriptions of Vatican 2… 

CARD. MARIO GRECH
Secretary General of the Synod
"It‘s a spiritual process. And if we don’t invoke continuously the Holy Spirit, we will fail.”

A “spiritual process” is very different from a democratic process, where those with the most votes win. That could be bad news for anyone trying to impose their own ideology, or hoping this Synod will overturn established Church traditions, or modify official Catholic doctrine. The Synod may be an open system in which everyone is given a voice, but it’s definitely not a smorgasbord-buffet. 

CARD. MARIO GRECH
Secretary General of the Synod
"The central theme of this consultation is what are we going to do? What are we expected to do in order to create this Synod style for the Church."

Pope Francis has very clear ideas about what he means by a Synod-style Church. For one thing, he means greater openness, collaboration and mutual listening. But he also wants to consolidate another key element of the 2nd Vatican Council: giving greater responsibility to lay people. 

It’s something he’s already started doing right here in the Vatican. But he’d like to extend it, finding ways to encourage more active participation by the faithful, in their parishes and dioceses, all over the world.  

One of the best ways to avoid confusion about this Synod is, quite simply, to reflect on its full title, which actually expresses its aim and purpose quite well: “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”. 

And considering it’s still in the consultation and listening phase, it might also be a good idea not to get too carried away by those pretending to predict the outcome – when, really, the fun has only just begun.