Synod’s next steps? U.S. bishops look to Rome for guidance, say priests and poor need a voice

U.S. bishops are hoping for further guidance from the Vatican before they formulate concrete plans to prepare for the final stage of the Synod on Synodality next fall.

Synod’s next steps? U.S. bishops look to Rome for guidance, say priests and poor need a voice

At the conclusion of the synod’s first assembly that took place at the Vatican between Oct. 4–29, delegates approved a 42-page synthesis document titled “A Synodal Church in Mission” containing more than 80 proposals, including recommendations aimed at giving lay Catholics a greater role in decision-making.

The preliminary document did not, however, specify the next steps that dioceses and episcopal conferences should take during the interim period before the synod reconvenes in October 2024.

During the fall assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore, two of the synod delegates— Bishop Daniel Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville, and Bishop Kevin Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana — emphasized the need for an “executive summary” of the synthesis document to help guide continuing engagement with U.S. Catholics.

“When you think about it being a 41-page document, how are we going to consult people? Are they going to read 41 pages?” Rhoades said during a Nov. 14 press conference with Flores.

“At this point, I think we do need to identify exactly or more clearly what are the big items that we really need to have the input of the faithful. And I think that’s a work in progress because maybe the Vatican is going to provide those for us,” he said.

“We don’t know yet. If not, I mean, we have to get moving, so we may have to do it ourselves,” he added.Flores agreed that the USCCB might have to produce its own summary if the Vatican doesn’t provide one soon. Asked if there was a timeline for when additional steps need to be taken, he said it was premature to formulate a schedule.

“To be honest, I don’t think we’ve gotten to the timeline stage yet because it is still fairly recent,” Flores said, according to a Catholic News Agency report.

The synod’s synthesis document was the fruit of the delegates’ small-group discussions of issues raised in these listening sessions. The document calls for greater “co-responsibility” among all members of the Church and recommends specific steps to take and proposals to consider to achieve that goal.

Pope Francis initiated the Synod on Synodality in October 2021, kicking off a multiyear worldwide Church effort to engage in listening sessions with Catholics. The faithful were asked to submit feedback to their local dioceses on the question “What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had noted at last month’s synod that only 1 percent of Catholics participated in the listening sessions.

“One thing we have to do going forward is to encourage greater participationand invite people to partake and engage in this process of speaking, and listening and praying together,” Broglio said in October, adding: “That would be a source of growth for the Church.”  

Flores echoed these sentiments Tuesday, calling for a greater variety of voices to be heard as the synodal process continues.

“The voice of the pastors and the priests was not heard as clearly as we need to hear it, “ Flores said. “I think we all, as bishops, will get an encouragement to kind of find the vehicle by which, with their priests, they can reflect on what this document says as we prepare for going forward.”

“But they’re not the only ones. We all admitted that because it was our first sort of effort that we could do a lot better in consulting with the peripheral materially poorer. It’s because it’s hard, because you’re not always going to get a welcome,” the bishop of Brownsville said.

In his remarks, Flores said he expects to send some “resources” out to bishops and dioceses before the U.S. bishops’ conference in June.

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