Continental synod reflects local concerns

The hopes and concerns of Catholics worldwide seem to be as universal as the church itself. That’s what Richard “Tink” Guthrie gleaned from his participation in the Continental Stage of the Synod on Synodality.

“The commonality of themes that came out were remarkable,” said Guthrie during a recent interview about the North American synodal process. “The content is so similar to what we heard in Central Kentucky.”

Guthrie, vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Louisville, is the coordinator of the archdiocesan synod process. He and four other representatives of the archdiocese participated in the North American synod, which was carried out virtually early this year.

Nearly 1,000 delegates — representing 90 percent of the dioceses in the United States and Canada — attended virtual sessions. The church in Mexico took part in the process with countries in Central and South America.

They were divided into small “listening circles” that drew together delegates from both nations, sometimes from vastly different experiences.

Guthrie said his group included one of the most isolated and least populous dioceses — one in northern Canada where priests may have seven parishes they visit on rotation.

The group also included one of the most populous dioceses in North America, the Diocese of Brooklyn, which is geographically small but densely populated. Another delegate came from a small mission diocese in Louisiana with a sizeable Hispanic community, he said.

“There were definitely some inherent challenges that were different, but the feedback from their sessions for the larger church were so similar it was remarkable,” said Guthrie. “While one was talking about not having priests to cover the frozen tundra of their diocese, their concerns were just like ours — finding ways to engage the youth and the role of women,” among other topics.

Their conversation was guided by the “Working Document for the Continental Stage,” produced by the Holy See. The document synthesized reports submitted by nations around the world, which held listening sessions to gather the hopes and concerns of everyday Catholics.

The themes that emerged in that worldwide synthesis were remarkably similar to those surfaced by Archdiocese of Louisville parishioners, said Guthrie: “Who imagined the driving themes would be so similar in Central Kentucky to those around the globe?”

He sees two simple explanations for it, though.

“Throughout this whole process, it’s been clear that this has been driven by the Holy Spirit,” he said. Plus, he said, “We have our local realities and charisms, but at the crux of it all, we are all one church that succeeds and fails as one apostolic body. The baptismal call is the same for all of us.

“We might have different music or homiletics, not all of us use the same language, but we still have the same mission as a church,” he noted.

The North American process’ final document, the “North American Final Document for the Continental Stage of the 2021-2024 Synod,” identified five priorities to be considered at the October gathering of the synod in Rome:

  1. “Integration of the synodal consultation in the local churches.”
    This priority noted that as a way forward, the synod-style of consultation would be beneficial to communities and suggested formation to help promote understanding of synodality and the practice of discernment.
  2. “The challenge of welcoming those who feel excluded from participation in the life of the church in a manner that is authentic and faithful to the Gospel and the Catholic faith.”
    This “weighs heavily on the hearts of our people,” the document explains. The theme considers the tension between serving the wounded and discerning complex issues with fidelity to the church. It recommends formation to help Catholics “be more welcoming of each other.”
  3. “Co-responsibility.”
    This theme is a “plea for renewed consideration of the mission of all the baptized.” It “demands a better understanding of the roles of the laity in general, and of women and young people in particular.” It also touches on transparency in church governance.
  4. “Addressing the unity and communion of the Church in the midst of various kinds of polarization and division.”
    The theme calls for discernment and recognizing that our identity as baptized people nourished by the Eucharist unites the People of God, and supercedes any differences, such as race or politics.
  5. “A Church that goes out to the peripheries.”
    This theme acknowledges that Catholics are called to be “outward-looking” and missionary. It recommends formation on this topic and says it’s vital that local churches “hear the call to assist the needs of the poor and marginalized churches around the world.”

‘But what we can already see in the short term is that women have voting (rights) in the synodal process for the first time ever — women, laity and young people. If we are truly are all journeying together, they need to have a voice in the synod of bishops. That’s Pope Francis saying we’re going to walk together in this.’

Richard “Tink” Guthrie

Themes two, three and four resonated in particular with Guthrie’s listening circle.

“The overriding theme of living our baptismal dignity in a co-responsible church” was primary, he said.

“As members of the Roman Catholic Church, whether ordained, lay, active or inactive, through our baptismal call we have a co-responsiblity for the mission of the church. It’s not OK to just leave it to ‘Father,’ ” he said. “The priest has his part to play and so does the laity. We are co-responsible for the church.”

He said the role of women in the church and that of young people were important in his group, as was lifelong formation — “You have to know what you’re called to do.”

The topic of polarization was key, too, he said.

“Polarization in church and society inherently pulls us to fragmentation, which is very true. Some polarizations are within the church wheras others originate in society and are transported into the church,” he said, echoing the North American document.

Other topics included what it means to be inclusive as well as trust and credibility, which participants said have been eroded by sexual abuse, clericalism and male-centric leadership, he said.

If these topics sound familiar, they were also identified in the Archdiocese of Louisville’s synodal process last year, in which local Catholics were called to share and listen to one another’s hopes and concerns for the church.

“We promised they were heard and they were,” Guthrie noted. “And it wasn’t just a moment in time; they’re still being heard today. It is still echoing today in the synod process within a cacophony worldwide. We honored the local participation in this process. What they said mattered and is affirmed. And it’s still going foward.”

The North American document was published in April and has been submitted to the Holy See for consideration during the October synod along with continental documents from around the globe.

Guthrie said outcomes Catholics might expect to see could be years in the making.

“The full outcome won’t be known for generations. But what we can already see in the short term is that women have voting (rights) in the synodal process for the first time ever — women, laity and young people. If we truly are all journeying together, they need to have a voice in the synod of bishops. That’s Pope Francis saying we’re going to walk together in this.”

Documents from the synod, including the North American document and the local synthesis, are available at

Marnie McAllister
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Marnie McAllister
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