To understand the Catholic Church, it helps to know what it’s like to belong to a large family. The joys of family life are immense, but the “wounds” can at times seem especially painful.
The “national synthesis,” published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for the Synod on Synodality, followed an extensive process of listening sessions conducted in dioceses throughout the U.S. It reveals that the “hundreds of thousands” of Catholics who participated welcomed the opportunity to share with others their hopes and joys, but also their hurts and disappointments.
What do members of the Catholic family in the U.S. have to say about their experiences? There is, of course, a diversity of opinions on just about everything. The national synthesis attempts to pull these opinions together under four headings:
- Enduring Wounds: Chief among the enduring wounds that afflict the people of God in the U.S. is the still unfolding effects of the sexual abuse crisis. The sin and crime of sexual abuse has eroded not only trust in the hierarchy and the moral integrity of the church, but also created a culture of fear that keeps people from entering into relationship with one another and thus from experiencing a sense of belonging and connectedness for which they yearn.
- Enhancing Communion and Participation: The Eucharist in the lives of Catholics was a significant starting point for many of the synodal consultations. While divisions exist, many saw the Eucharist as the source of hope for greater unity as the Body of Christ. The most common desire named in the synodal consultations was to be a more welcoming church where all members of the people of God can find accompaniment on the journey.
- Ongoing Formation for Mission: Another common hope that emerged from the synodal consultations was the desire for life-long spiritual, pastoral and catechetical formation as disciples. Synodal consultations made clear the importance of evangelization as we continue to live out the church’s mission, which requires stronger formation. The need for ongoing formation was keenly seen in the area of social mission, communications and co-responsibility.
- Engaging Discernment: Discernment is a practice of the church carried on in a spirit of prayer, meditation and ongoing dialogue. Local, attentive listening to one another within and outside of the church; participation, honesty and realism; and a continued willingness to learn accompany discernment. The rediscovery of listening as a basic posture of a church called to ongoing conversion is one of the most valuable gifts of the synodal experience in the U.S..
Many news reports have focused their attention on the “wounds” that were expressed in the listening sessions, but the experience of coming together as fellow travelers on a synodal journey also revealed the deep gratitude and loyalty of Catholic communities throughout the U.S.
As the report states in its conclusion: “These spiritual conversations and fraternal dialogues have renewed a sense of common love and responsibility for the good of our church. … Through participation in the diocesan phase of the Synod, the people of God have already begun to build the church for which they hope.”
Dan Conway is a member of Holy Trinity Church, serves as a member of The Record’s editorial board and is a writer, consultant and stewardship educator.