At a press briefing with Cardinal Mario Grech, General Secretary of the Synod, and Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the General Relator, the much-anticipated Synthesis Report for the monthlong assembly was released on October 28. Joining the two cardinals were Fr. Giacomo Costa, SJ, one of the Synod’s special secretaries.
The official English translation of the report is not yet available, though the Vatican has published the original Italian version. (FutureChurch has provided a helpful working translation as well as commentary on its website.)
The Vatican has also published a breakdown of the votes on the 42-page document by paragraph. The delegates had to vote yes or no on each of the paragraphs, with a two-thirds majority required for approval. All paragraphs were ultimately approved. Three paragraphs that recorded over 60 negative votes were all related to women’s access to the diaconate.
Though representatives at the press conference struck an upbeat tone, with Cardinal Grech speaking of “a joy you could feel and touch” throughout the Synodal Assembly and Cardinal Hollerich affirming that “everybody felt that he or she was part of something big,” early commentaries on the Synthesis Report have drawn attention to the lack of concrete proposals on inclusion of women and LGBTQ+ individuals in the church, among other issues.
Cardinal Grech said that immediate changes from the Synthesis Report “would have been a bit suspicious.” Cardinal Hollerich focused on synodality as a long-term project, comparing the Synthesis Report to a piece of common ground on which to build a more synodal church.
The report is “a step of a church on the move,” he added. “That’s the important thing: we move.”
The report is divided into three parts: “The Face of the Synodal Church” focuses on the theological principles of synodality; “All Disciples, All Missionaries” looks at synodality as “a joint journey of the People of God”; and “Weaving Ties, Building Community” establishes synodality as a network of relationships among the various churches.
Each part of the report includes a section on “convergences” that arose throughout the Synodal Assembly, issues to be addressed that require deepening discernment or further study, and proposals for ways forward.
Asked at the press conference why divergences among delegates were not included in the report despite there being substantial discussion of their importance to the synodal process, Cardinal Grech said that the term was not appropriate “to express the need for exchange the people felt.”
“We are inside the process, and we also change,” Cardinal Hollerich said.
Cardinal Hollerich pointed out that it was expected certain topics would meet greater opposition than others. However, the fact that the report passed overwhelmingly proves that resistance to issues such as women in the diaconate is not as strong as people might have thought, he said.
The next stage of the Synod will involve returning the report to the local churches so that individual parishes and groups can begin practicing synodality in advance of the second assembly in October 2024. Cardinal Grech acknowledged that this task has a “learning curve.”
“Now we have to implement the findings of this assembly,” he said. (Note: Thomas J. Reese, SJ, has written an excellent primer on local implementation for the Religion News Service that was published in America magazine and the National Catholic Reporter, and Kimberley Heatherington recently profiled practical steps local churches are taking to develop “co-responsibility” in Our Sunday Visitor.)
Two interrelated sources of hope that appear in the Synthesis Report involve reimagining liturgy and lay ministry within the church.
There is “a widely reported need to make liturgical language more accessible to the faithful and more embodied in the diversity of cultures,” the document states. Elsewhere, it says that “Liturgy celebrated with authenticity is the first and fundamental school of discipleship and fraternity.”
The report also identifies “a perceived need for more creativity in establishing ministries according to the needs of local churches.” It goes on to suggest an expansion of the tasks of the ministry of the lector that could also include preaching.
“In this way, a true ministry of the Word of God could be set up,” it says.
The report makes a reference to small Christian communities when it states that reflection is urged “on the phenomenon of ‘non-denominational’ communities and Christian-inspired ‘revival’ movements, which are also joined in large numbers by faithful who were originally Catholic.”
It may be that these small communities offer the freedom necessary to experiment with new forms of liturgical language and ministry that can then be assimilated into the synodal church. The way that small Christian community participants share facilitation duties amongst themselves, for instance, is just one example of how these communities foster a sense of co-responsibility that is at the heart of the synodal mission. ♦
“Synod synthesis shows agreement, divergences, including on ‘synodality’” (Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service)
“Synod Report: A Church that involves everyone and is close to world’s wounds” (Salvatore Cernuzio, Vatican News)
“Striving for consensus, Synod ends by soft-pedaling contested issues” (Elise Ann Allen, Crux)
Editor, Today’s American Catholic