VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The Vatican announced the latest updates for the Synod on Synodality, as the bishops’ conferences around the world are tasked with issuing documents that will form the key text for the culminating October 2024 session of the synod.
On December 12, the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops issued details on how the multiyear Synod on Synodality is now gearing up for its culmination in October 2024 – a session that is anticipated to present strong arguments from synod members for striking departures from Church teaching on a number of points.
After the release of the synthesis report from the October 2023 session of the synod and after a December 5 meeting by the leadership of the Synod team, a new document has been presented outlining “the work to be engaged by the Catholic Church” in the lead-up to the October 2024 meeting.
SYNOD: @Synod_va issues guidelines for next workings of Synod on Synodality, in lead up to 2024 session: “The whole process of the Synod 2021-2024 constitutes the source of inspiration to continue the journey.”
Worksheet: https://t.co/Bkc3UtZS0b pic.twitter.com/fKNsPt9Ayq
— Michael Haynes 🇻🇦 (@MLJHaynes) December 12, 2023
More reflection to take place
The Synod Secretariat wrote that the “road map” and all preparations to the October 2024 session are to be based on the 2023 synthesis report, adding how “the deepening of synodality in a missionary perspective and the broadening of experiences of synodality at the local level are the cornerstones on which the local communities are called to reflect.” [Emphasis original]
Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the synod, stated that the synod leadership’s path to the October 2024 session represented “a unified yet differentiated path” for the various members of the Church.
As a result, dioceses around the world are tasked with staging reflections on aspects of the 2023 synthesis report that will both deepen the theme of “differentiated co-responsibility in the mission of all members of the People of God,” and “continue or promote new initiatives to grow as a synodal church on mission.”
In the accompanying document issued by the Synod Secretariat, dioceses are instructed to draw from the synthesis report’s more controversial sections – including the chapters advocating for female deacons and married ministries – and thus to focus on questions such as:
- How can we enhance the differentiated co-responsibility in the mission of all the members of the People of God?
- What ways of relating, structures, processes of discernment and decision-making with regard to mission make it possible to recognize, shape, and promote co-responsibility?
- What ministries and participatory bodies can be renewed or introduced to better express this co-responsibility?
In order to more easily facilitate this, the Synod Secretariat has additionally published a worksheet, with a series of questions and references back to the 2023 synthesis report.
However, the synod leadership was at pains to stress that, despite the obvious similarities, this was “not a question of starting the synodal process from scratch or repeating the process of listening and consultation undertaken during the first stage.”
According to the Synod Secretariat, it is down to the local bishops’ conferences or hierarchical structures to coordinate the diocesan reflection on the 2023 synthesis report.
Those organizing bishops’ conferences or their Eastern equivalents are then tasked with drawing up a document – maximum length of eight pages – summarizing the diocesan discussions. This is to be submitted to the synod leadership by May 15, 2024.
Such documents will be of key importance: They will form the basis for the working document, or Istrumentum laboris, for the October 2024 synod session. According to a timeline released by the Vatican, the Instrumentum laboris will be written by late June 2024.
Alongside this, the “local churches” are encouraged to effectively choose the aspects from the synthesis report which they prefer most and highlight them in separate discussions: “The local churches are also invited to go through the entire Synthesis Report and collect the requests that are most consonant with their situation.”
The purpose of this, according to the Synod Secretariat, is “to keep alive that dynamism of listening and dialogue with everyone, especially with those who remain more on the margins of the life of the Church, which the first phase of the synodal process launched and which has produced significant fruits.”
Every “local Church” that does this can send a two-page summary of these discussion to the bishops’ conferences by May 15, 2024. However, according to the synod leadership, such local discussions “will not directly constitute the subject of the Assembly’s discernment during the Second Session [October 2024] but will nevertheless be made available to its members.”
Instead, the results of such local discussions are to “to help compose a framework in which to situate the work of the  Assembly.”
Controversial questions being specifically addressed
A number of controversial aspects were presented in the 2023 synthesis report, and the predominant theme that has since emerged is the push for a new role for women – the female diaconate or female governance being the most commonly voiced preferences by synodal activist or heterodox prelates.
As noted in the press release from the Synod leadership, these include changes to Canon Law, the questions of a new understanding of the diaconate, the female diaconate and alterations to seminary formation.
Such questions are not to be left only to the whim of the diocesan-level discussions, which are now to take place, but are to be particularly addressed by a specially assembled group. It will comprise “experts” from across the Church and “relevant” officials from the Roman Curia, along with officials from the Synod Secretariat itself.
According to the press release, “[a] list of these topics will be submitted to the Holy Father as the fruit of the Synod Assembly,” who will then choose topics for the select groups to examine.
Their work will be presented at the October 2024 Synod meeting.
A key aspect of the press release, the worksheet and guiding document all issued today is the priority placed now on the episcopal conferences. The Synod Secretariat appears intent to have the “process” return to the more local level, after the Vatican-based summit in October, but a local level that is run under the careful guidance and over-arching control of the bishops’ conferences.
Indeed, looking only at practical matters, the synod leadership is giving much less time than previously: with these next steps effectively being a repeat of the initial stages of the synod, dioceses are being asked to do in five months what they had previously been given a year and half to do at the start of the synod.
The selection of controversial topics as an area of particular study – and their selection by the Pope himself – is of special importance. Asked by LifeSiteNews during the synod about homosexual topics in the synod discussions, voting member Cardinal Leonardo Steiner argued there was a mixed view on the topic of same-sex blessings, adding that Pope Francis has planned for next year’s synod meetings to address the topic specifically.
With numerous synod members stating after the 2023 session that the 2024 event is to be more conclusive, the next stages of the event are to be watched with special attention.