VATICAN CIY (LifeSiteNews) –– The concluding document from the Synod on Synodality’s October 2023 meeting has been released, with no definitive stance taken in terms of attempts to alter Church teaching on LGBT issues or female ordination, yet containing a host of subtle but significant calls for changes to the manner of the Church’s governance and daily life.
The 41-page report was released late into the night on October 28, as the month-long session of the Synod on Synodality came to an end and participants hastily poured out of the Paul VI Audience Hall. The text’s initial version gave rise to over 1,000 amendments from synod members, according to synod officials, meaning that such amendments had to be acted upon between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon.
The contents of the report, as already noted by synod officials, are not meant to be a final report, nor even the text which will form the basis of the October 2024 synod meeting. Rather, as the synthesis report states, it contains the “main elements that emerged in the dialogue, prayer and discussion that characterized these days.”
“Some fear that they will be forced to change; others fear that nothing will change and that there will be too little courage to move at the pace of living Tradition,” reads Chapter 1, paragraph g. (Passed by 326 – 18)
The synod has been particularly marked by controversy due to its discussion topics. The Instrumentum Laboris formed the basis of the discussions, meaning that the 465 synod participants and over 300 voting synod members were discussing (among other topics) questions on female deacons; “welcoming” LGBT, polygamous, divorced and “re-married” individuals; married priests; lay governance.
Given such topics – on which the Church has already clearly pronounced – numerous Catholics have expressed strong concern about the direction and intent of the Synod on Synodality. However, when questioned by LifeSiteNews during the event, a cardinal member of the synod refused to confirm if members were adhering to Church teaching during the discussions on such issues.
Sections of the synthesis report that saw particularly high levels of opposition were in Chapters 9, 11, 12, 15.
The report presents the discussions on the topic of “synodality” itself, before then dealing with the more hot-button topics. While radical advocates for LGBT issues or for female deacons will not have had their aims fulfilled, the report nevertheless also avoids clearly proclaiming the already defined Church teaching on all such issues.
Issuing #Vatican report from #synod2023 Cdl Grech says “what emerges is that the church is a church that reaches out, that is creating spaces for everyone…making room, creating spaces for everyone so that no one feels excluded, so that no-one feels excluded in his or her home” pic.twitter.com/7AYYSQ7lhq
— Michael Haynes 🇻🇦 (@MLJHaynes) October 28, 2023
Indeed, the report is marked more for its generic nature rather than by any particularly notable argumentation made. Paragraphs contain calls for further discussion on a number of topics, rather than presenting concrete demands or formulated decisions.
Each paragraph was voted on in turn, and had to be passed by at least a two-thirds majority: abstentions were not permitted. Although this meeting is unique in that it has for the first time allowed lay voters, the report did not divide the voting results by lay or clerical status. The simple numerical results were presented.
Every paragraph was approved, though no paragraph received a 100 percent approval, as there were always objections registered: only three paragraphs had just one objection.
Each chapter of the report is divided into three sections: summaries of discussions, issues to be addressed, and proposals presented.
Commenting on the surprisingly large numbers of votes approving controversial passages, especially relating to the female diaconate, relator general Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich told journalists that he was surprised and “happy with that result.” He added that the vote on this particular issue “means that the resistance are [sic] not so great as people have thought before.”
The report particularly highlights a continuation of the culture of questioning that has characterized the synod during the past two years. While less explicit on certain topics than in previous documents, the synthesis report lays the groundwork for essentially codifying the “synodal manner” of prolonged discussion on already decided moral or doctrinal questions, and the concept of majority vote approval in the Church with equality of voting power amongst the laity and the clergy.
“To have this freedom and openness will change the Church, and I’m sure the Church will find answers, but perhaps not the exact answer this group or that group wants to have, but answers [with which] most people could feel well and listened to,” said Cardinal Hollerich of the Synod on Synodality’s style and process.
Synodality: a definition and a future
Describing even the arrangement of the synod – which was held in the Paul VI Audience Hall, rather than the customary synod hall, to accommodate the round table arrangement – the report stated that this physical arrangement was highly significant. The passage is particularly key for understanding the concept of the new, democratic style of life proposed by the Synod on Synodality:
“The very way the Assembly was conducted, starting with the arrangement of people seated in small groups around round tables in the Paul VI Hall, comparable to the biblical image of the wedding banquet (Rev. 19:9), is emblematic of a synodal Church and an image of the Eucharist, the source and summit of synodality, with the Word of God at its center. Within it, different cultures, languages, rites, ways of thinking and realities can engage together and fruitfully in a sincere search under the guidance of the Spirit. (Passed by 339 – 5)
“The entire journey, rooted in the Tradition of the Church, is taking place in the light of the conciliar magisterium,” noted the opening message at the start of the report.
Somewhat of a definition of synodality was offered, being presented as an inherently ecumenical event which was to be “understood as the walk of Christians with Christ and toward the Kingdom, together with all humanity.” The definition continued that “synodality” was to be:
… mission-oriented, it involves coming together in assembly at the different levels of ecclesial life, listening to one another, dialogue, communal discernment, consensus-building as an expression of Christ’s making himself present alive in the Spirit, and decision-making in differentiated co-responsibility. (Passed 340 – 4)
However, the text added that there was a “need to clarify the meaning of synodality at different levels, from pastoral use to theological and canonical use, averting the risk that it sounds too vague or generic, or appearing as a passing fad.” (Passed 341 – 3)
A call was made to “experiment with and adapt conversation in the Spirit” – which has been the modus operandi of the Synod on Synodality – along with “other forms of discernment” into the wider life of the church, “valuing according to cultures and contexts the richness of different spiritual traditions.” (Paragraph passed by 332 – 12)
Equality of dignity, governance and liturgical themes
Consistent with the themes of ecumenical and hierarchical equality which have emerged from the process, the report argued that all baptized individuals are completely equal in dignity, avoiding the discussion of differing kinds and ways to lose dignity: “among all the baptized there is a genuine equality of dignity and a common responsibility for mission, according to each person’s vocation.” (Passed by 318 – 26)
The sacrament of baptism appeared as a new tool to aid “synodality” with the report stating how it “cannot be understood in an individualistic way” and that “the contribution to the understanding of synodality that can come from a more unified vision of Christian initiation.” (Passed by 337 – 7)
Consistent themes of “synodal” styles of governance and regular activity within the Church’s daily life are also contained in the report, highlighting the regime change which is promoted by the Synod on Synodality.
This is particularly highlighted with regard to the role of women, with the report even expressing an “urgent” call for Canon Law to be changed in order to allow more female governance roles:
There is an urgent need to ensure that women can participate in decision-making processes and assume roles of responsibility in pastoral care and ministry. The Holy Father has significantly increased the number of women in positions of responsibility in the Roman Curia. The same should happen at other levels of Church life. Canon law should be adapted accordingly. (Passed by 319 – 27)
An insight into the potential new form of the diaconal understanding was given in section 4, which argued that “as part of the rethinking of diaconal ministry, let it be promoted to be more strongly oriented toward service to the poor.” (Passed by 337 – 7)
Another section noted the “widely reported need to make liturgical language more accessible to the faithful and more embodied in the diversity of cultures.” (Passed by 322 – 22)
The current Vatican concentration on climate change issues was also represented, with a call being made for “the biblical and theological foundations of integral ecology [to] be more explicitly and carefully integrated into the teaching, liturgy and practices of the Church.” (Passed by 328 – 16)
The text’s dealing with the issue of migration highlighted calls for “respect for the liturgical traditions and religious practices of migrants” as part of an “authentic welcome,” while avoiding urging the promotion of Catholicism. In a paragraph with a relatively large amount of objection, mention was made of “sensitivity” needed in places where “the proclamation of the Gospel has been associated with colonization and even genocide.” (Passed by 312 – 32)
Mention was further made of calls for increased dialogue and unity between the East and the West, along with a focus on ecumenism. For this end, Baptism was once again placed at the service of “synodality,” with the text stating: “through it, [Baptism] all Christians participate in the sensus fidei and for this reason they should be listened to carefully, regardless of their tradition, as the Synodal Assembly did in its discernment process. There can be no synodality without the ecumenical dimension.” (Passed by 316 – 28)
So also was the Holy Eucharist seen and used as an aid for “synodality,” with calls made for Communion to be given to non-Catholics. So-called “Eucharistic hospitality” was highlighted as being an issue “particularly felt by interfaith couples.”
The issue of Eucharistic hospitality (communicatio in sacris) should be further examined from the theological, canonical and pastoral perspectives in light of the link between sacramental and ecclesial communion. This issue is particularly felt by interfaith couples. It also points to a broader reflection on mixed marriages.(Passed by 321 – 23)
Ministry, deacons and clergy
The much anticipated demand for female-deacons – which would be in opposition to Church teaching – was not made in the synthesis report. However, the relevant chapter (9) saw some of the highest level of objections during the vote.
The discussions on female deacons were summarized as being welcomed by some as return to “a practice of the early church” or a “necessary response to the signs of the times, faithful to Tradition.” The report did note the objections of those Catholics who echoed Church teaching that such a move would be “in discontinuity with Tradition.” (Passed 277 – 69)
The text also called for “theological and pastoral research” on the female diaconate to continue, and requested that the results of the 2016 and 2020 commissions on the topic be presented at the October 2024 meeting. (Passed 279 – 67) Therefore while any definite statements supporting the female diaconate were not made in the report, the Church’s condemnation of the female diaconate as impossible was seemingly ignored, with calls for further discussion on the topic thus promoted.
Calls were also made for new ministries for laity, particularly for “establishing a ministry” for married couples. (Passed by 308 – 38)
Priestly celibacy, as noted on these pages, was discussed alongside the female diaconate. In this light, a call for a “deeper reflection” on the diaconate itself was raised, with the note that this could “illuminate the issue of women’s access to the diaconate.” (Passed by 285 – 61) Such a comment has been made in passing by synod members to journalists, suggesting that an attempt to change the understanding of the diaconate is underway, rather than immediately pushing to institute women as deacons. Should such a move take effect – effectively instituting a lay version of the diaconate – it could be an attempt by advocates of female ordination to achieve their goal of a form of “parity” with priests, whilst also looking to avoid a clear condemnation of being heretical.
Father James Martin, S.J., told the dissident National Catholic Reporter that he was “‘disappointed but not surprised’ by the result for LGBTQ Catholics.” Indeed, the synod had been discussing a perceived need to “welcome” the “remarried divorcees, people in polygamous marriages, LGBTQ+ [sic] people.”
“There were widely diverging views on the topic. I wish, however, that some of those discussions, which were frank and open, had been captured in the final synthesis,” Martin stated.
While the text does not defend same-sex blessings, it does argue that the Church has an out-dated mode of understanding LGBT questions. It states:
Sometimes the anthropological categories we have developed are not sufficient to grasp the complexity of the elements emerging from experience or knowledge in the sciences and require refinement and further study. It is important to take the necessary time for this reflection and invest our best energies in it, without giving in to simplifying judgments that hurt people and the Body of the Church. (Passed 307 – 39)
The terminology “LGBTQ” did not appear in the synthesis report, unlike in the Instrumentum Laboris which guided proceedings. This is a particularly notable absence, especially given the concentration of questions on the topic of homosexuality during the near-daily press briefings.
When 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.
But as time progressed, the message from the press office briefing table was more succinct: officials moved towards a more unified line, stating that the topic of the event was “synodality” and not same-sex blessings, or female deacons, even though the same officials would state how such items had in fact been discussed that same day.
As for the Instrumentum Laboris calls for a “welcome” for those in “polygamous” relationships, the synthesis report also states:
In different ways, people who feel marginalized or excluded from the Church because of their marriage situation, identity, and sexuality also ask to be heard and accompanied, and that their dignity be defended. A deep sense of love, mercy and compassion for people who are or feel hurt or neglected by the Church, who desire a place to come ‘home’ and to feel safe, to be listened to and respected, without fear of feeling judged. Listening is a prerequisite for walking together in search of God’s will. The Assembly reaffirms that Christians cannot disrespect the dignity of any person. (Passed by 326 – 20)
A much more concrete defense of the polygamous came from the bishops of Africa and Madagascar, however, whose bishops’ conference stated they were encouraged “to promote theological and pastoral discernment on the issue of polygamy and the accompaniment of people in polygamous unions coming to faith.” (Passed by 303 – 43)
Some disgruntlement was raised in the Holy See Press Office by journalists looking for more radical texts supporting LGBT issues. But Cardinal Mario Grech – secretary general of the General Secretariat of the Synod – defended the text, saying that all the paragraphs had received the two-thirds majority needed.
Synodality for the future
While the Synod on Synodality is due to end in October 2024, Cardinal Hollerich gave yet another hint that the process was not likely to actually end there. “The process really starts at the end of the process” he told journalists, when presenting the synthesis report.
He welcomed the fact that a “synodal church will more easily try to speak about these topics [controversial topics] than in the past.”
The synthesis report is now entrusted to the bishops’ conferences around the world, who are tasked with promoting it to the congregations under their charge. The participants of this October’s meeting will reconvene in the Vatican next October for the second session of the Synod on Synodality. Leading cardinals and synod officials have suggested that more concrete decisions and proposals are likely to emerge from the 2024 session.
For those looking for definitive statements approving same-sex blessings or female ordination – which would both violate Catholic doctrine – then such hopes will have been dashed. Yet, in a less immediately visible manner, the synod’s synthesis report presents a blueprint for a radical alteration of the Church’s daily life, in that it refuses to present Church teaching on the controversial moral issues and argues for a parliamentary style democracy of equality between laity and clergy, and continues the process of undermining the authority of bishops.
The Synod on Synodality now proceeds at the local level once more, with concerns of faithful Catholics remaining unabated.