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VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — The month-long Synod on Synodality has begun, with 464 members and 365 voters gathered in Rome for an event that has been in the works for over two years and could potentially cause a revolution in the Church.

As LifeSiteNews has reported, the synod officially began Wednesday morning, with Pope Francis presiding over a Mass in St. Peter’s Square. 

In order to keep LifeSiteNews readers updated, aside from LifeSite’s regular news coverage of notable events and statements regarding the Synod on Synodality, there will be a new series of regular reports coming direct to you from on the ground at the Vatican during the synod. These will be called the “Synodality Report,” which readers can find under this title and tag.

These reports, of which these lines form the first, will include the details that will be imparted to journalists by the Dicastery for Communication’s prefect in the press office – given that the synod is under somewhat of a media blackout. 

But they will also present to LifeSite’s readers the various other surrounding elements, discussions, rumors, background information and insights into the Synod on Synodality that will shed light on the event in a way the Vatican’s official briefings might not – a view from “behind the pillars,” if you will.

Press room briefing: Fraternity and canon law

After the first two days of discussions, meetings and individual presentations, members of the synod have already discussed a large variety of themes.

Dr. Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery of Communication, opened his October 6 briefing with the perhaps predictable comment that everyone in the Paul VI Audience Hall had highlighted the “fraternal climate in the synod.” “Of course, there are difficulties,” he added afterward.

READ: Cardinal Burke responds to dubia criticism, warns Synod aims to change Church’s structure

Ruffini said that some members had expressed “fears” regarding their “dialogue” with one another, “as if dialogue shakes up one’s identity, while on the contrary it’s an opportunity for an encounter.”

Next on the list was his statement that other members had spoken about “the Church as a family, and the role of families in the Church, saying that in the family there is always room for everyone.”

Thus far, thus expected: The script emerging from the synod is as one would expect it to be described.

Continuing, more controversial aspects were presented. Ruffini said how others had spoken of “the risk of a grabbing power” in the Church, and how “synodality” must be part of the Church’s “DNA.”

The synod documents have regularly raised the role of the laity in ecclesial governance, and this had come up in the Hall, said Ruffini. 

Some of the small circle groups – see here for the details of the composition of the synod – had spoken about the Roman Curia and possible reforms to Canon Law. Still more had raised the question of the role of women in the Church, and the “promotion of women in active decision making in the Church.”

The “role of priests in awakening the baptismal priesthood” had been raised while “clericalism” was referenced as making “synodality difficult when we forget the co-responsibility of all.” The “ordained priesthood and the non-ordained ministry” should be further “enhanced,” Ruffini said of the discussions, highlighting particularly the enhancement of the “non-ordained ministry.”

Behind the pillars: circular tables and microphones

Where the synod is being held is of particular note. 

Instead of the customary location of the Synod Hall, the Paul VI Audience Hall is being used so that the members can be seated around a series of circular tables, which is possible due to the size of the Audience Hall. 

This arrangement has been widely praised by liberal voices both in the press corps and among the synod participants. They say the circular tables and ready access between synod members represents the theme of “dialogue” which the Synod on Synodality is looking to promote.

Notwithstanding this, hierarchy undeniably remains. On the opening night, Pope Francis was flanked by the synod leaders, not seated with the rank and file of the synod members, and furthermore was seated at the only table to be raised on a platform. The Pope is the Pope after all and should be treated accordingly – but let’s not start thinking that synod member x, y, or z is going to have the “democratic” weight that Francis will ultimately hold. 

But more demonstrative of the still-present hierarchical structure was the relator general Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich’s opening speech: it was far from being a what is often a tedious procedure that is customary for introductory speeches that can often convey little import. 

READ: Pope Francis, Synod on Synodality leaders urge ‘harmony’ and ‘listening’ in opening speeches

He spoke about the importance of the vote for the final document and issued a thinly veiled order for a consensus on the vote. “In an ideal situation… it would be the joy of consolation which shows us that we have a new harmony and that we have found unity. The vote [for the text] should just be indicative,” Hollerich said with a smile, and in a break from his officially released remarks. 

The strings are being held in an apparent loose grip for now, but nevertheless still being held. 

Also – Cardinal Gerhard Müller has recently come under fire from some in the media. The outspoken critic of the synod gave an interview to EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo on October 5 in which he answered questions about the synod so far, giving his initial impressions. While Müller did not actually break the Vatican-imposed rule of “confidentiality” – in that he did not reveal any specific details of the synod members’ interventions – certain reporters were enraged. 

But Ruffini dashed hopes of some form of penalty being handed out to Müller, who is a former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instead, he said that “it is up to each individual to discern” how to keep the synod’s silence or not. 

Meanwhile, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin also spoke to the same media figures who criticized Müller, although escaping the ensuing hue and cry. He claimed the synod was “going well” and that the “Holy Spirit is breathing.”

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Michael Haynes is the Senior Vatican correspondent writing for LifeSiteNews. Originally from the North-West of England, he is a graduate of Thomas More College in New Hampshire, and has been very involved in pro-life activity and public campaigns defending Catholicism since childhood.

Michael writes on Per Mariam:Mater Dolorosa, and has authored works on Mariology (Mary the Motherly Co-Redemptrix), Catholic spirituality, and most recently published an apologetic work “A Catechism of Errors.” 

He regularly writes for the American TFP, and is published also by Catholic Family News. His work has been reproduced in a variety of outlets, and translated regularly into Italian and Spanish.

You can follow Michael on Twitter.