The Instrumentum Laboris is divided into two sections. The first summarizes insights from the continental assemblies and outlines what a synodal Church is and how it should proceed. The second section is a series of 15 worksheets with questions for discernment.
The worksheets will be used to guide the small-group discussions of the October assembly. The small groups, also called Circuli Minores, will alternate with plenary sessions where all synod participants are together.
The last part of the October gathering will focus on deciding the Church’s next steps and “the necessary in-depth theological and canonical studies in preparation” for a second assembly in October 2024.
“The Synodal Assembly of October 2023 will be asked to listen deeply to the situations in which the Church lives and carries out its mission,” the document states.
“What it means to walk together gains its missionary urgency when this question is asked in a particular context with real people and situations in mind,” it continues. “What is at stake is the ability to proclaim the Gospel by walking together with the men and women of our time, wherever they are, and practicing the catholicity that emerges from walking together with the Churches that live in conditions of particular suffering.”
Among the priorities outlined in the document is the role of women in the Church. One of the “worksheets” included with the text proposes the following question for discernment: “Most of the Continental Assemblies and the syntheses of several Episcopal Conferences call for the question of women’s inclusion in the diaconate to be considered. Is it possible to envisage this, and in what way?”
The synod document also proposes the following as suggestions for prayer and preparatory reflection: “How can we create spaces where those who feel hurt by the Church and unwelcomed by the community feel recognized, received, free to ask questions, and not judged? In the light of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, what concrete steps are needed to welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality (for example, remarried divorcees, people in polygamous marriages, LGBTQ+ people, etc.)?”
Another question recommended for prayer and reflection refers to the discipline of priestly celibacy. “As some continents propose, could a reflection be opened concerning the discipline on access to the priesthood for married men, at least in some areas?” the document asks.
The text makes repeated reference to “tensions” that have emerged through the synodal process, but it points to these as a positive and necessary part of discerning the Church’s path.
“We should not be frightened by them, nor attempt at any cost to resolve them, but rather engage in ongoing synodal discernment,” the document says. “Only in this way can these tensions become sources of energy and not lapse into destructive polarizations.”
Authority in the Church
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The “exercise of authority in the Church” emerges as a major theme in the Instrumentum Laboris with the word “authority” appearing more than 50 times in the text.
“In every age, the exercise of authority and responsibility within the Church is influenced by the prevailing management models and imagery of power in society,” the text observes. “How can we become aware of this and exercise an evangelical discernment of the prevailing practices of exercising authority, in the Church and in society?”
One proposed question for discernment for the Synod of Bishops asks “what can we learn about the exercise of authority and responsibility from other Churches and ecclesial communities?”
Another question asks: “How can we deal constructively with cases in which those in authority feel they cannot confirm the conclusions reached by a community discernment process, taking a decision in a different direction? What kind of restitution should that authority offer to those who participated in the process?”
Still another question poses: “What stimuli from indigenous, minority, and oppressed cultures can help us to rethink our decision-making processes?”
The text also proposes discerning how the awareness that a synodal Church needs co-responsibility and transparency can “form the basis for the reform of institutions, structures, and procedures, so as to strengthen change over time.” In particular, it mentions an expressed desire for “more participatory selection procedures, especially with regard to the selection of bishops.”