The document called for bishops to exercise their mandate to teach, govern, and sanctify through greater engagement with members of their local community. Concrete proposals included establishing “structures and processes for the verification of the bishop’s work” and making diocesan pastoral councils canonically mandatory.
The assembly also called for a review of the criteria used to pick new bishops, incorporating broader consultation in the process, including greater input from laymen and women. And the importance of forming seminarians in a more synodal strain of pastoral engagement was also emphasized.
Ecclesial discernment and ‘open questions’
The assembly also proposed reconsidering the way the Church discerns “controversial” issues and “open questions,” a loaded topic that may raise concerns about the diminishment of the episcopacy’s charism for authoritatively teaching.
“Some issues, such as those related to gender identity and sexual orientation, the end of life, difficult marital situations, and ethical issues related to artificial intelligence, are controversial not only in society but in the Church because they raise new questions,” the document stated.
The report went on to suggest that the Church’s anthropological categories are sometimes “not sufficient to grasp” complexities that emerge through personal experience and scientific inquiry.
As a response, the document called for the promotion of “initiatives that allow for shared discernment on doctrinal, pastoral, and ethical issues that are controversial” in “light of the word of God, Church teaching, theological reflection, and valuing the synod experience.” The text proposed that a confidential meeting of experts on these controversial issues, possibly with the inclusion of those who directly experience them, should be initiated, with an eye toward next October’s assembly.
Relatedly, the document also said that “synodal processes” can verify when the faithful are in consensus (the “consensus fidelium”) on a given issue, which “is a sure criterion for determining whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the apostolic faith.”
While Catholic teaching affirms that the faithful cannot err in matters of belief when they manifest universal consent, many theologians and bishops warn about the inadequacy of attempting to gauge this through formalized consultation.
In a move signaling openness to decentralizing the Church’s teaching authority, the document proposed further exploration of “the doctrinal and juridical nature” of bishops’ conferences, recognizing the possibility of doctrinal decision-making “in the local sphere.” The synod also proposed giving episcopal conferences more authority over liturgy.
Synodality across the board
The assembly’s other proposals applied the concept of synodality across a host of Church issues and activities.
For instance, on the topic of the Church’s engagement with the poor, the document proposed that “the experience of encounter, sharing a common life and serving those living in poverty and the marginalized” should be “integral” in Christian formation.
“It is a requirement of faith, not an optional extra,” the text read, also recommending that diaconal ministry be “more evidently oriented” toward serving the poor.
Regarding Christian unity, the text included proposals to establish a common date for the celebration of Easter for all Christians and to “compile an ecumenical martyrology.”
Enhancing the formation and support of “digital missionaries” was also highlighted as a way of reaching young people distant from the Church. The assembly also recommended implementing the “conversation in the Spirit” method, which involves intentional, prayerful group listening and was used at the synod, into other areas of Church life.
The synod report included the recommendation to establish new Church ministries or the expansion of existing ones. The ministry of lector, the document says, could become “a true ministry of the word of God,” which, “in appropriate contexts, could also include preaching.” The document also proposed a ministry “assigned to married couples” that would assist family life and those preparing for marriage.
A “baptismal ministry of listening and accompanying” is also suggested at the end of a section emphasizing the importance of listening to groups that have been harmed by or excluded from the Church, including victims and survivors clerical sex abuse.
“Authentic listening is a fundamental element of the journey toward healing, repentance, justice, and reconciliation.”
Setting the stage
According to its introduction, the 2023 assembly’s summary report “is in no way a final document” but will be used as the basis of the Synod on Synodality’s final stage — another Vatican assembly in October 2024. That assembly is expected to produce a final text that will be presented to the pope for his consideration.
“This is an experience that does not finish today but will continue,” Grech said.
Hollerich noted that he hopes next year’s document makes more concrete proposals but said that “even that document will be a step of a Church on the move.”
“And that’s the important thing, I think. That we move.”
In the meantime, synod members will return to their respective dioceses, where they have been tasked to get feedback on the summary report and to foster a synodal culture.
“I think people will leave tomorrow or the day after tomorrow going home with a heart full of hope, with a lot of ideas, and I’m looking forward to seeing them back next year,” Hollerich said.