As Minnesota synod begins, archbishop says Church is listening

St Pauls Cathedral in Minnesota Credit bhathaway  Shutterstock  1 St. Paul’s Cathedral in Minnesota. | bhathaway / Shutterstock.

The Catholic Church in Saint Paul and Minneapolis has begun a series of "prayer and listening events" to help prepare for the 2021 archdiocesan synod.

In an interview with Relevant Radio, released Wednesday, Archbishop Bernard Hebda explained his hopes for the synod to be an opportunity for "listening together" as an archdiocese.

"It should be that opportunity not just for me to be listening … but the people will be listening to each other and that together we can go deeper in our sense of how it is the Holy Spirit is working in our Church, and how it is that we are going to be able to be that image of the body of Christ," he said.

Listening to one another is a key element for a successful synod - whether it be the synod of bishops meeting in Rome, or a diocesan synod, he said.

The archbishop is hopeful that parishioners will share issues that are important to them, including the needs and goals of the people in the archdiocese.

"They'll be able to give us an assessment of what's going well, what's not going so well. What is it that they'd like to see the Church doing in the next ten years, and how it is that they think we might be able to accomplish that," he said.

Over the summer, Hebda announced that the synod would be held on Pentecost weekend, May 2021 - the first synod for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis since 1939. The archbishop said he wants to identify pastoral priorities and help foster a "listening Church."

"I have been hearing Pope Francis' repeated articulation of the need for us to be a 'listening Church.' While stressing that 'discernment is a gift of the Spirit to the Church, to which she responds with listening,' he has concretely modeled for us how a more intentional 'listening' might work in discerning and establishing pastoral priorities," Hebda said in a June 6 letter announcing the synod.

To accomplish this, the archdiocese will hold 20 "prayer and listening" events. The first gathering occurred on Sept. 24 and the second one will take place on Sept. 28. Archbishop Hebda and Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens attended the first session and are expected to attend all future prayer events, which are open to everyone.

In the interview with Relevant Radio, Hebda said he expects a few hundred people for each event. He also stressed the importance of prayer, noting that each gathering will spend half of its time in reflection and worship.

"The first half of the time that we are spending together is really an opportunity to call down the gifts of the Holy Spirit so we are going to be listening to some scripture readings [and] there is going to be some music to help us lift our hearts in praise," he said.

After prayer and reflection, participants will be invited to identify areas of struggle and success within the archdiocese, he said. Attendees will be asked to submit their opinions in a written form and will also be able to express their concerns vocally.

Hebda said all of the written comments will be organized by topic, which will be reviewed by an archdiocesan team. After these prayer events and a dozen more focused discussions, he said, the church will be able to recognize significant patterns in the archdiocese and act accordingly.

"It is going to be a big process taking in information, collating it, and then beginning that prayerful assessment of where do we see trends, where do we see commonality, where has there been [public approval]," he told Relevant Radio.

"Our hope as an archdiocesan synod is to be looking at the particularities of our archdiocese and being able to respond in a concrete way to those, trying always to be faithful to what we know is the teaching of Christ and his Church," he added.

An official with the archdiocese told CNA in June that the the synod is also an opportunity for healing and discussions on moving forward after the sex abuse claims that led the archdiocese to declare bankruptcy in 2015.

The claims were filed under new state legislation that opened a temporary window for older claims to be heard in civil court. In addition, former Archbishop John Nienstedt stepped down in 2015 after the diocese was charged with mishandling cases of child sexual abuse.

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Archbishop Hebda announced in May of last year a $210 million settlement package for victims of sexual abuse. He has said there are no plans for additional parish appeals to help fund the settlements, saying last June that most of the settlement money – $170 million – would come from the archdiocese's insurance and from money already collected from parish appeals.

The settlement, announced after more than two years' deliberation, includes a plan for abuse compensation as well as for bringing the archdiocese out of bankruptcy. The amount is an increase of more than $50 million from the proposal that the archdiocese had originally submitted.

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