A Word From Bishop Medley | Synod: A spiritual process of journeying together
In the last days of the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. Paul VI, having observed the fruits of the dialogues and conversation of this historic council, created a permanent Synod of Bishops. His intent was to create a structure by which the world’s bishops could send representatives to a gathering convened by the pope to continue the dialogue of the Church in fulfilling its mission. Since that time, there have been numerous general synods convened to explore topics such as justice and peace in the world, the Word of God, the Eucharist, priesthood, religious life, marriage and family.
Pope Francis has formally convened a synod with a much broader mandate. The subject for this synod will be synodality and it will unfold in phases from 2021 until 2023. Typically, synods of bishop representatives have met after extensive preparation for two to three weeks of prayers and conversation that has presumed some consultation in local churches around the world.
What is synodality? The preparatory document prepared by the Holy See for the forthcoming synod defines synodality as “the form, the style, and the structure of the Church.” Literally, the word “synod” means to journey together. Journeying together presupposes conversation and dialogue and respect. The Holy See’s accompanying handbook, called the Vademecum, notes, “The Synodal Process is first and foremost a spiritual process. It is not a mechanical data-gathering exercise or a series of meetings and debates. Synodal listening is oriented towards discernment.”
Pope Francis will formally convoke the synod in Rome the weekend of Oct. 9-10, 2021. He has asked all local bishops to share in that convocation on Sunday, Oct. 17. I will preside and preach at the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Stephen Cathedral to mark our local observance.
There is a defined process for conversation in local dioceses from October 2021 until April 2022. At that time the conversation will continue on national levels, in the United States through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The synod will continue in Rome in the fall of 2023.
In the Diocese of Owensboro, there was held a diocesan synod in 1991 that set forth planning and priorities for the local Church. The synodal process was employed more recently in regional conversations in anticipation of the 2014/2015 Synods of Bishops on the Family. Similar conversations were held in 2018 when the U.S. Church was reeling from scandalous revelations about clergy misconduct after the Pennsylvania grand jury report was published and the Vatican reported on the failure of the Church to act upon the misconduct of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Likewise, a synodal process furthered the work of the fifth Encuentro in creating a plan for evangelization for Hispanic and Latino Catholics.
The basic idea of synodality is a recognition that the grace of baptism makes one part of the body of the Church and, therefore, responsible for its life and mission. It means that the whole People of God, by their baptism, are called to be actors, are to participate in discernment. In a hierarchical Church, that shared responsibility calls for regular, serious, structural forms for listening to all members of the Church, particularly those who for various reasons find themselves on the margins. This is not to be mistaken, Pope Francis warns, with putting decisions to a vote as if a synod were a democratic parliament.
Much more information on how we will implement the synod on synodality in our diocese will be coming. At this moment, I call upon all the faithful to join our prayers with those of Pope Francis that the Holy Spirit will guide us as we journey together.
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the October 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.