Catholics have lots of opinions about their church these days, from preaching to polarization. So imagine what happens when you ask 700,000 what they think.
That’s how many Americans took part in listening sessions that were part of a consultation for the next world Synod of Bishops in 2023.
Called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” the synod on synodality, when first announced, inspired more of a “synodal what?” than a “here’s what’s on my mind.”
But according to the recently released “national synthesis,” which brought together feedback from 178 dioceses and 112 organizations for a total of 22,000 individual reports, Catholics got over their puzzlement and sounded off: the good, the bad, the concerning.
As would be expected about almost any endeavor in the church these days, the process has had its critics. Are we hearing from disgruntled factions rather than a representative sampling? Are disengaged or alienated Catholics having too much of a say?
Pope Francis would suggest that the doubters were failing to trust the Holy Spirit, and that listening is not legislating. It is encountering.
The report is neither long nor boring. It addresses the many wounds in the church, starting with the sexual abuse crisis. “The sin and crime of sexual abuse have eroded not only trust in the hierarchy and the moral integrity of the church, but also created a culture of fear that keeps people from entering into relationship with one another,” it summarized.
Catholics expressed concern about the impact of the pandemic and worried about divisions over the traditional Latin Mass. Both advocates for that Mass and those who prefer the Mass most commonly celebrated in most parishes “reported feeling judged by those who differ from them.”
A lack of unity among the bishops was called “a source of grave scandal.” There was also concern about marginalized groups, ranging from immigrants, the unborn and mothers, the disabled, the unmarried and remarried outside the church, and gay and lesbian Catholics.
There is a lot in the report to mull over, which has now made its way to Rome. If you would like to read the report for yourself, go to www.usccb.org/synod.
One area I found particularly of interest was communications. There seemed a broad desire for “improvement in communication” throughout the church, from the chancery to the parish to the parishioners, and likewise a concern about the “spread of misinformation.”
The report also linked communication with transparency and accountability. Clearly, Catholic journalism can play a role in both, if journalists can be trusted to do their jobs.
It is difficult for organizations to be self-transparent and self-accountable, which is where the press comes in. The steady shrinkage of the Catholic press, especially diocesan press, also raises a concern about trustworthy sources of information.
The reports “lamented the challenge of identifying responsible Catholic media.” Social media and the internet are often the only media available, yet they can be divisive and sensationalist, focused more on “hot-button issues” than the church’s “consistent ministry.” And discerning what is true and false, good or bad, in what’s online takes effort.
We will be hearing much more about the synod on synodality in the months to come. My hope is that a recovered appreciation for the value of Catholic journalism and Catholic media will be one of its fruits.
At its best, Catholic media provides a daily, weekly or monthly opportunity to listen, to see the people of God in action and to learn how to share our gifts with each other and society. In many ways, Catholic media embody the synod’s theme: Communion, participation, mission.
Greg Erlandson is director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.