Have you heard about the Synod currently going on in Rome, but aren’t exactly sure what it means? Father Dave explains the history and discusses some aspects of the current Synod on Synodality.
This current Synod is a 3-year process of listening and dialogue which began on the local level in 2021. This October’s meetings mark the first of two month-long assemblies which feature 363 voting participants from around the world, including, for the first time, laypeople and women. The second assembly will occur in October of 2024.
Father Dave notes the location and format of these meetings. “They’re using the Paul VI audience hall, which is usually just Pope Francis up on the big stage in front,” he says, referring to the indoor location of the Pope’s general audiences. “They’ve converted it to where they have round tables, like you’d have at a wedding or conference, where you have small discussion groups.”
He dives into modern history of the Synod, which was originally limited to first only included bishops, and began after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Father Dave explains how, prior to this time, bishops would gather infrequently; they only would meet for large ecumenical councils, such as the Council of Trent or First Vatican Council. “You use that phrase when you’re saying goodbye, ‘Let’s not make it so long before the next time that we get together.’ Well, that’s what they said after Vatican II,” he says. “So that’s when they created mini gatherings, and they’re not mini that they’re smaller, but they have less authentic weight in terms of the teachings, doctrine, and dogma of the Church. Church councils have the highest level of Church authority, when all the bishops are gathered in what we call an ecumenical council.”
Regarding this current Synod on Synodality, Father Dave describes how the participants are reviewing prepared written materials in their round table discussions, but are not changing “major levels of dogma.” He says, “We believe that over the centuries, the Holy Spirit has continued to inspire us as to how we specifically live out Christ’s command in our modern age, in whatever century that we’re talking about…We’re not changing or making up teaching or getting rid of stuff, but it’s like, ‘How do we do this? How do we explain this?’”
For this particular Synod, the Vatican says participants are “bound to confidentiality and discretion” regarding what is discussed during a particular day’s meetings. Father Dave references a recent article from Crux writer John Allen Jr., regarding finding the right balance between transparency and “airing out dirty laundry.” Father Dave says, “I speak from experience that you try to fly up the middle, and some people are gonna say it’s too much of this and some will say it’s too much of that…when [the Synod participants] get to the business of looking at various documents, that’s up to them for now; at some point, that’ll become more public.”