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Pope plans lengthy consultation for Synod of Bishops

May 21, 2021

Pope Francis has altered the program for the Synod of Bishops, calling for a worldwide process of consultation: first at the diocesan level, then continental, before the final meeting of the Synod.

The new process will be put in place for the next meeting of the Synod. Originally scheduled for October 2022, the worldwide meeting of the bishops will be set back a year, to meet in Rome in October 2023.

The topic for the next Synod meeting is “synodality,” a key concept in the Pontiff’s vision for a decentralized model of Church governance. In a document outlining the new process, released on May 21, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops explained: “The fullness of the synodal process can only truly exist if the local churches are involved in the process.”

The new process calls for consultations in each dioceses, coordinated with the national episcopal conferences, with the results feeding into another round of consultations at the continental level, before a working document is drafted for the October 2023 meeting. Each round of consultations will involve its own preparations, its own staff, and its own working document.

In theory this process would allow for broader consultation among the world’s Catholics. However, the creation of new layers of bureaucracy— charged with liaison, coordination, and reporting, but with ample opportunity to guide the process in a preferred direction— could produce the opposite effect.

Pope Francis will formally open the Synod process in October, and every diocese is asked to begin its process at the same time. This phase will stretch through April 2022, with the national episcopal conferences working with the dioceses and with the Secretariat of the Synod in Rome. At the conclusion of this phase, each diocese will submit its conclusions to the episcopal conference, to be forwarded to the Secretariat. (A parallel reporting system will be set up for the Eastern Catholic churches.)

The next step, the “continental phase” of consultations, will stretch from September 2002 to March 2023, reflecting on the reports from the dioceses. The reports from this phase will again be submitted to the Secretariat, which will then prepare the working document for the Synod meeting in October.


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  • Posted by: feedback - May. 23, 2021 6:22 PM ET USA

    Why stop at synodality? Why not jump to parochialism?

  • Posted by: Retired01 - May. 22, 2021 2:50 PM ET USA

    Is the current synod in Germany and indication of things to come with a worldwide process? If we look at other synods called by Pope Francis such as the synods on the Family and the Amazon, things do not look good for keeping the Church as One. May God have mercy on the Church!