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Synod, October 6: discussion of 1st topic nears close; Vatican spokesman says participants may speak with media

October 07, 2023

On October 6, the third day of the first session of the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, synod participants gathered together to listen to reports from the small working groups (circuli minores) on the results of their deliberations on the Synod’s first module, “For a synodal Church: An integral experience.”

The Synod’s first module guides the Synod’s agenda until October 7. The first session of the Synod concludes on October 29; the results of the Synod’s first session will form the agenda of the Synod’s second session in October 2024.

Under the Synod’s rules, each working group produced a two-page report approved by a majority of the members of the working group. Each group elected a rapporteur to deliver the group’s report, with a three-minute time limit for each rapporteur’s intervention. Eighteen of the 35 groups had delivered their reports on October 6 by the time of the press briefing, and 22 synod participants delivered individual interventions.

During the pontificates of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the interventions (speeches) of the Synod fathers were routinely published as the various synods took place. Under Pope Francis, synods became less transparent and more confidential: interventions were not published, but the reports of the working groups were published, and Synod participants were free to speak to the press. The Synod on Synodality is the least transparent in recent memory: interventions are not published, reports of the individual working groups have not been published, and the Pope requested media “fasting.”

As a result, the daily Synod press briefing, led by Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the Dicastery for Communication and president of the Commission for Information of the Synodal Assembly, has been the principal source of information on the Synod participants’ deliberations.

Press briefing

During the October 6 press briefing, Ruffini listed numerous topics discussed by Synod participants:

  • “the formation of everyone, starting with seminarians, then of priests, laity, and catechists”
  • “the Church as a family, where everyone has a place”
  • prayer
  • “the role of women, of laity, of ordained and non-ordained ministries”
  • the centrality of the Eucharist and the Word of God
  • the importance of the poor “as an option for the Church”
  • migration: “the need for the accompaniment of migrants and the service of the bishop as pastor, fundamental in this accompaniment”
  • abuse
  • persecuted Christians
  • “a revision of Church structures such as the Code of Canon Law, the size of the Curia and, again, formation”
  • “rhe importance of promoting the role of women in the Church and of their active participation in the different processes”
  • “the East-West relationship, citing John Paul II and his historic phrase about the Church having to breathe with ‘two lungs’“
  • young people
  • Ukraine—a reference to which elicited applause, said Ruffini
  • “the theme of repairing the Church emerged ... Those who put themselves at service repair the Church, serve the diagnosis and prognosis and read the signs of the times with a pure heart”
  • “the importance of stripping ourselves of everything that does not resemble Christ, as a Church and as believers” and of everything that “does not conform to the Gospel”
  • the risk of “hoarding power instead of the need to live service”

Sheila Pires, a spokeswoman for the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, also took part in the press briefing. She spoke about the conviviality and mutual listening among Synod participants and said that they discussed “the Church as a family that welcomes everyone.”

Ruffini added that a book on holiness and corruption would be given to Synod participants. The book contains two texts: one written by Pope Francis during his papacy, the other written by him before he became Pope.

Press interviews

According to the Synod’s rules, “each of the participants is bound to confidentiality and discretion regarding both their own interventions and the interventions of other participants.” In his October 4 address to the Synod, Pope Francis said:

Then, I want to say that in this Synod—also to make room for the Holy Spirit—the priority should be to listen. This is the priority. We have to give a message to the press, to the journalists, who do very fine, very good work. We have to provide a communication that reflects this life in the Holy Spirit. This requires an asceticism—pardon me for speaking this way to the journalists—a certain fasting from public speech in order to ensure this. Let whatever is published be in this vein. Some will say—and are saying—that the bishops are afraid and that is why they don’t want the journalists talking. No. The work of journalists is very important. But we have to help them so that they can also speak of this journeying in the Spirit.

On October 5, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, a Synod participant and prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (2012-2017), appeared on EWTN—leading to the charge that the senior prelate had defied Pope Francis. Ruffini clarified that Synod participants are free to use their own discretion in speaking with the press.

The Synod, said Ruffini, is a time of “discernment in silence. There is no gendarme who punishes you... It is an assembly of brothers and sisters who have given themselves a time of suspension. There is a personal discernment requested by the Pope to the members, and also to you [journalists] in explaining what we are talking about.”

This “discernment,” said Ruffini, “is left to each person.”

Earlier coverage


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