HomeNewsPope Francis seeks local Church involvement in decision-making process

Pope Francis seeks local Church involvement in decision-making process

The next Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023, will be celebrated in the Vatican and in every parish and diocese around the world

Pope Francis has decided to give local communities a bigger role in the decision-making process of the Church as the Vatican announced a three-phase process prior to the Synod of Bishops in 2023.

A “synod” is a meeting of bishops gathered to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope.

Cardinal Mario Grech, general secretary for the Synod of Bishops, said the pope, however, wanted that “every voice might be heard.”

“The decision-making process in the Church always begins with listening,” said the cardinal in an interview with Vatican News.

With the changes, the next Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023, will not only be celebrated in the Vatican but in every parish and diocese following a three-year itinerary.

The synod will simultaneously open in the Vatican and in every diocese throughout the world in October 2021.

It will then go through a “diocesan phase,” from October 2021 until April 2022, and then a “continental phase,” from September 2022 through March 2023.

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The process will conclude in “the universal Church phase” at the Vatican with the synod of bishops in October 2023.

Originally scheduled for October 2022, the meeting has been postponed for a year to allow time for “mutual listening” and discernment in local churches at the diocesan and continental levels.

Synod of Bishops in Rome (Photo by Vatican News)

Cardinal Grech said that the Apostolic Constitution, “Episcopalis communio,” released by Pope Francis in 2018 has transformed the synod “from an event into a process.”

The synod has always been an “ecclesial event … involving the bishops who were members of the assembly,” said the cardinal.

“Whilst the synod before consisted of and in the celebration of the assembly, now each assembly of the synod develops in successive phases, which the constitution calls the ‘preparatory phase, the celebratory phase, and the implementation phase,’” said Cardinal Grech.

He said Pope Francis “strongly insists on listening to the ‘sensus fidei’ of the People of God.”

“The Second Vatican Council teaches that the People of God participate in the prophetic office of Christ,” said the cardinal.

“Therefore, we must listen to the People of God, and this means going out to the local churches,” Cardinal Grech added.

During the diocesan phase of the synod, each bishop is asked to undertake a consultation process with the local Church.

The Vatican will send dioceses a preparatory document, accompanied by a questionnaire and a “vademecum,” or “handbook,” with proposals for consultation.

Superior generals, unions and federations of consecrated life, international lay movements, and Catholic universities will also be sent this questionnaire and “vademecum.”

The Vatican will then release a working document in September 2022 for a period of “pre-synodal discernment in continental assemblies.”

The theme for the upcoming Synod of Bishops is “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.”

Pope Francis has been discussing the concept of “synodality” in previous meetings with bishops since 2018.

Synodality, as defined by the International Theological Commission in 2018, is “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God.”

The term is generally understood in the Church to refer to a process of discernment, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, involving bishops, priests, religious, and lay Catholics, each according to the gifts and charisms of their vocation.

The Synod of Bishops in Rome (Vatican News Photo)

The Synod of Bishops was established in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, who hoped that the synod would encourage close union between the pope and the world’s bishops.

Ordinary synods happen every three years on issues voted upon by synod delegates elected or appointed from each continent, and from certain Vatican offices.

There have been 15 ordinary synods to date. There are also extraordinary synods and special synods.

The synod that took place in October 2019 was a special Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region. Following that synod, the pope stressed that “synodality is an ecclesial journey that has a soul that is the Holy Spirit.”

For this upcoming synod, Cardinal Grech said that the General Secretariat wanted “to allow everyone to make his or her voice heard, that listening is the true ‘pastoral conversion’ of the Church.”

“God willing, one of the fruits of the Synod is that we might all understand that a decision-making process in the Church always begins with listening, because only in this way can we understand how and where the Spirit wants to lead the Church,” said the cardinal.

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