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The Synod on Synodality: A Revolutionary Approach or an Idealistic Dream?

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

The Synod on Synodality, a significant initiative by the Catholic Church, represents a transformative approach to ecclesiastical governance and decision-making. By understanding the goals and framework of the Synod, you can gain valuable insight into this vital movement.

The Synod's primary objective is to involve all the baptized in the Church's discernment and decision-making processes, fostering a culture of dialogue, mutual respect, and co-responsibility. This initiative is not merely about reaching a consensus on every issue but about creating a space where all voices can be heard, and all perspectives can be considered. The Synod's framework, encapsulated in the Synthesis Report, provides a roadmap for this journey, outlining the practice and understanding of synodality and its theological underpinning. These aspects are explored in detail below.

The Synod for Synodality has several key goals and operates within a specific framework:


1. Involvement of All Baptised: The Synod aims to involve all the baptized in the Church's discernment and decision-making processes. This is part of the Church's broader goal of fostering a culture of dialogue, mutual respect, and co-responsibility.

2. Promotion of Communion, Mission, and Participation: The Synod seeks to promote communion among all members of the Church, even in the face of differing views. It encourages all members to participate in the Church's mission and to contribute to the discernment and decision-making processes.

3. Continued Reflection and Discernment: The Synod aims to continue reflecting on the characteristic signs of a synodal Church and the dynamics of communion, mission, and participation that it contains. It also seeks to identify themes needing in-depth study and to take forward a preliminary set of proposals.


1. Synthesis Report: The Synod's work is summarised in a Synthesis Report, which collects the main elements that emerged in the dialogue, prayer, and discussion. This report is not a final document but an instrument for ongoing discernment.

2. Three-Part Structure: The Synthesis Report is structured in three parts. The first part outlines the practice and understanding of synodality and its theological underpinning. The second part deals with all those involved in the life and mission of the Church and their relationships with one another. The third part presents synodality as a set of processes and a network of bodies enabling exchange between the Churches and dialogue with the world.

3. Convergences, Matters for Consideration, and Proposals: Each part of the Synthesis Report brings together convergences, matters for consideration, and proposals that emerged from the dialogue. The convergences identify specific points that orientate reflection.

4. Instrumentum Laboris: The work of the Synod was carried out in accordance with the 'roadmap' laid down in the Instrumentum laboris. This document guided the Assembly's reflection on the characteristic signs of a synodal Church and the dynamics of communion, mission, and participation that it contains.

However, a critical examination of these goals and frameworks reveals certain areas of concern. The goals, while noble, may be overly idealistic and lack concrete strategies for their achievement. The framework, though detailed, lacks specificity in its implementation and does not adequately address potential challenges such as the handling of disagreements and the assurance of accountability. Furthermore, the assumption of unity and the overemphasis on dialogue could potentially hinder decisive action and clear guidance. Therefore, while the Synod on Synodality presents a promising vision for the Church's future, it is crucial to address these critiques to ensure its successful implementation.

1. Idealistic Goals: The goals of involving all baptized, promoting communion, mission, participation, and continued reflection and discernment are noble, but they may be overly idealistic. It's unclear how these goals will be achieved in practice, especially in a diverse Church that is spread across different cultures and societies.

2. Lack of Specificity: The framework described, including the Synthesis Report and the three-part structure, needs more specificity. How these elements will be implemented and contribute to the Synod's overall goal need to be clarified.

3. Evaluation of Synodal Processes: The proposal to evaluate the synodal processes at all levels of the Church is vague. It does not specify the evaluation criteria, who will conduct it, and how the results will be used.

4. Language and Accessibility: The proposal to pay renewed attention to the languages used to speak to people's minds and hearts is essential, but it does not address the practical challenges of translating theological concepts into languages and contexts that are diverse and complex.

5. Decentralisation: The proposal for a shared framework for managing and evaluating experimentations with forms of decentralization needs to be clarified. It does not specify what forms of decentralization are being considered, how they will be collected and assessed, and what roles the various actors will play.

6. Assumption of Unity: The framework assumes that all members of the Church will be willing to participate in the Synodal process and will be able to reach a consensus through dialogue. However, this may differ, especially on controversial doctrinal, pastoral, and ethical issues. The framework does not address how the Church should handle situations where consensus cannot be reached.

7. Overemphasis on Dialogue: While dialogue is essential, the framework places too much emphasis on it, potentially at the expense of decisive action. The Church is also responsible for providing clear guidance to its members, which may sometimes require taking a firm stance on specific issues rather than fostering dialogue.

What's next after the Syond?

In order to effectively address the above criticisms, the Church should strongly consider implementing the following recommendations:

1. The Church should develop concrete strategies and action plans to achieve the goals of the Synod. This could include training programs, workshops, and resources to facilitate dialogue and mutual respect among all members.

2. The Church should provide more specific guidelines on how the Synodal processes will be implemented. This could include a detailed timeline, roles and responsibilities of different actors, and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation.

3. The Church should establish clear criteria for evaluating the Synodal processes. This could include measures of participation, quality of dialogue, and impact on Church unity and mission.

4. The Church should invest in translation services and cultural adaptation to make theological concepts more accessible to people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. It should also provide training for Church leaders on how to communicate effectively in diverse contexts.

5. The Church should develop a clear framework for managing and evaluating decentralisation. This could include guidelines on decision-making authority, accountability mechanisms, and processes for conflict resolution.

6. The Church should acknowledge the potential for disagreement and conflict in the Synodal process and develop strategies for managing these situations. This could include conflict resolution training, facilitation services, and mechanisms for reaching consensus.

7. While dialogue is important, the Church should also provide clear guidance on controversial issues. This could include issuing official statements, providing resources for theological education, and facilitating discussions on these issues.

To achieve a more welcoming Church, it is crucial that we address the criticisms raised in response to the Synod on Synodality's vision. By doing so, we can work together towards the successful implementation of this promising vision and create a better future for all.

As we eagerly anticipate the Church's progress in dialogue towards mutual understanding and cooperation, the upcoming months hold great significance. However, if the recommendations put forth are not implemented, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the goals of the synod and adjust them to a more realistic level.

Fr. Viktor A.

09 November 2023

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