The Synod Long Game? Changing Structure to Change Doctrine

Will the Synod on Synodality result in changes to established Church teaching?

The question has dogged the global consultative process, which is wrapping up the first of two Vatican assemblies this weekend. Despite organizers’ underscoring that doctrinal change is not the aim of the synod, members of the media have pushed a narrative that the Synod on Synodality could in fact lead to big changes in Church teaching. And reports from inside Paul VI Hall confirm that some members have indeed called for changes to established doctrine on matters like same-sex sexual relations and male-only holy orders.

But some participants may be using the synodal process to try to change something arguably even more fundamental: the way the Church determines its doctrine altogether.Grounded in a contested understanding of the Second Vatican Council, this approach arguably diminishes the teaching authority of bishops by making institutionalized consultation a primary and necessary criterion for decision-making — including decisions on Catholic doctrine.

Changing Church structures, a topic of discussion at the Synod on Synodality, is considered a vital step for securing this objective. It’s an approach that has been identified by some of its proponents as a possible blueprint for attempting to change established teaching — including doctrine related to ordination and human sexuality. And within the synod assembly this October, some Synod on Synodality participants, including key theological advisers, have been advocating for it.

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