Rhetoric vs. Reality in the Synod’s Working Document

Some Catholics may be reassured to learn that the working document for 2024 meeting the Synod on Synodality does not touch the most controversial issues that have been debated during months of preparations for the October session. But a closer reading of the instrumentum laboris reveals a frightening gap between the aspirations of the Synod organizers and the realities of Vatican governance under the leadership of Pope Francis.

Furthermore, the instrumentum does not provide a clear answer to the question that countless Catholics have been asking: What exactly does “synodality” mean? The closest approximation of an answer comes in the statement that synodality “involves reciprocal listening, dialogue, community discernment, and creation of consensus.” If a synodal Church is first and foremost a listening Church, we can expect that in October, Church leaders will once again be enjoined to listen to proposals for radical change in Catholic teaching and Catholic practice. So the fact that controversial issues are not addressed directly in the instrumentum is no guarantee that they will not be addressed during the October session.

True, the word “homosexual” does not appear anywhere in the instrumentum laboris. The document insists on including women in Church leadership, but specifically states that the question of ordaining women as deacons will not be addressed at the October session.

But these are not the only words conspicuously absent in the 30-page preparatory document. There is also not a single mention of marriage: surely a crucial document for the Church to address today. And when words such as “sin,” “sacrifice,” “salvation,” and “redemption” are also missing, the reader should realize that this document omits a hefty portion of the message preached by Christian evangelists throughout the ages.

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