Archdiocese releases synthesis of local synodal reports
BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese of Boston released its "Archdiocesan Synthesis" of the local process for the Synod on Synodality on Nov. 16. The document can be viewed on the archdiocesan website at bit.ly/BostonSynthesis.
In the announcement of the release of their synthesis, the archdiocese said, "This Synod was a Synod on Synodality. Therefore, the primary aim of the synod was to help us to talk about and to develop better skills in listening deeply to one another."
About 30 parishes and local Catholic groups held training and information sessions for this process and submitted reports of their findings. These were collected by West Region Auxiliary Bishop Robert Reed; Father Paul Soper, archdiocesan secretary for evangelization and discipleship; and Sister Pat Boyle, associate director of pastoral planning.
Most parishes held their meetings from April through June of 2022, though the pre-Synod phase lasted from August of 2021 through July of 2022. In these sessions, parish leaders learned about the best ways to have conversations with people, especially between those who disagree with each other.
They learned about "serene" or "contemplative" listening, which Father Soper described in a Nov. 18 interview as listening without mentally crafting a response at the same time. It involves simply listening to the speaker while they talk, and when they are done, pausing to reflect before responding.
"It slows conversations way down, but those conversations are about substantial things. It's okay for them to be slowed down, and for the conversation to take up more of our time and more of our thought," Father Soper said.
Bishop Reed also conducted listening sessions with survivors of clergy sexual abuse. In light of the Archdiocese of Boston's history and experience working with survivors, they decided to devote about half of the document to their feedback.
The synthesis noted that "most parishioners who participated in the Synod sessions were pleased to have the opportunity to do so, and were hopeful, even though many were not optimistic that great change would come about as a result of the Synod."
The first section of the document was about what gives people joy and causes them concern in the Church. Respondents cited the sacraments, liturgies, a sense of parish community, and a commitment to diversity and social justice among the sources of joy.
They said sources of concern include the lack of priests, the role of women, the lack of young people, scandals, the lack of transparency and accountability, disagreement about the Traditional Latin Mass, and the marginalization of various groups within the Church.
One parish reported an "almost universal" feeling of "confusion and/or frustration caused by inconsistent, ambiguous, and at times contradictory messaging" from clergy, bishops, and the Vatican.
"It is very difficult for Catholics today to know what makes a Catholic a Catholic. Are there things one must do, or NOT do, to be able to identify as a member of the Catholic faith community?" the document said.
The document's second section was about how the Church can do a better job of listening.
"While strategies for listening have to seep through all levels of our interactions, there is a sense that sessions dedicated to listening are key," the synthesis reported.
One point that emerged was the difference between putting people to work in a parish and actually listening to their needs.
"Our parishes can feel like they've engaged a lot of people if we have a lot of people doing tasks, and that's a good thing, that's an excellent thing, but that's not the same thing as listening to people. And listening to somebody sometimes can be a much harder thing than giving them a task," Father Soper said.
He emphasized the importance of humility and approaching conversations from an awareness "that we're all sinners."
"True listening can be a real act of humility," he said.
In the third section, survivors of clergy sexual abuse shared their experiences and hopes. They talked about why they stayed in the Church, why other survivors leave, how they have been treated, and how to work toward healing for individuals, families, and communities that have been hurt.
It was noted that "Some people are disgruntled that their priests aren't talking about it, and some people say, 'Why is it still being talked about?'"
A desire was expressed for priests to acknowledge the abuse scandals and share how they themselves are impacted.
One survivor was quoted as saying, "We don't want to live in the past, but to move forward you must acknowledge and recognize the past." Another said, "Silence for a survivor can hurt and be very loud."
Father Soper said that most of the issues raised during these sessions, as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' synodal findings from across the country, were not surprising.
"While the Church has certainly different characteristics (in) different parts of the country, the range of things that people are experiencing and the range of things people are concerned about is fairly universal," he said.
The USCCB has also released its findings, entitled the "National Synthesis of the People of God in the United States of America for the Diocesan Phase of the 2021-2023 Synod: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission," to the Holy See. Links to that document, in English and Spanish, can be found at www.usccb.org/resources/us-national-synthesis-2021-2023-synod.
The gathering for the Synod on Synodality will take place from 2023 to 2024. Typically, a synod is followed by a period of reflection, after which the Holy Father produces a letter about its findings.
"I think that's where we'll see a lot of the fruits of this reflected," Father Soper said.
He said they have "a hope that the synodal process has a long-term impact on the life of our parishes, and that the work the parishes did in listening to one another through these sessions will be ongoing."