Confessions of a Synod Reporter

I’ve been here in Rome covering the Synod on Youth for about two weeks now.  I have a couple of confessions to make.

My first confession is that while I have been trying to raise the topic of LGBT issues at the press briefings here, I have to acknowledge that LGBT issues do not appear to be a main topic of the synod.  I was surprised to realize this because I know that for many youth around the globe, LGBT equality is a major concern of theirs.  And the list of bishop delegates has included a number of bishops with strong opinions on LGBT issues, many of them positive views.

But, unlike the Synod on the Family three years ago (which, to make another confession, is the only other synod I have been to), the discussion at this synod seems to be about broad, general, high-level questions, not particular issues.  At the Synod on  the Family in  2015, the conversation was dominated by particular issues:  communion for the divorced/remarried, co-habitation, LGBT families, contraception, and so on.  Here at the synod on youth, the discussion has been centering on topics like listening, accompaniment, discernment, vocation.

I guess I should not have been surprised since the synod’s formal title is “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”  More about this title’s framing later.

So, if it seems to Bondings 2.0 readers that LGBT topics are important at the synod, that may be because that is what I am specifically reporting on.  Other particular issues have emerged besides the broader, more abstract topics I mentioned above.  Since this is a global synod, migration is receiving a lot of discussion.  Bishops from countries in the developing world are rightly concerned about the fact that so many of their youth leave their homelands for education and employment opportunities.

The influence of digital and social media, both positively and negatively, is also a primary focus here.  Synod delegates are very focused on how church leaders and ministers can use electronic media effectively to influence the faith development of young people.  Since digital media is ubiquitous in the lives of the younger generation, this is an important focus for discussion.

Reporters only hear about what is brought up at the synod meeting itself (no press are allowed in during the sessions) if someone mentions it at a press briefing or from the very few texts of the synod participants’ talks that are released to the press.  For instance, today Anastasia Indrawan, a youth auditor from Indonesia, released the text of her talk, and she mentioned that Indonesian Catholic youth want to “embrace those who are in poverty and marginalized such as teenage parents and HIV/AIDS community, LGBT.  They are as human as we all are.”

Now, as for the synod’s title, it obviously was a deliberate choice of focus by the synod organizers.  However, the high-level focus of the title seems to have moved the discussion away from sexuality or other tangible, concrete topics (migration and digital media are the exceptions).

This omission may be a good thing because I don’t think this synod would be able to say something positive about sexuality, particularly LGBT issues.  Any references to LGBT issues have been minor, guarded, and hedged:  “We welcome everybody, but in regards to sex. . . .”   I would not expect this synod to make any statement in regard to changing church teaching on LGBT issues.  That’s not its focus.  And, from what I can discern, opinions on this matter would probably be more inclined to be conservative rather than progressive.  But, it would be nice, and it could be possible for the synod to make some sort of non-conditioned affirming statement of LGBT people and young people’s concerns about equality.

My second confession is that while my reporting has generally been about LGBT and some of the other topics, this synod appears to be much more about process than topics.  What I mean is that it seems that the synodal experience is helping at least some of the bishop delegates to realize how much they need to listen to youth–and others–in the church to tell them about the modern world.  If this goal is achieved, it can have a great impact on how our church operates: a listening church.

In Episcopalis Communio, a document about institution of the synod which Pope Francis released a few weeks before the meeting opened, the pope expressed hope for exactly this kind of church:

“Similarly, the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: ‘For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us’.[23]

“Although structurally it is essentially configured as an episcopal body, this does not mean that the Synod exists separately from the rest of the faithful. On the contrary, it is a suitable instrument to give voice to the entire People of God, specifically via the Bishops, established by God as ‘authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church’,[24] demonstrating, from one Assembly to another, that it is an eloquent expression of synodality as a ‘constitutive element of the Church’.[25]

At Monday’s press briefing, U.S. Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said that he (and other bishop participants) would like to see the synodality process take place at every level in the church–nations, dioceses, parishes. It will be up to the bishops who have participated in this particular synod, he said, to bring that methodology home with them and put it into practice.

Along the lines of process, this synod seems to be making major strides in terms of at least some substantial progress in allowing women greater participation in the synod.  A number of bishops seem to have recognized the fiasco they are in this time around since two non-ordained religious brothers have been given the authority to vote, but the religious sisters have not been granted that privilege.  This unjust omission has prompted at least one bishop to call for a synod about women in the church.  A good idea, but such a meeting will be doomed if men are the predominant participants at it.  A smaller, more realistic step has been proposed by the Union of Superiors General (men) and the International Union of Superiors General (women).  The National Catholic Reporter stated that the two groups are preparing a proposal for Pope Francis to allow women a greater role at future synods.

My third confession is that while I try to keep up with everything going on here at the synod, especially in regard to LGBT issues, I must admit that I am sometimes  a day or two behind in getting the information out to you.  There is just so much news and commentary to keep up with–and in more than several languages!  I’m doing my best to get items out to you as quickly as possible, and I promise to get it all out by the end off the synod on  October 28th.  (There may be double postings a day.)

A corollary to this third confession is that because covering the synod has been a marathon, Bondings 2.0 has had to postpone other Catholic LGBT news and opinion.  We are trying to cover only the most important stories.  We will return to our regular daily coverage once the synod and its aftermath are over.

My last confession:  it is  pretty amazing to go to work at the Vatican every day!

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 23, 2018




9 replies
  1. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    When you think of the set-apart life of bishops–their seminary formation, their rectory lives, their office lives, the sense of proprietorship for the Church, the deference they are afforded, don’t you wonder if they are capable of taking in the points of view of others outside their own culture? We are talking about a “synodal” church? The image of the church is to be a body of bishop decision-makers in uniform regalia, listening to the other members in order to care for them? No matter how good hearted a bishop may be, I fear that position prevents him from partnering with equals for a mission beyond them all. I hope I am wrong since the episcopacy is “constituitive of the Church.” I’d like to hear how leaders of other church denominations with episcopal structures think about the culture of RC bishops. Anyone know?

    • Kris
      Kris says:

      You’ve hit a nail on its head.

      The bishops most certainly do not regard the laity as their equals (nor do priests in general) and, therefore, will never dialogue dependently upon them, in order to become that instument Pope Francis forlornly hopes for: one that lends voice to the People of God.

      Until the theology of ecclesial synodality is revised and rewritten along Presbyterian or Anglican lines the voice of God through the Church proper will largely be muted,

  2. Casey Lopata
    Casey Lopata says:

    Frank, thanks for your thoroughly thoughtful discernment from an overall perspective. It’s helpful in piecing together the more detailed reports. Keep up the good work!

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Ms. Ruddy, I do not know you, but I second what you said and add the difference about bishops in other denominations is that RC hierarchy are not married, which immensely adds to their lack of contact with the real world. Ask a bishop what a loaf of bread costs. Ask a bishop how he handles the situation when his child comes out as lesbian or reveals she is pregnant with no husband. Indeed ask the whole synod how many of them have ever met a transgender person. I would like to see that show of hands. Bishops used to be community leaders, now they are overseers. What would Christ do?

    Frank I greatly appreciate your special work and hope you find time to enjoy the restaurants of Rome as well.

  4. David Kiester
    David Kiester says:

    As septuagenarian gay male who is still involved in ministry and work in a helping profession, I have been particularly attentive to the alienation younger people feel about organized religion. At the same time, these generations profess a meaningful spirituality and a reverence for all God’s creation – especially people who don’t look or believe as we do. The Synod seems to be struggling in the same way the Tradition is struggling. The Synod’s defense is to keep to esoteric philosophical topics, behind closed doors, and not “get dirty in the trenches.” “Trenches” are where people are. That’s where accompaniment is needed. I strongly believe that obliterating clericalism is the necessary first step. Our sibling traditions provide us a model. The hierarchy is not abandoned but supplemented. To ignore that the Holy Spirit can and does inform and engage non-clerics is an apostasy. It should be considered heresy in my opinion.

  5. Friends
    Friends says:

    Just to observe: I find the stock photo of a dominant priest in a confessional on one side of a screen, and a purported humble penitent on the other side of the screen, very off-putting. What makes more sense to me is to discuss my problems, issues and observations with our UMass Newman Center priests via email. And, yes, they do indeed respond thoughtfully and helpfully via email as well. Vesting priests with an attitude of clerical domination, as portrayed in that photo, strikes me as rather obnoxious and counterproductive. I’d be interested to hear our other readers’ opinions about this conundrum.

  6. David Kiester
    David Kiester says:

    I have many priests among my friends and acquaintances. This includes priests who are gay. My experience is that individually they are motivated by charity and enmeshed with compassion. Nonetheless that doesn’t negate the fact that the structure of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the hierarchy and magisterium isn’t riddled by clericalism and mysogeny.


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