Synod on Synodality: Anticipation and tensions brew ahead of synthesis report release  — By: Catholic News Agency

Delegates at the Synod on Synodality will vote on the assembly’s synthesis report on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. / Vatican News

Vatican City, Oct 27, 2023 / 09:50 am (CNA).

A summary report of this month’s synodal assembly in Rome is nearing finalization — with both anticipation and apprehension mounting over what the critical document might contain. 

A final version of the document, which is expected to synthesize the proceedings of the synod’s nearly monthlong focus on how the Catholic Church can better include all its members, will be presented to the assembly’s 363 voting members tomorrow morning. Synod members are expected to vote on approving the document Saturday afternoon, with a final official version slated for publication in the late evening. 

The summary document is expected to include points of consensus that have been reached within the assembly during its focus on themes like inclusiveness and Church governance, but also areas of disagreement. It has been described by organizers as merely “transitory,” with a “simple style” and a “relatively short” length of 40 pages. 

Although the synthesis document is not a final synodal report that will be presented to the pope, it is widely seen as a critical point of inflection, setting the stage for the final step of the Synod on Synodality, a multi-year, global consultation process initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021.  

The summary text will serve as a bridge between this month’s assembly and a second synodal gathering scheduled for October 2024, which in turn will offer concrete proposals to the Pope. 

Therefore, “transitory” or not, the document is highly significant, as it will close the door on some topics and points of view, while ensuring that others remain a part of the synodal conversation. 

Significant scrutiny 

Key questions remain over how the text will accurately represent the diversity of viewpoints that have emerged during four weeks of discussion — especially with widespread reports indicating the presence of significant tension inside the room, and concerns emerging over the process for making amendments to the text’s initial draft, which synod members received Wednesday morning. 

Outside of Paul VI Hall, the document’s expected contents have already become the source of significant media speculation, with some focusing on whether the document will “say anything new?” Others are more concerned about whether its description of the assembly’s views will accurately reflect what actually took place inside the synod hall — a difficult question to answer, given limited public access to the synod’s proceedings. 

Synod organizers are cognizant of the fact that significant outside scrutiny awaits the synthesis of the assembly’s work. 

“We are well aware that this Synod will be evaluated on the basis of the perceivable changes that will result from it,” noted Hollerich, the Synod on Synodality’s Relator General said Monday. 

Draft leaked 

Adding to the scrutiny surrounding the final document, a report based on an embargoed version of the initial draft was published yesterday, suggesting that several Synod members have requested significant changes to the synthesis text before finalization. 

Published by The Pillar news outlet, the report indicated that an undisclosed number of bishops had planned to “push back” on controversial elements included in the 40-page draft. Among them are a proposal to establish a permanent synod to advise the Pope, a description of gauging the “consensus of the faithful” in “determining whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the apostolic faith,” the introduction of continental assemblies, and the document’s characterization of the assembly’s views on the ordination of women, which sources told The Pillar was a distinctly minority position. 

The Pillar also reported that some delegates expressed concern that they had insufficient time to read the document before the amendment phase, which took place on Thursday. 

Procedural questions 

Related procedural questions remain about how the final document is being amended and will ultimately be approved. 

After receiving the initial draft on Wednesday morning, the text was the subject of an afternoon general congregation, during which members could make brief speeches on its contents.  

Then on Thursday, Synod members reviewed the draft text in their small groups — of which there are 37, each including about 10 voting members. 

Each small group reviewed the 40-page document paragraph by paragraph and discussed desired changes before voting on amendments, called “modi.” The modi can call for “the elimination, addition, or replacement of passages” in the draft, Paolo Ruffini, the Synod’s chief communications officer, shared earlier this week. 

Each paragraph amendment required a simple majority of small group members for approval. 

Unlike table reports earlier in the process, a Synod member said, these amendments were directly submitted to organizers, without a presentation to the whole assembly. Debates on these amendments were described as particularly contentious, given participants’ awareness that this would be their last chance to influence the contents of the final document. 

The setup raises questions about how well Synod writers will be able to incorporate assembly feedback into the final document, especially since a significant number of amendments have been submitted. According to Friday’s press briefing, 1,025 amendments were collected in the small groups, and then 126 additional amendments were submitted by individuals. 

At the press briefing, it was also confirmed that members will vote on approving the text paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph will need the approval of two-thirds of the members present for inclusion. It is unknown what would happen if a particular paragraph does not receive sufficient support from the assembly, and how that might affect the final document.

Upon the document’s approval, it will be used in some further form of consultation with the Universal Church that is expected to take place in the months between this assembly’s conclusion and the October 2024 synod assembly — the details of which Synod members discussed and voted upon earlier this morning. 

Ahead of those deliberations, Hollerich said Synod participants will be expected to return to their local Churches to share “the fruits of their work” and to accompany “those local processes that will provide us with the elements to conclude our discernment next year.” 

One thing is for sure: While additional stages of the Synod on Synodality remain, what’s contained in tomorrow’s summary document will play a pivotal part in shaping the process going forward.

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