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Catholic bishops end synod with controversy and compromise

FOR those looking for Pope Francis’ synod of bishops on young people to settle the current divides in the Catholic Church between bishops and laity, conservatives and reformers, LGBT Catholics and those who regard that group as an oxymoron, the synod’s final report is bound to disappoint.

The 60-page document deals with a host of issues: treatment of women in society and in the church, the church’s attitude toward LGBT members, clerical sex abuse, warfare, poverty, migration, human trafficking and corruption. With such a large number of topics, generalities are necessary.

Those who had been to earlier synods however said that this synod was the least controversial – some called it “joyful” and “hopeful,” thanks to the presence of young people in the synod hall

Synods under John Paul II and Benedict XVI were much more controlled, with curial cardinals telling members of the synod what could and could not be discussed.

But experienced synod-goers praised this one for its organizers’ extensive preparations, including the pope’s meeting last March with young people.

Perhaps the greatest fruit of the synod is with the bishops who embraced the synodal process. The process involved looking at the real lives of young people, listening to them, reflecting on their situation in light of the Gospel, and only then devising programs to respond to their needs.

This is quite different from the church’s traditional approach of trying to cram its teaching and programs down the throats of the young. If bishops internalize this process and use it in their countries and dioceses, this would be the greatest fruit of the synod.

Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to become a synodal church, a discerning church where the church listens and responds to reality. Francis realizes that the church must become a listening and accompanying church, if it is to help people.

Sadly, not all the bishops got it. Fifty-one bishops, 20 percent of those voting, voted against the paragraph encouraging synodality in the church.

Some bishops insisted on adding a reference to Jesus and the disciples on the way to Emmaus as a biblical example of the synodal process.

This is truly a magnificent story, but if the bishops think they are Jesus and young people are the disciples, they missed the whole point Francis was trying to make. We are all disciples, and the disciples’ confusion before Jesus joins them is reflective of the entire church. Or to put it another way, sometimes Jesus may be the young explaining things to the bishops. – Thomas Reese @ NCR

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