The close of the first consultative phase of the 2023 Synod on Synodality on Aug. 15 has generated protests from a number of Catholic faithful and leaders in Europe, who assert that their views were not taken into consideration during this initial round of synodal discussions. 

Initiated last fall, the so-called “diocesan phase” laid the groundwork for the rest of the two-year process that will culminate in the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. It consisted of popular consultations conducted by dioceses around the world, resulting in the assembly of national syntheses sent to Rome during the summer of 2022. 

While open letters and articles questioning the validity of the methodology applied to this first phase are multiplying in Europe, synod officials have offered assurances that the Holy Spirit expresses himself even in imperfect processes and that the second phase of the synod is intended to remedy any inaccuracies and limits of the diocesan phase. 

The main criticism surrounding the diocesan phase is the inadequacy of certain national syntheses with respect to concrete parish realities and the aspirations of the faithful. These reproaches were mainly formulated by young people from Western European countries, with commenters saying they did not identify themselves with the contents of the documents that their Church leaders sent to Rome, which in many cases called for radical changes in doctrines

Open letters gathering hundreds of signatures of young people were recently released in BelgiumIreland and Portugal, three countries whose national syntheses stood out for their claims calling for the ordination of women to the priesthood, optional celibacy or a change of doctrine regarding homosexual and transgender people.

The letters highlight the fact that the local Catholic youth were not consulted in the process. 

“When I read the Synodal Steering Committee recommendations, I was disheartened,” Peadar Hand, one of the signatories of the Irish open letter, told the Register. “The recommendations therein seemed to be what is thought that young Catholics want, rather than what we actually love about our faith and the Church. I can’t speak for all the faithful of Ireland, but I am a young Catholic, and among all the young Catholics I know, there is no desire to change in the ways that the Synodal Steering Committee suggests.” 

The question of the representativeness was also raised for dioceses calling for major doctrinal changes relying on low participation, as in the Archdiocese of Luxembourg, whose participation rate of baptized Catholics was estimated at approximately 1%.

In Portugal, the fact that the national synthesis didn’t faithfully reflect the substance of local diocesan consultations was repeatedly denounced, prompting two priests to rewrite the final text in a manner that they judged was a more accurate synthesis of the discussions in each Portuguese diocese. 

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