Pope Francis wants to know what you think of the Catholic Church – what is doing it well, how it is going down, and where to go in the future.
By “they” the Pope means people in the pews, people outside the pews, Christmas and Easter Catholics, former Catholics, priests, nuns, lay people, younger members, older members, non-Catholics and external observers.
From next week the Vatican will start a three-year synod on the subject of “Community, Participation and Mission” – a program for “listening to and consulting the people of God in the particular churches”.
It is an invitation, says Francis, to the whole Church to inquire about her life and her mission.
Every diocese in the 1.3 billion member church is encouraged to consult its members and ask questions about serving the needs of those in their midst, especially those on the edge of the faith.
It is intended to provide both a broad and a specific view of the Church from the local to the universal level and top down. It includes a call to deepen Catholicism’s relationship with other Christian communities.
And in a bold move, she will ask Catholics how the priest abuse crisis was experienced in each region.
The Church “must face the lack of faith and corruption in itself too,” says a Vatican document on the purpose of the Synod. It cites that the Pope recognizes the suffering that minors and vulnerable people experience “due to sexual abuse, abuse of power and conscience by significant numbers of clerics and consecrated persons”.
Everyone has “something to learn,” says Francis. “The believing people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome [or pope]: everyone listens to one another and everyone listens to the Holy Spirit. “
Such thorough self-examination is quite “revolutionary,” says Rev. John Evans, pastor of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Cottonwood Heights, “especially when there are other leaders [before him] haven’t tried it. “
Evans will serve as the survey contact in the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, under the direction of Bishop Oscar Solis. It will take a year to collect all of the responses from Utah’s 300,000+ Catholics and then compile them into a cohesive report. The efforts will culminate in 2023.
“The Pope wants to hear from minorities in the truest sense of the word,” says Evans. “To listen to the voices of those who are often missing or covered up.”
The role of the woman
Where do you see God leading the church? The world? What are the challenges of these times?
The first thing that comes to mind is “the role of women – or the lack of them,” says Rosemary Baron, a hospital chaplain in the Salt Lake City area. “When you look at the sea of men who are supposed to represent all members of the Church, it is obvious that women are not present among them. The sad reality is that women are delegated to the superficial tasks within the church, but never to the leadership roles. “
There are many “highly educated, articulate, deeply pious leaders who continue to be overshadowed by patriarchal leadership,” says Baron. “Yet these women bring to life a perception that only comes from women. Both men and women are necessary. “
What would Jesus do?
“He would be the wonderful, integrative person”, she says, “that we see him in the New Testament.”
Baron was delighted when the Pope asked how Catholics of other faiths can “travel”.
“Some of the richest relationships in my life have been relationships with people of other faiths,” she says. “Although it is the privilege to travel and live and live in other countries [with] the cultural and religious diversity of faiths, people of other faiths in our own community are often what supports me. “
Baron meets regularly with friends from five faiths – “Mormons, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists” – and although they “do not solve problems, we speak up on many issues and always leave our group with an expanded mind”.
A “true shepherd”
Patrick Lambert, the principal of Judge Memorial Catholic High School in east Salt Lake City, says the church of the future must be “inclusive driven.”
“If we make decisions with the involvement of everyone,” says Lambert, “we can make great strides.”
That works in this diocese, says the headmaster, under the direction of the Filipino bishop.
“Bishop Solis models Pope Francis in his own way,” says Lambert. “He listens first, then understands, then influences – the mark of a true shepherd.”
Young Catholics are idealistic, non judgmental, and want to serve, he says. “The church must give them guidance and at the same time support those who are suffering.”
There was a “breach of trust” due to the abuse crisis, says Lambert, and “fallouts among people who are committed to the Catholic Church”.
He wonders if the church is creating a safe environment for children.
“It will take time to heal and a real acceptance of the fact that real mistakes have been made,” he says. “Instead of giving up the Catholic Church, we will do everything in our power to provide caring, loving service and to give back to our local and global communities.”
Utah is a “mission diocese,” says Lambert. “We’re not in the business of throwing people away.”
Indeed, during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, Solis published a bishop’s letter to the diocese proclaiming, “We must learn to listen to the voices of our discriminated brothers and sisters and to raise the voices God gives each of us has given to the culture of death, which manifests itself in violence, inequality and injustice not only towards the innocent life of the unborn, the sick and the elderly, but also of our black brothers and sisters and other people with race, creed, sexual orientation and economic status. “
For his part, Brother Basil Franciose, a former Utahner aspiring to become a Benedictine monk in New Hampshire, believes that the essence of Catholicism resides in the family, local community, and religious education.
These three areas have recently “taken a blow,” says Franciose. “How can you strengthen and strengthen these three? How do you rejuvenate them?
For the court monk, education is key.
“The Church is a source of wisdom in all things,” says Franciose. “It is crucial to convey to believers the beauty of their teachings beyond ‘Jesus loves you’. There is so much depth in his teaching, dogma and history. “
The great strength of this Synod is that the “Holy Father appears to be applying the idea from Catholic Social Doctrine that some issues can and should be dealt with at the local level first. The interest of the church lies not only with the bishops, lay leaders or those who work in the diocesan office, but with all people. “
So how, asks Franciose, “can we bring them the wholeness of the faith?”
The weakness of such a grassroots effort – especially in the US and Europe – is that it can become a democratic expression, he says. “What is the popular opinion of believers? Should it be accepted as what we propose? “
But the Catholic Church is “not a democracy”, says Franciose, and the synodal recommendations are not a “referendum”.
In order to move forward, he says, the church must “be guided by church doctrine – and by the” [Holy] Ghost.”