Synodality: The Path Forward

In October 2021, the Catholic Church embarked on a global synodal journey, a two-year process of listening and discernment at all levels of the Church that aims to help transform the Church into a synodal body. In keeping with our mission to elevate and implement best leadership practices within the Church, Leadership Roundtable has stepped forward as a partner to the Church on this journey, offering our expertise and resources to ensure the success of the process.

“It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,” said Pope Francis.

A Journey Together

According to the Vatican, the synodal journey is “both a gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through [its] experience which processes can help [it] to live communion, to achieve participation, to open [itself] to mission. Our ‘journeying together’ is, in fact, what most effectively enacts and manifests the nature of the Church as the pilgrim and missionary People of God.”

The word “synod” comes from the Greek “sunodos” meaning “a meeting; a common way.” For the Church, this Synodal journey is a common way taken together by all Catholics, a path to becoming a truly listening, co-responsible Church.


A New Culture

During the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit, leaders discussed the future of the Church — the healing, strengthening, stewardship, and trust required to move forward from the crises of abuse, leadership failures, and financial mismanagement. Leaders made clear during the 2020 Catholic Partnership Summit that a new culture was needed for the Church to thrive. In 2021, they defined it: synodality. 

Synodality is at its core the opposite of clericalism. The former: a collaborative approach to decision-making that embraces listening and discernment co-responsibly between lay, religious, and ordained; the latter: a belief that the ordained are superior —set above and apart — among the people of God.

As Fr. Peter Daly wrote in the National Catholic Reporter in 2019: “In other words: clerics (bishops and priests) are often trained to think they are set apart from and set above everyone else in the church. Their word is not to be questioned. Their behavior is not to be questioned. Their lifestyle is not to be questioned. They rule over the church as if they were feudal lords in a feudal society.”

In the preparatory document for the Synod, the Vatican details that the whole Church is being called to deal with the weight of a culture imbued with clericalism, and with “those forms of exercising authority on which the different types of abuse (power, economic, conscience, sexual) are grafted.”

To change the Church’s culture, synodality requires humility and courage. Catholic leaders have begun to acknowledge that to truly listen to one another, the Church must not just embrace but must enact a culture of co-responsibility and collaboration.


A Listening Church

“It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People,” Pope Francis wrote in a Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God in 2018. “Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.”

Synodality breaks down barriers to encounter and dialogue, to co-responsibility and collaboration, that prevent the Church from hearing diverse voices. Those on the periphery can only be brought into our conversations if we create convening spaces where honest and often challenging dialogue can take place.

There is a particular need to include the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ Catholics, young adults, people with disabilities, and others who have been historically absent from leadership and decision-making. Inviting those who are not in the Church, as well as those who have remained and who have not given up, to share their stories and perspectives will be vital to the success of the synodal process.

An Invitation for Feedback

The Church’s flourishing is a task for all of us journeying together as the people of God.

Synodality opens the door for “feedback loops” in parishes and dioceses and for creating processes of accountability that hold everyone accountable to one another. People have an authentic desire to be heard, for tools to evaluate ministries and leaders, and for a reliable framework for consistent dialogue.

As the Church embarks on its synodal journey, there is a strong desire among Catholic leaders to obtain the resources necessary to ensure listening sessions and feedback take place at every level of the Church and include diverse voices.

In response to the momentum created by the 2021 Catholic Partnership Summit and the launch of the Synod, Leadership Roundtable created a document of best practices for facilitating synodal consultations drawn from our more than 16 years of leadership development and convening expertise. This document has been provided in English to dioceses across the world and is currently also available in Spanish.

The practices we outline in this resource help ensure the synodal process is easily executed by small and large dioceses and is easily replicable. Additionally, this resource provides the framework for the Church to find and train facilitators to effectively guide the process.

We have also created a companion document with suggestions on how to report Synod consultations. This document can also be found on our website to be used as needed.”

But as we listen and discern — especially to those often excluded from the conversation — the Church must be open to modifying those practices as the synodal process progresses, as needed. The ultimate goal of this synodal process is to learn and adapt as a Church, including for the process itself.


A Path Forward

Pope Francis reminds us that synodality should not be an abstraction, but that Church leaders should seek creative, inspiring ways to make the themes of co-responsibility and synodality more tangible so they come alive in the hearts of Catholics and in our institutions.

Training individuals at the parish and diocesan level is essential to ensure leaders have the change-management skills necessary to implement the findings of the synod.

The Synod is often referred to as a “synod on synodality” — a moniker that reflects the importance of the process being undertaken now to shape the future of the Church.

Leadership Roundtable is proud to be collaborating with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Vatican on this synodal journey, offering our expertise and resources to ensure the success of the journey to which we have all been called.

“It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People.” -Pope Francis


This piece was originally published in Leadership Roundtable’s 2021 Annual Impact Report.


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