VATICAN CITY — The synod assembly on young people concluded at the Vatican on Sunday with a letter addressed to the young people of the world appealing to them to get involved in both the Church and society that “urgently needs your enthusiasm.”
It is a brief exhortation drawing on the final highly consensual document adopted the evening before by the bishops at the end of an almost monthlong discussion.
However, as Pope Francis noted in an improvised speech after the vote, it was not primarily directed to “people outside.”
“We are the people to whom the document is addressed,” he insisted.
In this sense, Pope Francis sought to remind the synod fathers of their responsibilities and their key roles in transmitting the synodal experience to their local churches.
He also sought to shift the focus from a document that some will regard as disappointing and that only weakly reflects the fierceness of some points of debate.
While all 167 paragraphs of the 55-page document were approved by a two-thirds majority, several articles nevertheless raised objections of a significant number of bishops.
Several articles were subject to greater resistance
This was the case, for example, with a sentence stating that “sexual morality is frequently the cause of incomprehension and distancing from the Church, which is often perceived as a space of judgment and condemnation,” even though this was pointed out by young people themselves.
Similarly, with respect to women’s participation in the Church, which the document says is a “matter of justice” and where the synod recommends creating “spaces in the decision-making process, particularly when they do not specifically involve ministerial responsibilities.”
However, it was the issue of welcoming homosexuals in the Church that aroused most resistance with 65 votes against. This was so despite the fact that the text did no more than reject “all discrimination or violence on a sexual basis” and recommended the promotion and development of “paths for the accompaniment in the faith of homosexual persons.”
Up to the local Churches to bring the synod alive
Looking beyond these contentious issues, the final document adopts many insights expressed during the synod assembly.
It points to the need for a presence in the digital world and for involving young people more broadly in the decision-making processes of the Church, including at the Vatican, as well as encouraging their involvement in politics, the economy and for justice.
As the document emphasizes, it is now up to bishops’ conferences and dioceses to bring the synod process alive.
Following the “preparatory phase” and the “celebratory phase” of the last three weeks, it will now enter its “implementation phase,” which will also need to be “synodal.”
Difficult to implement a ‘synodal Church’
However, even this new form of living the Church was not welcomed unanimously. Although no global institution other than the Catholic Church has ever offered more than three weeks to listening to young people, the exercise was not achieved without some difficulty.
The very method of the synod was criticized. The working document was presented, one bishop lamented, as an “almost sacred document,” with participants needing time to develop their own process of reflection.
The aim of the synod organizers was clearly to encourage the bishops not to exclude the preparatory phase, particularly the responses of young people.
But it also illustrated a broader difficulty on the part of the bishops to live out the “synodal Church” that Pope Francis has called for and to enter into a logic closer to that of the chapter meetings of religious congregations.
In addition to this problem, there was also the great diversity of situations among young people around the world, although this was sometimes overplayed by some bishops to avoid directly tackling certain issues.
The sexual abuse issue also overshadowed the whole discussion with a significant number of bishops, particularly from Africa, believing that it had been given an exaggerated place at this synod assembly whereas it was not a major issue facing them.
To avoid such blockages, several bishops are now pleading for continental synods and for debate closer to the grassroots.
That is precisely what will occur next year at the Vatican with the special synod assembly on Amazonia.
— Nicolas Senèze