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Home 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People Synod 2018 – ENDS: Women, sex abuse & a synodal Church

Synod 2018 – ENDS: Women, sex abuse & a synodal Church

On Sunday 28 October Pope Francis celebrated mass in St Peter’s Basilica to mark the end of the month-long worldwide gathering of bishops for the Synod on Young People. The final document of the Synod was released late Saturday evening. Russell Pollitt SJ has been following the Synod in Rome, he takes a look at the final document. 

Late in the evening of Saturday 27 October the final document of the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment was released. It is only available in Italian.

Three themes emerged strongly in the document: the role of women in the Church, sexual abuse and, surprisingly for some, a number of paragraphs on what it means to be a synodal Church.

The month-long Synod started on 3 October. It brought bishops and young people together from all over the world.

The final document uses the strongest language yet from the Church calling for women to be involved in decision-making on all levels in the Church’s structure. It acknowledges that women have been excluded from decision-making processes. It says that this exclusion has impoverished the Church but states that the role of ordained ministry must be respected. “The absence of women’s voices and points of view impoverishes discussion and the path of the Church, subtracting a precious contribution from discernment.”

It goes on to say: “The synod recommends making everyone more aware of the urgency of an inescapable change.” It also calls it a “duty of justice” and says that this requires a “courageous cultural conversion”.

The 60-page text which is divided into three main parts and is made up of 167 paragraphs, also addresses the abuse of minors by clergy. It “reaffirms the firm commitment for the adoption of rigorous measures of prevention.” The words “zero-tolerance” – which were used in the draft of the document – were dropped from the final document. There is also no direct apology for abuse as some had expected.

The bishops acknowledge various forms of abuse including “power, economic, of conscience and sexual.” Echoing the words of Pope Francis, the Synod names clericalism as a cause of the crisis. It acknowledges that all forms of corruption and clericalism need to be uprooted since they are intertwined with abuse.

The bishops say that they are grateful to all who have denounced the evil they underwent. The text says that such abuse causes suffering for the victims that “can last all of one’s life that no amount of repentance can remedy”.

The final text says that revelations of abuse have become a “serious obstacle” to the Church’s mission. It also admits that many abuse cases have been handled in a manner “lacking responsibility and transparency.”

All of the 167 paragraphs had to be adopted by the assembly before they could be accepted into the final document. Each paragraph required a two-thirds majority. The document is read to the Synod Assembly and then, paragraph by paragraph, the voting takes place. The press conference in which the document was released was delayed for almost an hour as voting proceedings ran late. The text was only in Italian so non-Italian speakers had to be given a simultaneous translation.

A new way of being Church, “a synodal Church,” emerged strongly in the last part of the document. It says that the Synod “awakened” a sense of synodality in the Church. This has implications, it said, for the way that the church should be governed, like an “inverted pyramid”. It also calls for joint formation among young laity, religious and priests on the “exercise of leadership.”

The final text of the Synod asked bishops’ conferences across the world to take up the synodal way by listening, welcoming and engaging in “common discernment.” It says that this way of working transforms the lives of everyone involved in it. “Missionary synodality”, it says, should have as its focus the most vulnerable, the poor and those who have no contact with parish communities.

The document says that the Synod was an exercise in which the bishops felt and lived co-responsibility with young Christians. This was a source of joy. The bishops say that they believe that this was the work of the Spirit who renews the Church. The Church is now called to synodality as a way of being and acting. “The participation of all the baptised and persons of good will must be promoted.”

In his closing remarks Pope Francis, reaffirming this sentiment, said the Synod was not a parliament but “a protected space where the Holy Spirit can act.”

A number of other issues were also part of the final document which uses, as its frame, the Gospel account of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Jesus listened to the disciples as they walked on the road. It acknowledges that the Church did not always have this attitude.

The document says that migration is a “paradigm of our time”. It says that this is a structural phenomenon rather than a temporary emergency. The bishops recognise that many young people migrate unaccompanied as a result of violence, political and religious persecution, natural disasters, poverty, human trafficking, drugs and psychological and physical abuse.

The Church is concerned about these young people, most especially their authentic human promotion. The verbs used by Pope Francis, “welcome, protect, promote, integrate”, resound in the document. It also says that the Church must ensure that people’s right to stay at their homes is protected, and that their right to integral development where they choose to live be acknowledged.

The final text does not use the controversial acronym “LGBT” despite it being used by a number of the young auditors who addressed the daily press conference of the Synod. The acronym was also used in the working document of the Synod – called the Instrumentum laboris. It is rumoured that many of the African bishops were against the inclusion of anything in the document to do with gay Catholics.

The document does, however, cautiously, refer to sexual orientation.

It says that there are issues “related to the body, affectivity and sexuality that need a deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral elaboration”. It also warns, citing a 1986 document from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that a person’s identity cannot be reduced to their sexual orientation only.

The Synod says that the Church must reach out to accompany homosexual persons. It says that people must be helped to “read their own history” and adhere to the freedom and responsibility of their baptismal call. The bishops say that “God loves each person and so does the Church, renewing its commitment against all discrimination and violence on a sexual basis.”

This was the section that got the least amount of “yes” votes ­­– 178 voted in favour, 166 were needed.

The final document also addressed the digital world, fake news, the persecution of Christians – especially in the Middle East – and education. It emphasised that young people want authenticity in the Church.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Russell Pollitt SJ
Director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and Editor-in-Chief of He studied the social sciences, theology and communications. He worked as pastor of the Jesuit’s downtown parish in Johannesburg, South Africa, for 7 years before moving to the Jesuit Institute. He is interested in the relationship between faith and society and the contribution that faith can make to public policy. He regularly comments on politics in South Africa and issues in the Catholic Church. He conducts workshops in South Africa on social media and the human person.

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