Voice of the Faithful’s Synod 2021-2023 submission was sent directly to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops in Rome to ensure that the voices expressed during many Synod sessions held January through May, 2022, would be represented among the lay voices seeking to be heard in the Synod for Synodality. Following is the conclusion of VOTF’s submission. You can read the entire submission by clicking here.
The recommendations emerging from the VOTF sessions hold all the Faithful—the laity, the priests, the bishops, and the Pope—responsible for implementation. “We should all ask ourselves, what would Jesus do?” many said. Frustrations felt at local levels generally come from the actions and inactions of the bishops and the hierarchy. Participants universally agreed that resolution requires the laity to become more involved and to obtain greater roles in the guidance and governance of the Church. The clergy and laity must work together in mutual respect for any of these changes to be achieved.
The Laity need to be included in meaningful ways when selecting new bishops and parish pastors. Parish Councils and Finance Councils need to be selected by the parishioners and empowered to make decisions. Several called for the priest to provide spiritual guidance and for the laity to provide administrative management of the parish and diocese.
Participants viewed the parish as the place to provide both spiritual nourishment and a sense of community. Many believed that their spiritual sustenance was better achieved through small faith communities formed within their parishes or elsewhere. Pastors should encourage the formation of such small faith communities so that the need can be fulfilled within the Catholic Church itself.
Recommendations to ensure a welcoming church, especially welcoming those on the margins, stressed the need for the priests to lead this effort from the pulpit. Participants frequently emphasized the lack of welcome for LGBTQ+ persons and their families and for sex abuse survivors and their families. Homilies that stress Catholic Social Teaching and promote inclusion of all God’s children are essential. The Church must move away from judging people by rigid rules and must become more merciful and inclusive.
The feeling that the priesthood is broken was universal amongst the participants, and the initial recommendations to address this included changing seminary education and training as well as providing ongoing spiritual formation and training in homiletics for priests. Seminary training should include education at co-ed Catholic institutions, training in the Spirit of Vatican II as well as the documents, and a required internship in a parish prior to ordination. Once ordained, priests should be required to continue their spiritual formation throughout their lives—perhaps using the practices of some Religious Orders as a model.
All stressed the need for women’s voices to be heard at all levels of the Church. As a first step, the Pope must ensure women are in positions of responsibility and authority in all departments of the Curia. Bishops must ensure that women hold positions of authority on diocesan pastoral and finance councils. Parishes must invite women as well as non-ordained men to preach. Women provide a different point of view that can broaden the perspective of those engaged in decision-making. The treatment of women is also a factor in the declining number of priests; many women will not encourage their sons to become a priest in a church that treats women with disrespect.
When considering the pervasive nature and numerous scandals and problems fueled by clericalism in the Church, participants believe priests and bishops must welcome laity into a mutual relationship. Such acceptance will require education and ongoing formation for priests that emphasizes humility and servant leadership. Participants stated that the laity must take steps to break down the notion that “Father knows best” and open meaningful communications with their pastors.
Continuation of the synodal process should be required to ensure we continue to listen respectfully to one another. We must all—ordained and non-ordained—live out our Baptismal responsibilities within the Church, because together we are the Church.