Winter 2021 President's Letter
Vision and Voice for Catholic Higher Education      Learn More

Back to Winter 2021 Contents

Setting Aside My Skepticism for Synodality

By Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, CM

 

 

Holtschneider-2020

Just before Thanksgiving, I was invited to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters here in Washington, DC to meet with the office coordinating the United States’ participation in the Catholic Church’s global Synod process. 

Their request was straightforward. The U.S. is gearing up to join the rest of the world in the Church’s global consultation process known as “synodality.”  Given that the process is parish-based and with many university students unable to participate since they are residing away from home, the USCCB is concerned that this rising generation’s insights will be missed unless some way is found to include them. The USCCB is also wants to ensure that these young adults are included as there is benefit found in including them in the process itself.

And so, our ACCU colleges and universities have been charged with finding creative ways to gather Catholic students on their campuses this upcoming Spring term and discuss the student experiences with the Church that will be shared in submitted 1 to 2-page summaries.   ACCU has been asked, in turn, to send all of these summaries to the Synod office as a package, along with a 10-page summary that ACCU will compose.  

That was the request, which I passed along to our presidents in an email and I now share with you.  That wasn't the end of my inner dialogue, however. 

For a few months now, I’ve been trying to understand what the term “synodality” means and what the Church hopes to gain from this unprecedented global consultation.

“Skeptical” is perhaps a soft term for my initial state of mind, knowing full well that, even if the Church could collect summaries and then create “summaries of summaries,” any final document could not possibly reflect the breadth of thinking from the “front lines.”  One can hope, I suppose, that a few ideas get such broad support that they break through to whatever agenda is created out of all this.  I can’t imagine how they could incorporate thousands of United States parishes and other Catholic organizations’ thoughts into a single document to use for the Synod’s next phase.

Mostly, I have been worried that the Synodal process will foster cynicism in our students.  If we lead a process that tells students this is about "advising the Pope" and then none of their suggestions are adopted (or even included in national summary documents), we'll have given students reason to believe that their voices don't matter in this Church. 

The more I read about Synodality, however, Pope Francis' insistence that "the Synodal process is as much about the journey as the destination" has begun sinking in.

His point is that this is as much or more about a worldwide Church listening to each other locally and growing from that experience than it is about Church leadership hearing from the front lines.  It’s “us listening to us” and being blessed because of it. It’s a pattern of behavior – a muscle memory, of sorts – that the Pope wants to create, hoping it will continue long into the future.  

I had to let go of a view that Synodality is primarily about how we can “inform the central office in Rome,” and think instead about how the process fosters a Church that forms truer bonds among its members and encourages one another in our faith.  If we make clear from the start that this is about embodying a Church culture where we listen to one another deeply, there's something in that that transcends the culture wars we reproduce within our Church and heads just a little closer to the loving community that the early Church envisioned. 

That helped.  And to be fair, the organizers do intend to share frequently expressed ideas with Church leadership.  It just isn't the main purpose.

Which brings us back to the USCCB's request:  Catholic colleges and universities are being asked to set up some version of the global synodal consultation on campus this Spring term.  To get started, more information can be found at:

To be incorporated with the rest of the U.S. Catholic higher education, campuses can send their 1 to 2-page summaries to ACCU by May 16, 2022, to SYNOD2022@accunet.org.  We'll see that each gets to the USCCB and that a larger summary of our Catholic universities' considerations is created and submitted.

ACCU will also arrange a session on this topic at our 2022 Annual Meeting.  Professor Massimo Faggiolli from Villanova University has studied Synodality for much of his career and will be explaining the process.  Fr. Memo Campuzano, CM, Vice President for Mission, at DePaul University was an invited participant in the opening session of the Synod and will provide a firsthand account.  Barbara McCrabb from the USCCB will be explaining the USCCB's hopes for this process in the United States.

I wish you and yours a blessed Christmas.  May the love that brought Christ among us, be yours.

 

Gratefully, 

Fr. Dennis

 

Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, CM, is president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.


Back to Winter 2021 Contents