"Desiderio Desideravi" On the Liturgy. Photo: Cathopic

United States: Official Synodal Synthesis Reflects Division and Hostility on the Issue of the Liturgy

Many felt that the differences on the way to celebrate the Liturgy “sometimes reach a level of hostility.” People on either side of the issue said they feel judged by those that differ from them.

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 19.-0.2022).- The Catholic Church in the United States published the results of its synodal process. Of the 66.8 million Catholics in the country’s 178 ecclesiastical circumscriptions (in addition to 18 Eparchies of the Eastern Rite), 700,000 were involved in the Synod’s diocesan phase. 

Noted in the synthesis, published on Monday, September 19, is that in the beginning there was apprehension and even opposition as it was considered useless. Subsequently it was regarded as a richness and the expectations were surpassed. Collected at the end was a total of 22,000 Reports. 

Among the notable findings is the wound of the sexual abuses and its relation to trust:

“Trust in the Church’s hierarchy is weak and needs to be strengthened. The sexual abuse scandals and the way in which the Church’s leadership managed the situation is one of the strongest reason for the lack of trust and credibility on the part of the faithful. The comments revealed the intense and persistent wound caused by the abuse of power and the physical, emotional and spiritual abuse of the most innocent of our community. It acknowledges that this pain has had an aggravating effect on the willingness of priests and lay ministers to foster closer relations with the people they serve, given the fear of being misinterpreted or falsely accused.”

The synodal synthesis also reflects that the pandemic has had a devastating effect on the sense of community”

“It has led, in some ways, to weaken our communities, thus accelerating a tendency of disconnection and intensifying the isolation and loneliness of many, in particular, young people and the elderly. A great number of the faithful have not yet returned to worship.” Many acknowledged the advances made during the pandemic in finding new and innovative ways to reach the community and stay connected, however, “absence heightened the sense of the great importance of the experience of the Church and, more particularly, of the Eucharist for the life of faith.”

Another wound revealed is the division stemming from politics but also from the Liturgy:

“The divisive political ideologies present in our society have filtered into all aspects of our lives.” The division regarding the celebration of the Liturgy was reflected in the synodal consultations. “Sadly, the celebration of the Eucharist is also lived as a sosurce of division within the Church. The most common question in regard to the Liturgy is the celebration of the pre-conciliar Mass.” Lamented was the limited access to the 1962 Missal. Many felt that the differences in the way of celebrating the Liturgy “sometimes reached a level of hostility. The people on either side of the issue said they felt judged by those that differed from them.”

Another wound revealed is that perceived by the laity regarding the Bishops.

“Many regional syntheses mentioned the perception of the lack of unity among the Bishops of the United States, even of some individual Bishops with the Holy Father, as source of a grave scandal. This apparent lack of unity within the hierarchy seems to justify at the same time the division at the local level. “The people on both extremes of the political spectrum have established themselves in opposition to the ‘others,’ forgetting that they are united in the Body of Christ. Partisan politics is being infiltrated in homilies and pastoral care, and this tendency has created divisions and intimidation among believers.” Another regional synthesis highlighted how “our use of the media serves increasingly to reinforce our pre-conceived notions or our preferred ideology.” 

Finally, addressed also is the wound of marginalization, stating that all this has made evident “a profound hunger for healing and a strong desire for communion, community and sense of belonging and unity.” 

The Synodal synthesis of the American Church proposes fostering communion and participation through a sacramental life and acceptance (the most expressed common desire in the consultations). Highlighted in this second rubric was that “the people want the Church to be a home for the wounded and broken, not an institution for the perfect. The Church seems to prioritize Doctrine over people, rules and norms over the reality lived. They want the Church to meet the people where they are, wherever they are, and to walk with them instead of judging them; to build true relations through care and authenticity, not superiority.”

Related to this same ambit of acceptance was the aspect of people attracted to the same sex  and the divorced that have remarried. In regard to the former, the synthesis reveals:

“Many of ‘those that identify themselves as LGBTQ+ think they are condemned by the teachings of the Church.’ There is ‘an urgent need of guidance’ as [a parish] implored, ‘we believe that we are getting closer to a real crisis in the way of caring for the LGBTQ+ community, some of whom are members of our own families. We need help, support and clarity.’ Often families ‘feel a conflict between staying in the Church and supporting their dear ones.” In order to become a more welcoming Church, there is a profound need for the continuous discernment of the whole Church on the best way to accompany our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters.” 

In regard to the divorced that have remarried civilly:

“Persons that are divorced, whether or not they have remarried, often don’t feel welcome in the Church. ‘A significant number [of consultations] included comments that divorced people feel judged by others in the Church, in some cases even if they have gone through the process of annulment, but certainly if they haven’t done so. The process of annulment is regarded as unduly onerous and also condemnatory.’ This pain has left many divorced Catholics who have remarried ‘with the feeling of being subjected to a higher standard, whereas people that have committed other sins continue receiving Communion.’ The synodal consultations express a constant request for a more transparent and clear annulment process as a possible way to make progress in creating a greater sense of acceptance.”

Also addressed is the reception of disabled people and of cultural and ethnic communities. Stressed in this connection was the problem of racism. The synodal synthesis reveals concern over young people’s disaffection. 

Highlighted among the proposals is permanent formation for the mission. Addressed in this area is the social mission of the Church, the shared responsibility for all the People of God (through parish advice that involves the laity) and the hope of improving communication:

“Many commented that ‘the improvement in communication between (Arch)diocese and parishes, between parishes and faithful, between parishes in the same (Arch)diocese, could lead to unity and reduce the spread of erroneous information.” Other consultations reflected that the use of the digital media by the Church is essential to take the faith to the public Square. One synthesis pointed out the need for the Church to improve “in the use of the media and the technology for communications to serve missionary discipleship — sharing the Gospel — and covering geographic distances, to serve as the voice of the Church in social and political realms, and be a place to know the demography and needs, and to connect the Church with the society.” 

Several individuals reflected on the importance of clear communication, especially in the digital area, to reach young people and involve them. However, almost all the synodal consultations said that the Church and Catholic media must be involved in social and digital communications in a responsible and respectful way, avoiding falling into ideologies that exacerbate division. 

“The Reports pointed out the great variety of outstanding Catholic media and digital resources, but they also lamented the challenge of identifying responsible Catholic media. Observed among the concerns expressed over the media was that the most highlighted perspectives are usually the most divisive and sensationalist. It is probable that the means of communication report on burning topics, not on the consistent ministry that parishes and Catholic organizations offer regularly. Our use of the media serves increasingly to reinforce our preconceived notions or our preferred ideology.

More incisively, almost all the synodal consultations considered that clear,  concise and consistent communication is key for the intense desire for adequate transparency. ‘The general category of transparency was mentioned over and over: transparency in the crisis of sexual abuse, transparency in the taking of difficult decisions, transparency in financial matters, transparency in admitting when something turns out badly, transparency in planning, transparency in leadership. Transparency entails the responsibility many people feel is lacking in the Church. To be a reliable Church, transparency must be an essential component at all levels and in all aspects.’ In the measure that the Church seeks to advance in the synodal way, crucial will be a commitment to a clear, transparent and coherent communication. “Communication will be a key to improve collaboration between the clergy and the laity. Lay members in quite a few dioceses said that they want greater transparency in regard to the taking of decisions.”

Finally, another ambit of work is so-called “participatory discernment.”

“Frequently reported was that the participants would be grateful for more opportunities to be heard and to listen to the expressions of others’ points of view on the faith and the life of the Church. It was thought that this could contribute  significantly to overcome the polarization felt everywhere. Some noted the few opportunities given to hear the truth, in a culture in which we talk habitually of others without listening to them.”

The full text of this synthesis can be consulted at this link.

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Jorge Enrique Mújica

Licenciado en filosofía por el Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, de Roma, y “veterano” colaborador de medios impresos y digitales sobre argumentos religiosos y de comunicación. En la cuenta de Twitter: https://twitter.com/web_pastor, habla de Dios e internet y Church and media: evangelidigitalización."

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