Pope Francis urged Catholics on Saturday to be conscious of three “risks” as they embark on the path to the 2023 synod on synodality.
Speaking at an event marking the opening of the two-year process leading to the synod on Oct. 9, the pope said that proceedings could be impeded by “formalism,” “intellectualism,” and “the temptation of complacency.”
Addressing the first risk, he said: “If we want to speak of a synodal Church, we cannot remain satisfied with appearances alone; we need content, means, and structures that can facilitate dialogue and interaction within the People of God, especially between priests and laity.”
“Why do I emphasize this? Because sometimes there is some elitism in the presbyteral order that makes it detached from the laity; and the priest ultimately becomes the ‘master of the house’ and not the shepherd of a whole Church that is moving forward.”
“This requires changing certain overly vertical, distorted and partial visions of the Church, the priestly ministry, the role of the laity, ecclesial responsibilities, roles of governance and so forth.”
Turning to the second risk, he cautioned that the synod “could turn into a kind of study group,” losing itself in abstraction.
He said that the process would then consist of “the usual people saying the usual things, without great depth or spiritual insight, and ending up along familiar and unfruitful ideological and partisan divides, far removed from the reality of the holy People of God and the concrete life of communities around the world.”
The final risk, he said, was to adopt an attitude that “We have always done it this way.”
“Those who think this way, perhaps without even realizing it, make the mistake of not taking seriously the times in which we are living,” he commented.
“The danger, in the end, is to apply old solutions to new problems. A patch of rough cloth that ends up creating a worse tear.”
“It is important that the synodal process be exactly this: a process of becoming, a process that involves the local Churches, in different phases and from the bottom up, in an exciting and engaging effort that can forge a style of communion and participation directed to mission.”
The pope was speaking at a live-streamed “moment of reflection” for the opening of the synodal path at the Vatican’s New Synod Hall.
The event was the first of two major weekend events, to be followed by a papal Mass on Sunday formally opening the two-year global consultation process.
The Vatican announced in May that the synod on synodality would open with a diocesan phase lasting from October 2021 to April 2022.
A second, continental phase will take place from September 2022 to March 2023.
The third, universal phase will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission,” at the Vatican in October 2023.
In his address, the pope acknowledged the challenge of involving everyone in the process.
But he said: “Without real participation by the People of God, talk about communion risks remaining a devout wish.”
“In this regard, we have taken some steps forward, but a certain difficulty remains and we must acknowledge the frustration and impatience felt by many pastoral workers, members of diocesan and parish consultative bodies and women, who frequently remain on the fringes.”
“Enabling everyone to participate is an essential ecclesial duty!”