Pope Francis: Synodality Is a ‘Style’ Whose Soul Is the Holy Spirit

Synodality is what the Lord expects of the Church in the third millennium, the Pope tells theologians at the Vatican, but it is not about conducting surveys that ask, ‘What do you think about women priests?’

Pope Francis gives a blessing during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Nov. 27, 2019.
Pope Francis gives a blessing during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, Nov. 27, 2019. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

Addressing the International Theological Commission on its 50th anniversary at the Vatican Nov. 29, the Pope said

“In the last five years, you have produced two relevant texts, the first offering a theological clarification on synodality in the life and mission of the Church. You have shown how the practice of synodality, traditional but always to be renewed, is to implement, in the history of the People of God on a path, the Church as a mystery of communion, in the image of Trinitarian communion. As you know, this issue is close to my heart: synodality is a style, it's a walking together, and this is what the Lord expects from the Church of the third millennium. And on this, I thank you for your document, because today it’s thought that synodality is to join hands and go on a journey, to celebrate with the guys ... or to conduct a survey of opinions: “What do you think about women priests?” Mostly it’s like this, is it not? Synodality is an ecclesial journey whose soul is the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit there is no synodality. And you have done a good job helping in this. Thank you.”

His comments today come in the context of continued ambiguity over what synodality means in fact and in practice, despite the ITC’s document on the subject and the Pope’s frequent explanations.

Proponents see it as a means of broadening the Church’s outlook in the face of complexities facing modern societies and individuals so she can better pastor to them — to help “interpret reality with the eyes and heart of God; the condition for following the Lord Jesus and being servants of life in this wounded time,” the Pope said in 2017. 

Critics, however, are concerned that synodality serves as a means of introducing heterodox pastoral practice and teaching into the Church under the guise of representing the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) and the will of the People of God, many of whom are lapsed and uncatechized. 

The Church in Germany is about to embark on a controversial two-year “synodal path” which will discuss the Church’s teaching on priestly celibacy, human sexuality and the role of women in the Church.

Francis said last month at the end of the Amazon Synod that the next Synod of Bishops may be on the subject of synodality, one of three topics to have obtained a majority vote. 

“I do not know whether it will be chosen; I have not decided yet,” the Pope said. “I am reflecting and thinking but I can certainly say that we have journeyed a lot and we must still journey more along this path of synodality.”

During his speech today, the Pope also praised the commission’s work on religious liberty, saying freedom of religion is an “incomparable right” that must be respected for the sake of the common good.

He also told those present that, as theologians, they “must go forward, must study what is beyond; must also deal with things that are not clear and to risk to discuss. 

“This is what theologians must do,” he said, but added that the “people of God must be given the solid “meal” of the faith, not feed the people of God with disputed questions. 

“The dimension of relativism, so to speak, always will be in the discussion and should remain among theologians — it’s your vocation — but never bring this to the people, because then the people lose their direction and faith. Always give the people a solid meal that nourishes the faith.”