U.S. Bishops Discuss the Pope’s Message of Synodality

Following the apostolic nuncio’s Nov. 16 remarks, several U.S. bishops spoke with the Register about their vision and implementation of the Synod on Synodality.

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, speaks Nov. 16 at the Fall Assembly of the USCCB.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, speaks Nov. 16 at the Fall Assembly of the USCCB. (photo: USCCB/YouTube Screen Capture)

During his address last week at the start of the U.S. bishops’ fall general assembly, apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre highlighted the theme of synodality, which he defined as “a way of living the faith in a permanent way at every level: in your dioceses, parishes, the family, and at the peripheries.” 

Last month, the Synod on Synodality got underway, a two-year global consultation process which Pope Francis described as “walking on the same road, together” and looking “at Jesus, who encounters the rich man on the road; he then listens to his questions, and finally he helps him discern what he must do to inherit eternal life.” 

Following Archbishop Pierre’s remarks, several U.S. bishops spoke with the Register about their understanding of synodality as the Church prepares to embark on what Pope Francis described as a “journey of spiritual discernment.”

In his address before the bishops, Archbishop Pierre said that “true reform, while necessarily remaining faithful to the living Tradition of the Church, must also involve concrete gestures, which include the participation of the whole Church.” One concrete example he gave of synodality was the USCCB initiative Walking With Moms in Need, calling it “a synodal approach,” because “it seeks to walk with women; to better understand their situations; to work with pro-life and social service agencies to meet the concrete needs of expectant mothers and their children ... parishes, by listening to what some of the spiritual, social and emotional needs of the people are, can accompany women — even with small acts of kindness. Concrete gestures, not mere ideas, show forth the maternal, tender face of the Church that is truly pro-life.”


A Call to Listening 

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas, the outgoing USCCB pro-life chair who heads the initiative, quipped that “we didn’t even know we were doing synodality at the time” when the Waking With Moms initiative began two years ago. He told the Register that he sees the initiative as “a unifying effort” and “part of that is listening” as “one of the goods that God’s brought out of this tragedy of legalized abortion is it’s forced us as a Church to listen more carefully to what are some of the circumstances that would lead a person to think that their only option or their best option is to kill their child. And, how can we surround them with love?” 

Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane, Washington, told the Register that Archbishop Pierre’s words resonated regarding “the importance of listening.” He said that “synodality is not this thing where fundamental things are up for discussion, but I think it's a call to listening and we can only listen when there’s a mutual respect for one another.” He cautioned that there are some “who believe that synodality will be the opportunity for them to radically alter what the Church believes and teaches and I could see that in some people. That's not what it’s about, but it has to be true listening done with humility, seeking truth.” 


Part of the Church’s Tradition

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, said that in this Synod on Synodality, “Pope Francis is calling us to listen to people and to have consultative bodies.” He said synods are already “pretty generally done here in the United States” including in his own diocese where he meets with the priests and laypeople and “any significant issues that are coming up, I always get their input.” He added that in 2017 his diocese had an “official, formal diocesan synod.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said regarding synodality that “we’re continuing to figure out exactly what it means, but the word means, as has been emphasized, walking together.” Archbishop Pierre noted in his address that “the Greek word synodos means ‘to be on the journey together.’” Archbishop Cordileone said, “We have in our Church diocesan synods and now synods of bishops,” pointing out that “years ago, before Vatican II, every diocese was required to have a synod every five years or at the most every 10 years and it was a time to convene the people of God. I think it was probably mostly clergy then. Now we would include all categories of members of the body of Christ to discern where the spirit is leading and to I think the idea was to issue review policies and issue new policies and also, pastoral planning.”

“We do have this within deep in our Church’s tradition,” he said, “but we've never done it quite this way where the whole world is participating in a Synod ... We have to listen above all to the Holy Spirit so it has to be rooted in prayer and then listen to each other.”