Synod on Synodality’s Managers Withhold Names of Small-Group Members

Knowing those names would give synod watchers an indication of the direction those small-group discussions might take.

Delegates sitting at 'Table 28' during the Synod on Synodality.
Delegates sitting at 'Table 28' during the Synod on Synodality. (photo: Edward Pentin / National Catholic Register)

VATICAN CITY — Who is sitting with whom at the Synod on Synodality, and what topics are they discussing, exactly?

The managers of the assembly, which runs through Oct. 29, refuse to say, leaving outsiders in the dark about how the gathering’s small discussion groups are operating.

The synod’s 364 delegates are divided into 35 groups, which meet at round tables set up inside the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall next to St. Peter’s Square. 

The delegates are assigned to groups on the basis of language as well as their stated interest in different topics. 

In recent days, for example, some groups have been assigned the topic of the inclusion of LGBTQ-identifying people and remarried divorcees in the life of the Church, while others have focused on topics such as ecumenism and welcoming migrants.

At the end of each discussion round, each group produces a report reflecting the consensus of the table. Those reports, in turn, are shared with the full assembly and will help shape the final summary report it must approve when the assembly concludes its work at the end of this month.

The delegates are bound by the synod’s strict confidentiality rules not to disclose details about their deliberations. But the media blackout also extends to the names of the delegates who are seated together for each round and the specific topics they’ve been assigned.

Knowing those names would give journalists covering the event at least some indication of the direction those small-group discussions might take. But when asked multiple times by media outlets, including the Register, Paolo Ruffini, the president of the synod’s information commission, has said that he didn’t know the names and wasn’t willing to obtain and share them with the media.

The Register also asked Synod Secretariat spokesman Thierry Bonaventura for details on who is seated in which group. “Unfortunately, I can’t answer your request,” he responded, referring the question back to Ruffini. 


Small Group 28

Despite the synod managers’ refusal to share this information, the Register obtained a list of who was attending one of the small groups this week — one dedicated to discussing how to make same-sex-attracted persons feel more welcome in the Church.

According to the list, the delegates participating in “Small Group 28” included Jesuit Father James Martin, who runs Outreach, a group for “LGBTQ Catholics, their families and friends, and those who minister to them in the Catholic Church worldwide.” Father Martin’s outreach has been criticized by Cardinal Robert Sarah and other Church leaders. 

Seated to Father Martin’s right in the small group was Cynthia Bailey Manns, director of adult learning at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Community in Minneapolis. One of four lay voting delegates from the United States, Bailey Manns, supports greater LGBT outreach and the ordination of women deacons. She has had pro-abortion advocates speak at her center. She was elected by the other members of the group to be the group’s rapporteur, reporting back its discussions to the Synod Secretariat. 

“Worksheet B 1.2” considers “those who do not feel accepted in the Church, such as the divorced and remarried, people in polygamous marriages, or LGBTQ+ Catholics.” The Register has confirmed through a synod source that “Small Group 28” was dedicated to this module, B1.2. The topic was also chosen by “many other small groups, far more than other subjects such as ecumenism or immigration,” the source said. 

The module aimed to look at the importance of “genuine welcome” in the Church, which the instrumentum laboris (working document) of the synod said was “a sentiment expressed by synod participants across diverse contexts.” 

Within that module, discussed in “Small Group 28” was a call to reflect on how to “create spaces” for those “who feel hurt by the Church and unwelcomed,” such as “remarried divorcees, people in polygamous marriages, LGBTQ+ people, etc.” An associated question for discernment was, “In the light of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, what concrete steps are needed to welcome those who feel excluded from the Church because of their status or sexuality (for example, remarried divorcees, people in polygamous marriages, LGBTQ+ people, etc.)?”

Another delegate at table 28 was Mauricio López Oropeza, formerly executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), which played a major part in organizing and running the 2019 Amazon Synod. He is now a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Also in the group was Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle and Auxiliary Bishop Nicholas Hudson of Westminster, England. Also taking part was Anna Teresa Peter Amandus of the Diocese of Sandakan, Malaysia, one of two Malaysian delegates from bishops’ conference of Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei chosen as lay voting members.


Orthodox Delegates

The group also included Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, a Dominican known for his orthodoxy and a member of the synod’s ordinary council; along with Bishop Czesław Kozon of Copenhagen and Sister Anna Mirjam Kaschner of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood. Both Bishop Kozon and Sister Anna Mirjam have been critical of the German Synodal Way and its endorsement of same-sex blessings and changes to the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Another member was Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Abuja, Nigeria, who is known to be solidly orthodox.

The fraternal delegate was Orthodox Metropolitan Job (Getcha) of Pisidia of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who gave an intervention to the synod this week emphasizing that a synod for the Orthodox “is a deliberative meeting of bishops, not a consultative clergy-laity assembly.”

The source said each delegate had a chance to air their views and to push back on any that they heard. Regarding the debate on module B1.2 in the assembly as a whole, the source said the delegates were evenly balanced between those wanting more accommodation on the same-sex issue and those who were opposed.