Vatican City. Pope Francis on Sunday launched a two-year global consultative process that could change the way the Roman Catholic Church makes decisions and leave its mark long after his pontificate ends.
Advocates of the initiative, called For the Synod Church: Communion, Participation and Mission, see an opportunity to change the dynamics of church power and give a greater voice to the Catholic laity, including women, who are marginalized in society.
Meanwhile, conservatives say the three-stage process is a waste of time, and could erode the hierarchical structure of the church’s 1.3 billion members, eventually diluting traditional orthodoxy.
At a mass at St Peter’s Basilica, Francis said Catholics should be open about the process.
In his homily, Francis said: “Are we ready for the adventure of this journey? Or are we afraid of the unknown, preferring to resort to the usual excuses: ‘It is useless’ or ‘We have always done it this way’?”.
In the first phase, Catholics in parishes and dioceses around the world will discuss issues such as whether the church is listening adequately to young people, women, minorities, and the marginalized in society. They will also discuss how they define stereotypes and prejudices in their local communities and what kind of church they think God wants in today’s world.
After discussions at the national and continental level, the bishops will meet in the Vatican for a month in 2023. They will prepare a document and then the Pope will write an Apostolic Exhortation that presents his views, suggestions and possibly instructions on various topics.
“Let us not isolate our hearts from the voice; let us not remain steadfast in our steadfastness. Let us listen to each other,” the Pope said at a mass attended by about 3,000 people.
Francis said that while there must be more consultation between the various parts of the Church, only the Pope can make the final decisions on doctrinal matters.
In an article in the conservative American Catholic magazine First Things, which is often critical of the pope, theologian George Weigl said it was unclear how “two years of self-referential Catholic talk” would address issues such as declining church attendance.
Meanwhile, the US-based progressive newspaper, the National Catholic Reporter, hailed the initiative as an opportunity to achieve greater inclusion.
“The process may not be complete, but the church is more likely to meet the needs of God’s people than without it,” an editorial said.
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