The Promise and Peril of Synods, by Francis X. Maier

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*Image: The Council of Florence by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, c. 1490 [The illustration appears in the Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated world history written by Hartmann Schedel]

By Francis X. Maier, The Catholic Thing, Dec. 9, 2021

Francis X. Maier is a senior fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the 2020-22 senior research associate at the Notre Dame Center for Citizenship and Constitutional Government.

Note: TCT Editor-in-Chief Robert Royal will be joining Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Gerald Murray (the Papal Posse) on EWTN’s The World Over this evening at 8 PM Eastern Time. They will be discussing the pope’s recent trip to Cyprus and Greece, as well as other subjects. The show will also be re-broadcast on EWTN (consult local listings) and usually appears shortly after its first appearance on the EWTN YouTube channel.


Francis X. MaierSteven Covey, the late, great effectiveness guru, liked to remind his readers to “begin with the end in mind.”  I suspect he purloined the idea from Ignatius Loyola.  But it’s still good advice.  So I’ll start by asking, candidly and upfront, whether the forthcoming 2023 synod on synodality might be a really bad idea.  Not bad as in “wicked.” The intent of Pope Francis is clearly admirable: listening to and walking with each other; broadening the faithful’s consultation and involvement in the life of the Church; and (presumably) sharing more authority with local and regional bishops’ synods closer to the specific needs of their people.

Yet such a synod may still, arguably, be unwise.  I’ll explain.  And I’ll do it by borrowing from people with direct experience.

Local diocesan synods, like the ones designed to prepare for the 2023 synod in Rome, can be healthy exercises in dialogue and discernment.  But in practice, they’re often a very mixed bag.  They demand a serious involvement of time, personnel, and financial resources.  They’re prone to bureaucratic manipulation and dominant personalities.  And their outcomes are often ambiguous or dead on arrival. …