September 30, 2022


National synthesis shares common hopes, joys, wounds

The Catholic Church is not primarily an organization or institution. It is an organism, a living body, that grows, suffers and has experiences—both positive and negative. To understand the Church, it helps to know what it’s like to belong to a large family. The joys of family life are immense, but the “wounds” can at times seem especially painful.

A “national synthesis” was published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on Sept. 19 following an extensive process of listening sessions conducted in dioceses throughout the U.S., including the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. They were part of the preparation of the Church around the world for a meeting of the Synod of Bishops in 2023 on synodality.

The national synthesis reveals that the Catholics who participated welcomed the opportunity to share with others their hopes and joys, but also their hurts and disappointments.

The national synthesis summarizes the results of a two-year process that began in October 2021 with dioceses and parishes engaging in dialogue through listening sessions. Each diocese prepared a report of what was heard at its sessions. These reports were then sent to the USCCB, and a national summary was created and sent to the Holy See.

Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Doctrine, who shepherded the preparation of the synthesis, wrote, “This pivotal document is the culmination of 10 months of intentional listening. The synodal consultations, from parishes, dioceses, and national regions, express the voices of hundreds of thousands in our local Churches.”

These contributions represent more than 22,000 reports from individual parishes and other groups. There were more than 30,000 opportunities to participate in the synod through in-person and virtual listening sessions as well as online surveys. And an estimated 700,000 people participated in the diocesan phase of the synod in the United States.

What do “hundreds of thousands” of members of the Catholic family in the U.S. have to say about their experiences? There is, of course, a diversity of opinions on just about every aspect of ecclesial experience, including liturgy, sacramental life, pastoral practice and ministry to people in every imaginable situation. The national synthesis attempts to pull these together under the following four headings:

• Enduring Wounds. Chief among the enduring wounds that afflict the people of God in the United States is the still unfolding effects of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The sin and crime of sexual abuse has eroded not only trust in the hierarchy and the moral integrity of the Church, but also created a culture of fear that keeps people from entering into relationship with one another and thus from experiencing the sense of belonging and connectedness for which they yearn.

• Enhancing Communion and Participation. The Eucharist in the lives of Catholics was a significant starting point for many of the synodal consultations. While divisions exist, many saw the Eucharist as the source of hope for greater unity as the Body of Christ. The most common desire named in the synodal consultations was to be a more welcoming Church where all members of the people of God can find accompaniment on the journey.

• Ongoing Formation for Mission. Another common hope that emerged from the synodal consultations was the desire for lifelong spiritual, pastoral and catechetical formation as disciples. Synodal consultations made clear the importance of evangelization as we continue to live out the Church’s mission, which requires stronger formation. The need for ongoing formation was keenly seen in the area of social mission, communications and co-responsibility.

• Engaging Discernment.  Discernment is a practice of the Church carried on in a spirit of prayer, meditation and ongoing dialogue. Discernment requires local, attentive listening to one another within and outside of the Church; participation, honesty, and realism; and a continued willingness to learn. The rediscovery of listening as a basic posture of a Church called to ongoing conversion is one of the most valuable gifts of the synodal experience in the United States.

Many news reports have focused their attention on the “wounds” that were expressed in the listening sessions, but the experience of coming together as fellow travelers on a synodal journey of faith also revealed the deep gratitude and loyalty of Catholic communities throughout the United States. As the national synthesis report states in its conclusion: “These spiritual conversations and fraternal dialogues have renewed a sense of common love and responsibility for the good of our Church. … Through participation in the diocesan phase of the synod, the people of God have already begun to build the Church for which they hope.”

All are urged to read the National Synthesis Report, available online at If you were not able to participate in the synod process earlier and still wish to do so, a form is provided online. Let your voice be heard along with hundreds of thousands of Catholics nationwide!

—Daniel Conway

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