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Catholic Organizations for Renewal’s Synod on Synodality Interim Stage Report 

June 2024

Catholic Organizations for Renewal (COR) is a leadership forum of U.S. church reform organizations (including Future Church, Dignity, Women’s Ordination Conference, etc.) that is also gauging interest in jointly putting together a national conference, an “ecumenical” approach. COR aims to renew the Roman Catholic Church and build an inclusive Church; bring about a world of justice and peace; and reflect the sacredness of all creation. COR  works collaboratively to provide an authentic Catholic moral voice on these issues and  coordinates projects that further these goals. 

During Lent 2024, COR member groups provided their constituents with a written survey that included the questions provided by the USCCB Synod Team. COR also held a virtual  listening session that featured dynamic testimony from Catholic theologians and advocates working in various areas of church reform, including LGBTQIA+ rights, gender justice and  equality, reproductive health, and anti-racism. The listening session gathered over 100 Catholics and received an additional 40 written survey responses. COR’s report below comprises testimonies from both the listening session and the written survey.  WWW.CATHOLIC-ORGANIZATIONS-FOR-RENEWAL.ORG catholicorgs4renewal@gmail.com

Where have you seen or experienced successes within the Church’s  structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that encourage the mission? 

“Catholics on the peripheries are useful not only when speaking about our own  experiences, as important as they are. We have any number of charisms and already participate in the Church in countless ways.”  

Our constituents testified that the Church succeeds when the hierarchy values and amplifies the wisdom of Catholics who exist outside the traditional authoritarian, patriarchal structures. Respondents found the most success when their dioceses and parishes offered diversity in leadership structures, whether through lay involvement in  diocesan councils and advisory boards or the expansion of spiritual directors and campus ministers. The inclusion of laywomen in these leadership roles was a recurring theme.  Many respondents also emphasized the importance of women serving as Eucharistic ministers, lectors, spiritual directors, and campus ministers; women preaching homilies and the Gospel and furthering theological development; and the ordination of women to the diaconate and the priesthood. 

Despite criticism of traditional Church structures dictated by the all-male hierarchy, respondents still found hope, affirmation, and spiritual progress in some clerical officials.  Some respondents highlighted Pope Francis’ leadership and pastoral model as successes, while others praised his appointments of more moderate cardinals and bishops.  

Overall, respondents agreed that the Church is at its most effective—pastorally, spiritually,  and theologically—when Jesus and his model of attending to human needs are at the  center. As one of our constituents testified: “Without full inclusion of people on the  peripheries, I don’t think the Church can ever be realized in its full wholeness.” Many  respondents praised the ongoing work of congregations of women religious; respondents pointed to these orders as models for building effective, co-responsible, non-hierarchical  structures that center Jesus and the Gospels. Some respondents also stressed the wisdom  and gifts embedded in lay-led social justice ministries, particularly migrant hospitality  centers and those that primarily minister to LGBTQIA+ Catholics who remain on the  margins of the institutional Church. Women religious and laypeople—especially those  historically marginalized within the Church—have proven to carry and exemplify Jesus’  teachings in their ministries.  

Where have you seen or experienced distresses within the Church’s  structure(s)/organization/leadership/life that hinder the mission? 

“Fear, ignorance, and power rule the day. Thus, the inclusion of women in church  leadership (like ordination) is blocked. The inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people is blocked.  The inclusion of divorced people is blocked. The inclusion of women who need an  abortion is blocked. These lack of welcome hinder the Church’s mission of love.”  

Our listening session revealed that many Catholics yearn for their Church to be a  community where they can bring their whole selves. One constituent shared: “So often,  people are merely invited into spaces, but they’re not welcome.” Whether members of  the LGBTQIA+ community, divorced people, people who had abortions or have used assisted reproductive technologies, people in recovery from addiction, or people with varying abilities, our constituents shared the desire to find acceptance in the Church. The  Synod of Synodality sought to “enlarge [our] tent” (Is 54:2) by inviting the full participation of the global Church and fostering fruitful dialogue. However, a sense of  disillusionment in the synodal process—and the hope to enact real structural change through this process—persists among many Catholics longing for a Church that truly  welcomes and provides for them. 

The majority of our constituents emphasized that “patriarchal” clerical structures that utilize a “top-down” approach to pastoral and spiritual care may cause further harm and  deepen divides among Catholics. Many claimed that these “androcentric” clerical  structures limit women’s spiritual and intellectual gifts and only hinder the Church’s mission to spread the Gospel teachings. As one respondent stated, “Not acknowledging,  welcoming, celebrating the call of women to ordination and leadership in the Church has been a crushing loss to the Church universal.” Clerical structures that exclude women from decision-making roles reveal a persistent resistance to enacting actual change and justice within the Church. Although respondents acknowledged that the Vatican took a substantial step forward in allowing women to serve as voting members of the Synod, many respondents claimed that this was only the beginning of acknowledging women’s capability for Church leadership and that the Church must continue including women at the  table—including the altar.  

Gender justice and equality extend beyond women’s leadership and ordination. A number of respondents called on the Church to further examine the ongoing stigmatization and  exclusion of LGBTQIA+ Catholics and the organizations that support these communities. “If our Church claims to have a universal message, LGBTQIA+ inclusion and our  spiritual development cannot be left as an optional ministry,” a Catholic transwoman shared. Truly valuing the dignity of all people would not be fully realized in the Church  until the hierarchy openly welcomed members of the LGBTQIA+ community.  

Most alarming, many respondents witnessed a growing backlash against Vatican II  teachings in their parishes and increased attacks against Pope Francis. According to one  respondent, denying Vatican II teachings hinders the Church from creating “a spiritual  path that can address the needs of this complex world. People’s spiritual needs are  not being met when [we] still use pre-Vatican II ways and thinking.”  

“I am seeing the last few generations of Catholics turn away, giving up hope for any change or meaningful listening,” another (U.S.) respondent wrote. “Most parishes near me are as pre-Vatican II as they can force on their faithful members.” 

Other U.S. respondents cited the public attacks on Pope Francis from bishops, cardinals, and media, such as the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), as a powerful yet dangerous cultural shift in the U.S. Catholic Church. One respondent stated they are “immensely grateful for the  loving heart and Gospel witness of Pope Francis” and was disheartened to see how USCCB members “have disrespected, undermined, and rejected Pope Francis” throughout his papacy. This respondent continued: “[The bishops’] avid defense of the papacy and insistence on its primacy during the tenures of Popes John Paul II and  Benedict XVI have been replaced by overt criticism, contradiction, and contempt for Francis and the office he holds. The hypocrisy is staggering.” 

Finally, our listening session and survey also reflect a longing for a Church that can be a sanctuary for healing and compassion. One constituent invited Church officials to contemplate: “How do we lovingly acknowledge our broken hearts and actively care for each other?” The  Church’s global sexual abuse crisis remains a deep wound for lay Catholics and the Church at large. Our constituents believe there is a persistent lack of accountability at all levels of the Church—from local parishes to Vatican agencies—that fails to provide true justice for survivors of clerical sexual abuse. Above all, this wound leads to greater disillusionment and distrust in the all-male hierarchy and its authority, as well as increased disaffiliation  from the Church.  

How can the structures and organization of the Church help all the baptized to  respond to the call to proclaim the Gospel and to live as a community of love and  mercy in Christ? 

“The leadership of lay people with prophetic voices must be nurtured and elevated.”  

To reform current Church structures, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that the Church must “treat women as equal members of all ministries the Church offers,” which includes serving as deacons, priests, and bishops. The ordination of women to the  priesthood remains a pressing issue among Catholics, and many respondents specifically called for women’s ordination and the end to Canon 1024. “The notion that women have no place or are not allowed on the altar was a big issue in the past,” one respondent  wrote. “However, women priests are very much accepted by laypeople today.” Many Catholics view women’s leadership as “essential for the future of our Church.” Women must continue to participate as voting members of the Synod and serve in leadership positions within and outside the Vatican.  

Respondents were hopeful that justice, change, and inclusion would still be possible in the Church if synodality remained “a core element of all Church structures, practices and  culture.” These synodal practices and structures must be open to all baptized people, including women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Our constituents also want to see more listening sessions and, most importantly, want these listening sessions to inform the Church as we move toward a “discipleship of equals” rather than a hierarchy. Our constituents called on Church officials to involve the laity in the selection of bishops and  parish priests and create more opportunities for dialogue within parishes and dioceses.  Some challenged Church officials—namely bishops and cardinals—to immerse themselves  in “the life of the members of the Church and see the Church for what it is—people,  human beings and children of God, not categories of sinners and saints.” 

By decentering the all-male hierarchy and utilizing a ground-up approach, the Church would be in a better position to “focus on the Gospel of love and justice proclaimed by  Christ” and cultivate a “universal and inclusive Catholic Church that values the human dignity of all beings, the Earth, and social justice.”

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