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French Catholics and dioceses continue to reflect on themes from the Synod on synodality

By Charlotte Gambert (in Paris) | France March 12, 2024, La Croix

Announcements regarding the synodal process have been made in the dioceses, yet the level of effort put into these announcements varies by location, leading to confusion among some Catholics in France.

The famed Institut Catholique in Paris (ICP) has launched a series of eight webinars aimed at discussing themes related to the Synod on synodality, the project for Church renewal and reform that Pope Francis launched in October 2021. And the 300 available slots at the first of these monthly sessions, which took place this past Monday, filled up quickly.

The purpose of the webinars are to “bring out good diocesan practices” and not let the momentum of the Synod dissipate, said Jean-Louis Souletie, a priest of the Fraternity of Missionaries of St. Therese (FMT) who teaches theology and religious studies at the ICP.

The structure of the series gives each speaker ten minutes to express him or herself, which is followed by questions and debates with other participants of each webinar. The goal is to foster a sense of “neighborhood theology”.

“It’s necessary to teach people to be local theologians, starting from the bottom, as the pope explains,” Souletie said.

The ICP professor is convinced that these webinars will be useful for concrete practice in the dioceses, whether discussion is on the issues of women, youth, or poverty.

A disjointed process
While Synod secretariat in Rome urged bishops around the world to launch a second consultation in their dioceses to discuss certain aspects of the synthesis report from the first Synod assembly, many priests and lay people feel the process is disjointed.

“I don’t think there’s a second consultation happening in France. I have the impression that the bishops of France are struggling to grasp the document that was sent to them,” said a priest from Versailles Diocese.

“We haven’t heard about it for months,” added Paule Tavignot, 27, a member of the National Young Professionals Network (RNJP).

Some wonder if the Church in France is disregarding the Synod report. But Guillaume Houdan, a permanent deacon of Rouen who is a member of the Synod’s national team, refuted that. “The new consultation is underway,” he said, adding that it just “less public”.

Bishop Alexandre Joly of Troyes, coordinator of the synodal process in France, said this second phase is more discreet because it is “much more specific” and is animated by the concern to avoid a repetition of the first phase.

The work of episcopal councils, a French peculiarity
The Synod secretariat has asked each country to focus specifically on two themes — “differentiated co-responsibility” and “church groupings”. But the permanent council of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) and Bishop Joly suggest that he and his confreres should refine their examination by looking closely at the operation of episcopal councils.

“I thought that these councils were an interesting French peculiarity that could contribute to common reflection,” the bishop of Troyes explained, saying such councils increasingly integrate laypeople, particularly women, unlike other countries where only priests are found.

Bishop Joly said there is an opportunity to question what can be adjusted within these councils and beyond. For instance, Deacon Houdan pointed out that the Viviers diocese has “questioned how to enliven its parishes and the missions entrusted to laypeople”. He said the national synodal team has already received feedback from the dioceses of Amiens, Meaux, Arras, and Aire-et-Dax.

Each diocese works autonomously. The reflection is entrusted to a presbyteral or diocesan council, as well as to a diocesan assembly. Bishop Joly and Deacon Houdan said now is not the time for decisions, but for analysis. Dioceses are tasked with submitting a report to the national office by April 15, so that by May 15, the team can send its six-page conclusions to the secretariat in Rome.

An opportunity to act
Although some Catholics in France are confused about the synodal process, Houdan said that “announcements have been made in the dioceses”, although he admitted that efforts vary depending on the location.

“It’s not the top priority as it was a year and a half ago, especially since the Fiducia supplicans declaration took time from the bishops’ focus on the Synod,” he said.

Young people have been given a particular opportunity to act. Although they were said to be quite absent from the first consultation, a report was entrusted to them in connection with the National Young Professionals Network “RNJP). This report is an initiative of a lay woman, Paule Tavignot, and a priest, Vincent Breynaert, the two people in charge of the national office for youth ministry and vocations.

Tavignot has launched a month of reflections with about thirty Synod ambassadors to discuss specific points, such as sensitive issues regarding gender and sexuality, or the integration of young people into councils. A survey will also be launched soon on the RNJP website.

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