RELIGION | Upcoming synod focuses on hot-button morality issues
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An upcoming Vatican synod could be the defining moment of Pope Francis’ pontificate. The three-week conference, the Synod on Synodality, starts Oct. 4 and will cover topics like women’s roles in church decision-making, clergy sexual abuse, inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics, and celibacy for priests. The topics came from a two-year canvassing of Roman Catholics worldwide.
The synod isn’t a decision-making body, but participants will discuss and vote on proposals and concerns to present to Francis, who will release a concluding document after a second phase of proposals in 2024. Bishops and other clergy will have a say in the synod—but for the first time, so will lay people, including women. The synod won’t be held in the Vatican’s traditional theater-like hall, where bishops sit in the front rows. Instead, participants will sit at round tables in the auditorium, with laity and clergy mixed. The Holy See’s spokesman, Paolo Ruffini, will give daily briefings on the discussions, as the synod is closed to media and the public.
Many conservative Catholics have expressed concern the synod might lead to schism in the church over questions of sexual ethics. American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a member of the Apostolic Signatura—the church’s highest judicial authority—recently wrote that the synod could open a “Pandora’s Box” of issues. But Francis told the Associated Press that such concerns are “ideology” the synod has “no place for.”
A new report shows many U.S. churches are rebounding from the pandemic. The study, released Sept. 4, was led by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and funded by the Lilly Endowment. Researchers collected 4,809 responses from 58 Christian denominational groups.
They found that from 2020 to 2023, overall attendance and giving rose. One-third of churches have also exceeded their pre-pandemic attendance levels. Adjusting for inflation, congregations are also giving over 25 percent more money than they did three years ago. More than 70 percent of churches now offer both in-person and streaming services, but the majority of congregants prefer to worship in person.
Still, challenges remain. The average age of both congregants and clergy is increasing. Thirty-six percent of church attendees are over the age of 65—up from 33 percent in 2020. —E.R.