ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has decided to extend a lengthy global consultation on the future of the Catholic Church by ordinary Catholics for a year amid the limited participation of the laity and the seeming resistance from the hierarchy to his reforms.
Francis announced on Sunday that the scheduled 2023 bishop’s meeting will take place in two phases, one in October 2023 and the other in October 2024, to allow more time to find a way forward.
In 2021, Francis formally launched a two-year consultation process on “sinodalite,” or a more decentralized structure of the church and a greater role for the laity. The process is part of Francis’ long-term goal of making the church more inclusive, participatory, and sensitive to the real-world issues facing ordinary Catholics.
As part of the process, the Vatican asked dioceses, sects, and other Catholic groups to start local listening sessions so ordinary Catholics could talk about their needs and hopes for the church. The Bishops’ conferences in August reported results, and an organizing committee recently met near Rome and completed a synthesis paper.
But several dioceses and episcopal conferences reported minimal attendance. For example, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops reported that 700,000 people attended the consultation in a country of 66.8 million Catholics. Many European countries also reported participation rates below 10%.
In addition, many of Francis’ opponents ridiculed the whole initiative. Cardinal Gerhard Mueller of Germany, a prominent critic and former Vatican official, recently warned that this represents a “hostile takeover” of the church. Others noted that a similar consultation process was underway in Germany that had badly divided the church, amid debates on important issues such as sexual morality, women in leadership roles, and the church’s treatment of LGBTQ Catholics.
Announcing the one-year extension on Sunday, Francis said this first stage bears fruit “but we must not rush to reach full maturity.” Adding another year, he said, would allow for “broader understanding.”
“I believe this decision will lead to an understanding of synodality as a founding dimension of the church and help everyone to experience it as a way of brothers and sisters who bear witness to the joy of the Gospel,” Francis said at noon. blessing minister St. Peter’s Square.
The Vatican office convening the meeting extended the deadline by several months to allow ordinary dioceses and conferences of bishops to report. That office said on Sunday that the decision to extend the entire process for another year “will encourage more mature thinking for the good of the church.”
It’s not the first time Francis has split a synod meeting into two sessions with an annual breathing room in between. He did so for the family synod, which took place over two sessions in 2014 and 2015, resulting in a 2016 document that opened the door to allow divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
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