Among the many events taking place in the life of the Church is the Synod on Synodality, a global and collective discernment on how the Church can become more “synodal” in character around three themes: Communion, Participation and Mission. As part of the local archdiocesan initiative, Catholics in Melbourne were invited to make submissions for consideration, an opportunity to express thoughts, ideas, and even discontents, about the current trajectory of the Church.

After the closing date, these submissions were collated and examined by a working group made up of three lay persons, a priest and an axillary bishop. The task of this working group was to identify prominent themes and synthesise the ideas into a report that could be handed to the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, before being handed to Rome.

This report has now been published for general viewing (see further below).

For a quick rundown of the document, here are three key takeaways.

Nine themes

Over 500 people participated in the submissions that were made, resulting in a broad array of ideas and concerns. Throughout the discernment process, nine themes were identified to be of considerable importance for people:

  1. Ongoing impact, learning from and response to the sexual abuse crisis
  2. Co-responsibility between clergy and laity
  3. Welcoming the gifts of women in the Church
  4. Liturgy and Prayer
  5. Community beyond Liturgy
  6. Welcoming people on the margins
  7. Catholic education and the formation of teachers
  8. Zeal for mission
  9. Families at the heart of renewal

As you can see, it’s a broad canvas of ideas. There are so many things people care about, and so many aspects of the Church’s life that require consideration.

Stark divides and points of convergence

A strong feature of the submissions was the stark divides that lay between the ideas presented. Whether the topic was to do with liturgy or co-responsibility or the role of women in the Church, there was very little middle ground between what was presented.

There was a noticeable contrast between those submissions that sought radical change and those desiring to return to previous practices or ways of being Church. But it was also clear that a huge portion of the Catholic population in Melbourne were not represented.

Seen in light of Melbourne’s situation, however, this is not much of a surprise. The timing of the synodal process was not great for Melbourne, since it coincided with the ongoing COVID-lockdowns which lasted until November 2021. The exhaustion of living with restrictions, the fear COVID brought to many households, workplaces and parishes, and then the step into Advent, Christmas and summer holidays, meant that as life was beginning to get back to normal, the consultation phase was closing.

Nevertheless, there were also many points of convergence, and the working group did its best to highlight those.

It was clear that many people, regardless of which end of the ecclesial spectrum they were on, felt hurt by the Church. Amidst the conviction and passion, there was also pain, longing and frustration.

Putting Christ at the centre again

Of special note was the number of submissions lamenting the lack of missionary zeal in the Church. One person described it as a ‘global lethargy,’ while another wondered why Catholics were not being ‘joyful bearers of the Good News.’

The Church is overflowing with slogans, sentiments and, ultimately, ‘meaningless jargon,’ someone said, but where is the reality? Where is the conviction? Where is the evangelism taking place in our parishes?

In part, this was why the report concludes with discerning a ‘need to move beyond the introspective tendencies of today’s Church, and instead, a need to place Christ at the centre of our proclamation once again.’ The point was not to deny the importance of deep self-examination, but to realise that a compulsive attachment to examining the “structures” of the Church will not lead to renewal.

St Paul says in in 2 Corinthians 4:5: ‘For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.’

There is much work that needs to be done, especially when it comes to rebuilding trust, helping the wounded find healing, and moving forward with passion, clarity, and joy. But it was discerned that this cannot be done without the contemplation of Christ and His desires for the Church. This is why the report concludes:

It is Christ and Christ alone that holds the key to the mystery of human life. At the heart of true synodality is a journeying together with Christ and towards Christ. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of our journeying. A synodality that is divorced from Christ and his express intentions for the Church is not a true synodality.

Hopefully, this journeying with Christ and towards Christ will be a characteristic mark of Melbourne’s approach to “synodality”.

Click here to download a copy of the Synod Report (synthesis) for the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne.