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Opinion: Seven signs of serious synodality

Enough with vacuous sentiments.

Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton, N.J., officially begins the local process for his diocese's participation in preparations for the 2023 meeting of the world Synod of Bishops on synodality during Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton Oct. 17, 2021. (CNS photo/Hal Brown, The Monitor)

Social media is, rightly, roasting the release by the USCCB of “Seven Attitudes for Walking the Synodal Path,” which, as I commented on Twitter, embody Christopher Lasch’s ever-memorable phrase about the “banality of pseudo-self-awareness.” 

These slogans convey nothing theological. Worse, they sound like they were workshopped at some mandatory retreat corporate HQ, where with forced bonhomie you had to “brainstorm” vacuous sentiments on white boards (since crayons, as Karen from HR sadly informed you, were one of the victims of the supply chain crisis we keep hearing about):

Screenshot of Jan. 10, 2022 @USCCB tweet.

But more insulting still is what these sentiments so obviously go out of their way to avoid doing: manifesting the slightest acquaintance with the real and concrete desires that the long-suffering people of God in this country have for their synods and bishops. I have tried to lay those out in scores of articles over the last decade (e.g., here, here, here, here, here; see also here for others appropriating my work). 

So let me offer a septinarium of my own that should make these desires pellucid. I will keep the list suitably brief, referring readers who want the full theological, historical, and ecumenical justifications, as well as practical details on how these proposals work in the real world, to my 2019 book Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power. 

Bishops! The people of God in this country want, and will be satisfied with nothing less than:

(1) Synods in every diocese where clerics and laics are on equal footing with voice and vote to meet annually in full session, and as often as necessary between sessions in a standing or permanent synod.

(2) Synods in every diocese that vote annually on the bishop’s proposed budget, priorities, and policies, including those governing liturgical rites.

(3) Synods in every diocese which, during their annual meeting, have a right to pass a motion of censure or non-confidence in their bishop for egregious abuses of money, power, and sex.

(4) Synods in every diocese that meet to elect a new bishop when the old one dies or retires.

(5) Synods in every ecclesiastical province that elect the metropolitan archbishop and function under his presidency as disciplinary tribunals for diocesan bishops charged with various forms of malfeasance, including covering up sexual abuse. These synods can depose bishops if found guilty, but bishops can appeal to #6, below, and ultimately to Rome if necessary.

(6) Synods in every region or country that meet to elect a patriarch or catholicos under whose presidency the synod will function as a court to try archbishops, and as an appellate court to hear appeals from metropolitan synods.

(7) Synods in every country that elect a slate of electors to be sent to the next papal conclave. After all, as Pope Celestine I (422–432) said, “the one who is to be head over all should be elected by all.”

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About Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 110 Articles
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is associate professor at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne, IN., where he also maintains a part-time private practice in psychotherapy. He is the author and editor of several books, including Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).


  1. And, in this, we would have a Catholic Church inspired by the Holy Spirit and reflective of the ‘Spirit of the Baptized.’

  2. Bravo to Adam DeVille.

    The “Banalitudes” of the USCCB are the junk-mindedness of the “Sham-Synods” of the Francis Pontificate, which, as Rod Dreher just wrote, is obviously devoted to “Queering The Church.” Read his article here:

    The USCCB, and the Sham-Synods-of-Pontiff-Francis, all exist to serve the Zeitgeist while living as parasites inside The Body of Christ.

    It all sounds like Caiaphas and the Saduccees: no life beyond the grave.

  3. This is so sad. It looks like something from bored kindergarten students. Where is God in all of this? It completely side-steps abortion, clerical sex abuse, how to deal with
    Bishops and Priest who support abortion, homosexuality and desecration of the church.
    May God have mercy on their souls.

  4. Who ordered the Holy Spirit to submit to join a movement promoting the social principles of the United Nations? Did he agree? Is this agreement to be known as the 8th Gift of the Holy Spirit? Is ‘Catholic’ now to be replaced with ‘Kwanza’? It sure sounds like it. So now we have a Conference of Bishops heading up the Roman Kwanza Church.

  5. I sympathize and agree with the author’s position on bishop only synods. But, I have serious concerns about his solutions. What lay catholics would likely participate in these proposed cleric/lay synods? Would there be people from the 70% of catholics who do not believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Would there be catholics from the 50% who voted for the most pro-abortion president ever. Would there be catholics from the significant percentage of catholics who surveys show approve of so called same sex “marriages”? Or those catholics who approve of abortions in some cases? How about the nuns in a local convent who have stated that climate change is their main concern.
    I sometimes think that academics and other professional writers associate only with those catholics who might do well at a joint cleric/lay synod. Those catholics out in typical city, rural or country parishes may not do so well in a synod, (those, like myself who had to look up “pellucid” and “septinarium”.) If nothing else my vocabulary has been enhanced. Even my spell checker did not recognize “septinarium”.
    I did enjoy reading some of Dr. DeVille’s other articles referenced in this article.

    • That makes a lot of sence. Thank you. We know the lay catholics who will be picked to be part of the synod. The same ones who have been in Catholic public life all along.No new blood.

    • Spot on.

      Whilst this phoney synod of synods on synodality is to be called out at every opportunity for the vacuous tissue of faux-contemporary relevance it purports to harness, it is far from clear that the proposals here, however valid on any individal points they may be, fail to avoid the spurious democratic control of the Gospel message which PF has done so much to appear to support. An ostensible preference wholly vitiated by his continuous high handed refusal to listen to anyone who dares to question him on any serious matter.

  6. While beyond my depth, I still pose the question of fine-tuned institutional architecture, which I propose has not been completed in the seven signs of serious synodality.

    Equal footing hints for some toward the Tennis Court Oath mentality. And, why have much confidence in the election or deposition of bishops when the unformed laity now too often show almost no understanding of the Church as such? An array of nationally-based patriarchs? (When Benedict was elected pope he eliminated the title Patriarch of the West, presumably because he did not want the needed parallel to the Eastern Churches to be overstated.) And, yes, papal selections have been made in more than one way in past centuries…but I wonder if the synod on synodality, now underway, is actually aimed somewhat in your direction, in mongrelizing the next conclave with more of a plebiscite by a federation of national block parties.

    I’ll be reading with interest your linked articles from recent years. And, yet, it seems the overall proposal for permanent synodality is too much defined or even deformed by the collosal abuses of recent decades.

    Much to digest, just a question here about possibly unexamined and significant details that matter. What if both the laity and the hierarchy first engaged in more “serious” (a good word, yours) examinations of conscience? If pigs had wings they could fly!

    Starting at the beginning, one instructive context for reviewing the USCCB’s seven synodal attributes, and now the seven signs of seriousness, might be the seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer.

  7. The only problem with these ideas are the same we have with American elected democracy. It/they assume an educated voting population, which we lack. And turns it into a popularity contest among the ignorant, whichever people-pleaser gets the most votes.

    You are talking an electorate where the majority do not even hold core beliefs of the religion, nor do they know anything about the religion which they claim is theirs.

    And how are these voting members of the laity verified? Parish rolls? And how hard would that be to stack any direction desired?

    No matter how you slice it, you will have some self-annointed elite class deciding things, whether ecclesial or lay. Rather than bishops, you would further empower the parish council type folks? Oh horrors!

  8. I am a corporate CEO. If I led a team of employees that put together anything like the meaningless blather in these 7 attitudes, I ought to resign.

  9. The Synod points are right out of the Human Potential Movement, Erich Fromm, et al.. There is nothing “innovative” about this.

  10. I like this BUT how do we stop this from not getting highjacked by special interest groups? Which laity get to vote? How’re they picked?

    As a former Anglican in Canada this type of synodality is how the church is run (generally). I quickly saw it taken over by special interest groups where major issues of doctrine and discipline were overturned by a vote or two.

    I like the sentiment of the article, but I see this getting politicized very quickly (not that our present system in the RC Church is any better).

    I don’t know what the answer is. What I do know is that so many Catholics don’t believe the most basic tenets of our faith (they don’t even know them). Giving them voting power seems like a dangerous proposition. Proof? Just look to your local Anglican/Episcopalian diocese.

  11. Wow, reading your comments regarding Synod’s and Synodality sounds very much like the Lutheran and other non-Catholic religions manifesto. I agree that the erosion of confidence in the global Church due to the sexual abuses over the past 60 years has been overwhelming. I also agree that some Bishops and Cardinals run their diocese/archdiocese with an iron fist and too often get it wrong when dealing with the priests in the diocese. Frankly, what is needed is plain speaking from leadership for the laity, not the continual obfuscation and somewhat theological mumbo-jumbo regarding why this or that is being done (ie.Novus Ordo). In the case of your article and manifesto, where is the “divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit”present? Consider, a diocesan synod where the “laic” decide that their Bishop is not focused enough on “social justice” and they want a “female bishop and priests” or one that is married? This sounds as though each Diocesan Synod decides for themselves what is best for their diocese and forget about the rest of them, that is the tenor of your proposal. You may have support for this as you mention but where is that support in the Bible? You want the laity who knows little about our Cardinals, Bishops,etc to elect (vote) th Pope? That is what happens in these non-Catholic “organizations”, is that what you deem responsible? Fascinating you say the USCCB 7 Attitudes are not what is needed,yetyou are willing to propose the same or worse.

  12. The Church is the unique family instituted by Jesus in which “Peter” and the Apostles play special roles. It is not a democracy. And we do not want mobocracy as well.

  13. Just another attempt at a Democratic church. We have a King. We will never be self governing. I have to exercise Prudence on everything coming from this Vatican.

  14. Taking refuge in pervasive cliché words occurs for the same reasons as taking refuge in clichéd sentiments masquerading as theological ideas, which occurs for the same reasons as taking refuge in the moral responsibility displacement afforded by grand scale social movements such as climate change, the latter having the effect of making such things as population control seem moral, a comfort to the repressed conscience of a pro-abort, in and out of the Church. And we have learned in recent decades that there are multitudes of pro-aborts within the Church.
    Like our secular counterpoints, Catholics often avoid the sort of serious reflection necessary that would lead to the sort of self-examination that would find fault for evil in the world in ourselves rather than abstract imaginary forces outside ourselves. Why think about the evil that we do as individuals in the world when we can endlessly obsess that our job in life is to change the world, to make the world stop being evil, maybe even to correct God’s mistakes in not communicating that we should be more tolerant to what was previously thought to be abhorrent behavior. The Church used to display its knowledge of its missionary purpose to save souls from self-deception about sinlessness. When we lose our sense of sin, we do foolhardy things, like make homosexuality worship a commendable value.
    At the risk of agitating all those who claim the damage to the Church in the post-VII era is a non-causal correlation to VII, the secular utopianism expressed in Gaudium Et Spes can not be ignored as a having been a legitimizing force at unleashing a skewing pressure in ecclesial culture at undermining the Church’s God given mission. Would that someday we could have a pope who would have the courage to put the agitation about VII to rest with an exhortation of corrective language that admits to the few flaws of vision from the actual content of VII, and finally brings God back into consideration and refocuses the Church once and for all.

  15. The solutions proposed make the author sound like a local-level conciliarist. I appreciate the sentiment, but it wasn’t God’s will in the Middle Ages, and won’t likely be his will in the future. I put the word, “likely” in the last sentence in order to demonstrate the attitude of “open-mindedness,” but what I really believe is that the word, “obey” is heavier than we all want to admit. It’s going to be a long-suffering way back to good health and it won’t primarily happen by making lay people more powerful.

  16. The USCCB statement is a disappointing and infuriating pile of woke blather. Who wrote it?
    There are awake bishops. Interesting that they’re not the ones we’re hearing from.

  17. For a Synodal Church:
    Communion, Participation, and Mission
    Preparatory Document

    Another source doc is here

    This is what my parish is doing

    I hope for more accompaniment of couples like it’s called for here

  18. There ought to be more on valorizing the local parish as the fundamental building block of the ecclesia. Make clear the relationship between laity and clergy on the parish level, especially with the archpriest of the parish. My advice would be to study the documents leading up to the All-Russian Sobor of 1917. Unfortunately the Bolshevik revolution intervened so that all the Synodal members could do was to restore the Patraiarchate and elect the Patriarch, Tikhon (Belavin).

  19. I understand the author’s concerns but I don’t think synods would address any of them — I’ve seen enough of that in the Episcopal Church, which suffers from the same problems we do, only moreso.

  20. I think these 7 points are a good start. We are likely two or three generations away from seeing them. We will need better popes than the ones we had in 1978-2013 to realize them. We will need “education” less than we will need a widespread repudiation of the notion of winners and losers. Once we get rid of things like my-rite-is-better, my-catechesis-is-better, most-Catholics-are-uneducated-sheep, then we might be ready. I think the sloganism heading into the synod is silly, but the real test is in the meetings. The Lord is present when two or three believers gather. Not when two or three talking points are expressed.

    • The seven buzzwords are childishly stupid and self-indulgent and deflects attention from actual Christianity. To applaud such an exercise is not surprising coming from a comment that insults two of the most brilliant minds the Chair of Peter has known.

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