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Narrating the process or processing the narrative?

The soaring references to “the synodal atmosphere” meet the reality of micro-management and closed doors.

Pope Francis responds to questions from the press aboard the return flight to Rome from Mongolia. | Vatican Media

Pope Francis is worried about the synod, and he wants journalists to help tell the real story of it—only it appears he also wants them to tell it as told by the managers of his seminal and legacy-sealing “synod on synodality” and his own comms outfit.

He said so himself, in words, during a special audience at the Apostolic Palace to present him with the Premio “È giornalismo” – that’s Italian for “the ‘It’s Journalism!’ Prize” – awarded since 1995 by a prestigious group of Italian scribblers to journalists and high-profile personalities in television and other media “who have,” to hear the pope’s own official Vatican News media outlet tell it, “shaped the narrative of current affairs in Italy with objectivity, professionalism and creativity.”

In a speech to the delegation that presented him with the award in late August, Pope Francis said, “In just over a month, bishops and lay people from all over the world will meet here in Rome for a synod on synodality: listening together, discerning together, praying together.”

Pope Francis went on to call the synod on synodality “abstruse, self-referential, excessively technical,” at least in appearance to folks on the outside, and “of little interest to the general public,” though he insisted that the gathering is one of real importance for the Church.

Then he asked the “masters of journalism” to help him “narrate this process for what it really is, leaving behind the logic of slogans and pre-packaged stories.”

One would expect an announcement of unprecedented access for accredited journalists to the synod hall should have followed on the heels of a speech like that, or at least a relaxation of restrictions and some of the more heavy-handed management apparatus that has grown around such gatherings over the years.

Synod assemblies have always been highly managed affairs, and access to the sessions themselves has usually been prohibited, while gatekeepers and message managers have used tools like scheduled media availabilities with select officials and participants.

Instead, Pope Francis told inquiring journalists on the flight home from Mongolia that they’d have to rely on Paolo Ruffini, who heads the communications dicastery, for daily reports.

In case you’d forgotten, Ruffini and his outfit are the ones responsible for the marvelous message discipline on display at the extraordinary synod assembly for the Amazon.

When it comes to process, Pope Francis told journalists: “There is one thing that we must safeguard, the synodal atmosphere.” He said the synod “is not a television show where you talk about everything,” but “a religious moment,” in which “there is a moment of religious exchange.”

“Regarding the privacy of discussions,” Pope Francis said, “there is a department headed by Dr. Ruffini, who is here, and who will issue press releases regarding the synod progress.”

“In a synod,” Pope Francis said, “it is necessary to safeguard religiosity and safeguard the freedom of those who speak,” hence, “there will be a commission, chaired by Dr. Ruffini, which will provide information on the progress of the synod.”

Cindy Wooden of CNS pressed the issue in a follow-up.

“We journalists don’t even have access to the Assembly and the general sessions,” Wooden said, after noting the great numbers of laity who have given time and energy to preparation efforts at home and will want to know what’s happening in the hall they helped prepare.

“How can we be sure,” Wooden asked, “that what we are given as gruel [It. pappa, which could be gruel but is more like mashed or puréed baby food] is true? Is there not a possibility of being a little more open with journalists?”

“But [it is] very open, dear,” Pope Francis replied. “It is very open,” he said. “There is a commission chaired by Ruffini that will give the news every day, but more open, I don’t know, more open, I don’t know.”

Pope Francis went on to promise that the commission “will be very respectful of everyone’s speeches and will try not to chitter-chatter, but to say the things precisely on the synodal progress, which are constructive for the Church.”

“If someone wants the news to be, ‘This person has taken it out on that person for this or that reason,’ that is political gossip,” Pope Francis said.

“Do not forget that the protagonist of the Synod is the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said. “How can this be transmitted?” he asked.

I guess we will have to wait for Paolo Ruffini to show us.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 214 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. “Do not forget that the protagonist of the Synod is the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said.

    That is nothing short of blasphemy.

  2. I am deeply worried about a schism coming from the heavy handedness of this Pope, and of this “Synod”. At the very least, a heavy strain on the seams.

  3. Out of a billion Catholics, few have expressed concern about the last Synod that produced Amoralist Laetitia. This pontificate must think: “So far, so good.”

    The game plan for October is to quietly meet beyond earshot. (A select few will have a real discussion about the draft post-Synodal document that is already written: The Truth of Love).
    The press have been admonished not to gossip about what was said. (That means you! 😂)
    By All Saints day, things should be quiet again.
    Then another synodal vacation next year.
    After the comments at CWR, etc., have calmed down, the Apostolic Exhortation called The Truth of Love will be released with the blessing for same-sex unions on page 1,000 or something, etc.. It will include sufficient verbiage about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, etc., to allow sycophants to say its “orthodox.”
    A few rowdy American rigorists, et al., will blow their top. 🤓
    Then, all back to sleep by All Saints 2024.
    Rinse and repeat with Francis II and John XXIV.
    Way into the future, Pope St. John Paul III and St. Benedict XVII will clean up this pastoral mess.

  4. Narrating the Process, or Processing the Narrative“Do not forget that the protagonist of the Synod is the Holy Spirit,” Pope Francis said. “How can this be transmitted?” (His Holiness).
    As we respect the title of what was instituted by Christ, we recognize in the fabrication of the Chair, honor his title. Beyond which we require discernment. Meant to defend the faith Francis recently juxtaposed defense in contrast to pursuing error. What that infers is a unique doctrine espoused by the Holy Father that must be considered above critique, otherwise we, not precisely the Holy Spirit become the protagonists for schism. If then the protagonist of the Synod is the Holy Spirit, how, then, are we to determine when there’s indication of difference from what Christ preached?
    There are according to the Apostle Paul different spirits and different charisms. There is also a spirit different from the Holy Spirit, one which deceives, and touches on truths of the faith to formulate a lie [what Bishop Strickland contends now under papal scrutiny for dismissal]. That spirit is called by Paul the Spirit of the Air. Consequently, as Altieri perceives a processing of the narrative, we’re compelled to warn His Holiness when that mistake becomes apparent in respect to which spirit.

  5. We read: “Then he asked the ‘masters of journalism’ to help him ‘narrate this process for what it really is, leaving behind the logic of slogans and pre-packaged stories’.”
    Or, other than pre-packaged stories, what about the logic of ANY story or message at all? Instead, “what the process really is,” as with the 1960ish Mashall MacLuhan: “the medium [or the process!] IS the message.”

    Not to be aired-out as was all of the Second Vatican Council, in Fr. Ralph M. Wiltgen’s “Rhine Flows into the Tiber” (1967). the historian and journalist Wiltgen directly interviewed two Council Fathers each day during the 281 days that the Council was in session, and published daily a news service in six different languages sent out to over 3,000 subscribers in 108 countries. Won’t make that mistake again! Of the current and invited German “non-synod” and its fellow travelers (“walking together”!), who now can ever write, possibly, “The Rhine flows into the Synod”?

    Or, with Ruffini, will it be more like the silence of trying to read braille through a mattress? And, of the hot-button “concerns,” perhaps the silence of consent—or maybe a secret and “provisional agreement”? That went well.

  6. To assume the protagonist is the Holy Spirit is very self-serving, and an assumption that cannot be accepted on its face. Archbishop Fernandez recently said we cannot challenge the Pope’s doctrine. That statement alone tells a lot about what to expect from this Synod of Bishops that is not. Doctrine is not the Pope’s; it is Jesus Christ who gave us the doctrine through His command to the apostles, “Go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them all I have commanded you.” Bishops, not laity, are the successors of the apostles and have the duty to uphold that command, not to invent new doctrine. Pope Francis seems to think he can develop doctrine. He cannot. He can elaborate on it and explain it, but he cannot change what belongs to Jesus. It looks like, from what has been reported, there may be an attempt to expand on or change doctrine during this synod, and that is a path that should not be taken.

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