11 October 2018, The Tablet

The 12 men who will draft final youth synod doc

English group: 'This scandal has undermined the work of the Church in practically every way...it has compromised our credibility.'

The 12 men who will draft final youth synod doc

Pope Francis at the XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Young People
Photo: Vandeville Eric/ABACA/ABACA/PA

A 12-member commission of bishops and priests representing nearly every part of the world will draft the youth synod’s final document.

Five of them were elected by the synod fathers and include Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, (Africa), the Cardinal Archbishop of Mexico City, Carlos Aguiar Retes (Americas), the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli (Oceania), Cardinal Archbishop of Bombay, Oswald Gracias (Asia) and the Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto, Bruno Forte (Europe). 

The Pope also named three personal appointees to the commission. These include the Major Archbishop of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Brazilian priest Fr Alexandre Awi Mello, secretary of the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life and Fr Eduardo Redondo, who has responsibility for pastoral vocation work for the Church in Cuba. 

The job of the body will be to draft a document that will be presented to the synod fathers to discuss and vote on. The work will be led by the Cardinal Archbishop of Brasilia, Sérgio da Rocha, the relator general of the synod, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the Synod of Bishops secretary-general, and the two synod special secretaries, Jesuit priest Fr Giacomo Costa and Salesian Fr Rossano Sala. 

Their first task will be to take material from the synod’s small group discussion groups, known as the "circoli minori", which has included discussion of the abuse scandals.  

“The issue of child sexual abuse in the Church cannot be skimmed over tangentially in a few short sentences,” writes English group “A”. “The shattered trust, the trauma and lifelong suffering of survivors; the catastrophic failures in case management; the continued silence and denial by some of these awful crimes and sins - these issues cry out to be named openly by the Synod.”

The English group “D” explains that “we spent a good deal of time discussing the sex abuse crisis in the Church, especially regarding its effect on the evangelisation of the young.” The report went on: “As is obvious to everyone, this scandal has undermined the work of the Church in practically every way, precisely because it has compromised our credibility.” 

Other issues raised in the small groups include the importance of having a “ministry of listening,” offering support to young migrants and the impact of digital culture on the Church’s mission. 


German language group

On 9 October, the German language group of the so-called “circuli minori” published its resumée of the topics discussed and debated at the Youth Synod up to now.       

One of the main things the group immediately noticed was that despite the hugely different situations young people worldwide found themselves in, certain topics and problems such as the challenges of sexuality, the subject of abuse, the difficulty of imparting the faith, digitalisation, the matter of an attractive liturgy and sermon, flight and migration and the question of justice for women in the Church – confronted young people everywhere.

The group observed that in Pope Francis’ Pontificate two concepts continually reoccurred – namely joy and discernment. “We realised and would like to emphasise how precious and at the same time challenging both are for our own interaction with other young people.”

On multiple occasions during the first part of the Instrumentum, the German group felt that a special section should be inserted to discuss the stress young people were in many ways exposed to nowadays –  “the stress at school, the stress caused by the Church, by our parents’ expectations, by peer groups or the stress which ensues when a young person admits that he or she is a Catholic”.                   

The group would also like to point out that there are further reasons why young people distance themselves from the Church and the faith besides a general mistrust of institutions which was the reason discussed at the Synod. In the German group’s opinion there were three other main factors. First, the seeming incompatibility between a modern, scientific worldview and the views held by the Catholic Church; secondly, those questions that - directly or indirectly – had to do with sexuality and gender relations, such as the assessment of divorce and remarriage, celibacy, women’s ordination and the abuse scandals, and thirdly the seeming or often confirmed connection between religion on the one hand and war and violence on the other. “We also often find that the parish is not a place for young people and see this as a challenge to look for different or new places and forms of community outside the parishes. Young people have the right to see institutions critically and not infrequently their criticism is right.”


English language group A

In light of the child sex abuse scandal the Church must rebuild relationships with young people with a renewed sense of humility, the first English speaking group wrote. As “a more humble church”, “out of our fragility”, they said, “we can whisper to their fragility: God loves you no matter who else lets you down. Put your trust in God.” How else, they wondered, could the Church address the problem that priests were afraid to minister among youth, and how else could they convince young people that their faith and vocational discernment were important?

Elsewhere the Fathers wrote that the Synod’s response ought to be more Christological in its perspective: that it should be made clear to young people that the Church sought to come alongside them in love, like Jesus accompanying his disciples on the road to Emmaus. “Relationship,” they wrote, “is clearly the key to encounter with youth.” They called for quotations from the young people who contributed to the pre-Synod gathering to be included in the final document to bring it “to life”,  and for reflections on the digital world to be brought together to form a single response - including a treatment “of the compulsive

attraction of ‘screen culture’ including cinema, mini-series and video gaming”.

English language group B

Reflecting on the importance of family as the “primary nurturer of spiritual life”, the second English speaking group recognised that “there are many other forms of family other than the nuclear family or the extended family.” It wondered if leadership in the Church required pastors to proclaim the Gospel truth “by denying that these are families”, or whether leadership meant accompanying young people “in the reality in which they found themselves”, noting that in John’s gospel Jesus accepts the woman caught in adultery “and proposed something else”. They wrote: “Is it possible for us to both accept and even honour the family unit that a young person finds herself in and to share the Gospel ideal to her?”

The group tackled the issue of engaging young people in the Synod itself.  They suggested publishing short, snappy, weekly updates that included video and pictures. They also called on the Synod to release an “inspirational, missionary” message to the youth of the world, that said, directly and honestly, “we want to listen to you, we are sorry for our failures, we love you and have faith in you, we want to walk with you in hope.”

Concerned that young people might not read an Apostolic Exhortation issued by the Pope, they suggested publishing a shorter “study guide” to accompany it: this could conclude with a QR barcode that, when scanned, opens a chatroom where young people could meet to discuss issues raised by the Synod.


English language group C

The third English speaking group also opened with a strong focus on family ministry, noting this “is a challenging area for us to engage in”. For example, they wrote, “parents want to make money to support their kids. If we tell them to stay at home more, our words not be well received.” Church itself should be a family, they said, and observed that in developed countries it tended to be reduced to “Mass for one hour on the weekend”. The Church had a lot to learn from immigrant communities, which it said “felt the need to come together and support each other”, and it also praised the way some communities - like the Neocatechumenal way - went as far as sharing material goods.

Recognising the good in some forms of new media - “are these allowing to meet new people and make new connections?” - Group C said that “secularisation is not something we should be opposed to”. Young people often described themselves as spiritual but not religious, the group observed, but the Spirit “is not only in the Church but in society”.

“We need to make sure we are clear that young people who don't agree with the Church on sex are still members of the churches,” they wrote. The Church, they concluded, needed to listen to engage: “could we have a ministry of listening?”

English language group D

In a strong criticism of the Synod’s working document’s Western focus, Group D said discussions had overlooked the situation of young Christians who face active persecution for their faith and are “quite literally, fighting for their lives”. Warning that the West’s “ideological colonisation” was particularly harmful to the young, they said that the current working document failed to take into account “the struggles of those in many third world countries where economic and medical assistance from wealthier nations is frequently tied to an acquiescence to Western moral values in regard to sexuality and marriage.”

While acknowledging that “social media produces both light and shadow in the lives of

young people”, members of Group D warned of a “digital migration” or wandering “away from family, cultural, and religious values into a world of privacy and self-invention. Just as many immigrants feel uprooted from their spiritual homes, so many young people in the West can experience the same kind of rootlessness, even while remaining physically in place.”

They identified a tension between the Church’s listening and teaching roles: “many young people today, in the midst of a postmodern culture so marked by relativism and indifferentism, long for the clarity and confidence of the Church’s doctrine,” they said.

Elsewhere it called for the section on child sexual abuse to be expanded, adding “we should

make it clear that the commitment to reform, in both matters sexual and financial, is operative at all levels of the Church’s life.”

French language group A

The French-speaking group called on the Church to reaffirm the importance of the family as the stable union of a man and a woman, open to the gift of life, citing the importance of the family in forming young people. It praised families whom it said did the Church great service by showing that this ideal model was “possible”.

While noting that the Church had a role to play in the training young people to use new media for evangelisation, the Group also warned of a “digital rupture” - “une rupture numerique” - between highly connected young people in cities and young people growing up in rural areas.

In a section dedicated to the plight of young migrants, the group raised the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East “who wonder about their future when they see their young people leave”, often “seduced” by the mirage of the West without considering the consequences of breaking from their land, family and culture. At the sametime it warned of growing “xenophobia” in Europe, and said that Pope Francis himself invited Catholics to “listen to what God tells them through migrants.”

Noting that young Christians are often “scandalised” by the absence of real Christian unity, they said “young Catholics build bridges with others religious traditions in many initiatives, as well as with other faiths.”

French language group  B

The second French-speaking group regretted what it perceived to be the abandonment of the Church by young people, who it said “have practically deserted Christian communities”. The Church, it said, had a duty to listen to and pursue them, like the Good Shepherd. It called on the Church to develop new means of evangelisation and new ways of living out Christian faith; supported by better training for pastors - including at seminary - in how to accompany young people. This, it said, would help to form and catechise young people so that they would be able to be witnesses for Christ in the world.

The group also highlighted the particular needs of young migrants, and encouraged churches to meet on a parish and diocesan level to deal with issues arising from this.

The Group acknowledged that the Church must be more open with young people around issues around sexuality. “The Church is called to update (actualiser) her teaching on these themes knowing that she is a servant of the mercy of God,” they said.

French language group C

The third French group noted that young people often struggled to identify with the faith of their parents, but added that they were also, often “joyful witnesses of the Christian faith” when supported in doing so by the Church. Migration, it said, was a key area of concern for young people who were interested in the commitment of the Church to justice and politics.

Spanish language group A

Synod must to speak to those young people who see the church as “indifferent, incompetent and immobile” (“indiferente, incompetente, inmóvil”), and show them that it is not just a dictator of laws, the Spanish-speaking group said. Why, they wondered, were so many young people distancing themselves from the Church? “Do they not have a voice? Are they not heard? Is it a cold, legal structure?” They go on to worry, “What Jesus Christ are we presenting? A liquified, watery, mediocre holiness?”

Digital and social media are not devoid of discussions about religion and spirituality, but the Catholic Church has been left behind, the Spanish speaking group warned.

The Church, it said, needs to listen “in the style of Jesus” to the needs of young people; and then help them to transform social and ecclesial structures. It cautioned, however, against the disappearance of “ancient, musical forms” of liturgy.

Spanish language group B

The second Spanish speaking group worried that Synodal language made it seem like young people existed outside the Church. The final document must have an evangelical quality, they said, addressed to the youth of the world, not just young Catholics. Speaking of globalisation as an opportunity rather than a threat, the Synod fathers said that one of their roles was to reconcile the modern and traditional, to present “a harmony”. Not everything present is good, and not everything past is bad, they said. The group warned about the declining influence of grandparents in transmitting the faith, particularly in Western Europe and the USA.

Italian language group A

Jesus, when he accompanied the disciples on the road to Emmaus, cared less about the direction they were walking in and more about being in their company, the Italian speaking group wrote. They called on the Church to evangelise with the same “affection and energy” Jesus demonstrated with his disciple, noting that Jesus willingly “entered their night” when he accepted their invitation to stay with them in Emmaus.

They Fathers made the point that young people were already “the present” of the Church, not just its future, and urged the Synod to be careful not to create a false distance between young people and the rest of the Church.

It warned of a climate of exasperated individualism, both within and without the Church. In the former they warned that this could lead to salvation being treated as a “self-centered” pursuit of “psychological well-being”, disconnected from its community and sacramental dimension.

Italian language group B

The second Italian speaking group said that crises among young people reflect crises in the adult world and observed the natural flair that young people have for evangelisation and catechesis, when properly trained.

They called on pastors to speak to young people about their emotional lives and sexuality “with clarity, profound humanity and empathy.” The Fathers also drew attention to the particular needs of migrants, and pointed to Catholic schools as being places that could foster “a climate of inter-cultural and interreligious coexistence in society,” particularly given the growth of “new forms of fundamentalism and intolerance”.

Italian Group C

Synod had observed the need within the Church and society for “the rebalancing of the relationship between man and woman”, the third Italian speaking group said. It called on the Church to stay open to “fruitful interaction” and “greater sharing of responsibilities in the construction of the Kingdom.”

With a particular focus on worship, the Group called for a lived liturgy that was not just external but pointed towards “internal realities”. It called for the revival of Biblical homilies “as an opportunity to touch the hearts of people”.

Portuguese language group

The Church must meet young people where they are, the Portuguese speaking group insisted, identifying universities and the digital world in particular as spaces suited to evangelisation. “The Church needs to be present in this environment through the young people themselves,” they said, observing that the positive side of new media was “less accentuated” in the working document. The Fathers called specifically for parishes to provide physical spaces for young people to meet. Noting that the Church “has difficulty transmitting correctly the Christian anthropological view of the body and sexuality”, it said that good practice involved training and dialoguing with young people in this field.

“We are grateful that, for the first time, Portuguese - a language spoken by about 350 million persons - has been included as the official language of the Synod. And we ask that from now on, this good custom remain,” they concluded.




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