Pope extends reform process for year amid apathy, criticism

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has decided to extend a lengthy global consultation of ordinary Catholics on the future of the Catholic Church for a year, amid limited lay participation and apparent resistance to his reforms from within the hierarchy.

Francis announced Sunday that the planned 2023 meeting of bishops would take place in two phases — a session in October 2023 and a second in October 2024 — to give more time to find a way forward.

Francis formally opened a two-year consultation process in 2021 on the topic of “synodality,” or a more decentralized structure of the church in which the laity play a greater role. The process is part of Francis’s long-term goal to make the Church more inclusive, participatory, and responsive to real-world issues facing ordinary Catholics.

As part of the process, the Vatican asked dioceses, religious orders and other Catholic groups to hold local listening sessions so ordinary Catholics could talk about their needs and hopes for the Church. Episcopal conferences in August reported on the results, and an organizing committee recently met near Rome and completed a synthesis paper.

But several dioceses and episcopal conferences reported minimal participation. For example, the American Conference of Catholic Bishops reported that 700,000 people took part in the consultation, in a country of 66.8 million Catholics. Many European countries also reported participation rates of less than 10%.

In addition, many of Francis’ opponents have mocked the entire initiative. A leading critic and former Vatican official, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller of Germany, recently warned it meant a “hostile takeover” of the church. Others have pointed to a similar consultation process in Germany that has badly divided the church amid discussions of hot-button issues such as sexual morality, women in leadership positions and the church’s treatment of LGBTQ Catholics.

Announcing the one-year extension on Sunday, Francis said the fruits of this first phase were many “but to reach full maturity it is imperative that we do not rush things.” Adding another year, he said, would allow for a “more comprehensive award”.

“I trust that this decision will lead to an understanding of synodality as a constitutive dimension of the Church, and to help everyone live it as a path of brothers and sisters who testify to the joy of the Gospel,” Francis said in a statement. his afternoon blessing overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

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The Vatican office that hosted the meeting had already extended the deadline to report to ordinary dioceses and bishops’ conferences by several months. That office said Sunday that the decision to extend the entire process for another year would “promote a more mature reflection for the greater good of the Church.”

It’s not the first time Francis has split a synod meeting into two sessions, with a year of breathing space in between. He did so for his synod on the family, which took place over the course of two sessions in 2014 and 2015, and resulted in his 2016 document that opened the door for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion.

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