Quo vadis, synod of bishops?

Quo vadis, synod of bishops?

Bishops meet for youth synod © Cristian Gennari/Siciliani (KNA)

Synod of Bishops on youth begins this Wednesday in Rome. A working paper has been available since the summer. The meeting is overshadowed by abuse scandals and a credibility crisis.

The Youth Synod was not cancelled after all. This had demanded individual bishops because of the current abuse and trust crisis of the church. Instead, starting this Wednesday, these topics will also be explicitly discussed; they appeared anyway in the topic requests of the youth presynod in March.

Synod of Bishops under the theme "Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment" lasts until 28. October. The three-week conference will focus on the lives of some 1.8 billion people between the ages of 16 and 29. Focuses on young people's life choices and their relationship to faith and church.

Extensive working paper

In mid-June, the Vatican presented a comprehensive working paper on this topic, which bundles the results of several surveys and preparatory meetings – also with the participation of young people. The 214-point working paper ("Instrumentum laboris") is intended to offer the broadest possible view of the situation of young people and their faith and life choices. It serves as a basis for consultation.

Shortly before the summer break, the Vatican had published the working document for the Youth Synod in October and announced the leadership of the World Synod of Bishops. Not a single European or American is a member of this group: Iraqi Cardinal Louis Raphael I. Sako (70), head of the Chaldean Church united with Rome, Cardinal Desire Tsarahazana (64) from Madagascar, Myanmar's Cardinal Charles Bo (69) and Cardinal John Ribat (61) from Papua New Guinea.

The pope entrusts the important task of general reverend to Cardinal Sergio da Rocha (58), president of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. He will be the rapporteur of the bishops' assembly and thus have great influence on the formulation of the synod's results.

Just over three weeks before the start, the Vatican also announced the rest of the nearly 340 bishops, religious, experts and auditors in attendance. In mid-September, a new synodal order, the Apostolic Constitution "Episcopalis communio", followed. It is intended to strengthen above all the participation of the faithful in preparatory and follow-up work. The order sets down much of what has already been done de facto in the preparations for the Synod on the Family and the Synod on Youth.

Oster, Genn and Wubbe attend for DBK

Youth Bishop Stefan Oster from Passau, Bishop Felix Genn from Munster and Auxiliary Bishop Johannes Wubbe from Osnabruck are participating on behalf of the German Bishops' Conference. In addition, the pope appointed Cardinal Reinhard Marx; BDKJ president Thomas Andonie will participate as an auditor; as such, he has speaking but no voting rights.

Paul Metzlaff from the Youth Pastoral Care Office in Dusseldorf is part of an international team of helpers. Participating as an ecumenical guest for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is Julia Braband of the Youth Committee of the German section of the LWF.

To speak for the youth, there are also 50 women and men of different ages sitting in the rows of the Vatican synod auditorium. These auditors can weigh in on the deliberations, but have no vote when the bishops adopt their final document. Critics think that the youth have too little weight in the end.

Desire for "authentic church"

On the other hand, the working paper refers in many places to statements made by young people. Predominant is the desire of young people for an "authentic church". Regarding the fact that many young people are moving away from the church, the working document states self-critically that this also has "serious and serious reasons".

Also cited are "the scandals of a sexual and financial nature," because of which the youth urge the church to "strengthen its zero-tolerance attitude toward its institutions".

This is just one aspect of the 80-page paper, which also addresses family and singleness, generational differences, digital transformation, drugs, migration, unemployment, globalization, society, justice, faith, church, secularization, and sports and music.

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