NEW YORK – A synthesis report on synod listening sessions conducted during the current interim period in the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky, shared that priests and laity expressed frustration about a lack of clarity from Pope Francis, specifically in regards to Fiducia Supplicans.

“[The frustration] was generally related to Fiducia Supplicans and the confusion and consternation it caused among the faithful regarding what was perceived to be an approval for the blessing of same sex unions,” Bishop William Medley of Owensboro wrote in the synthesis report.

Published December 18, 2023, Fiducia Supplicans is a Vatican document that outlines the pastoral grounds for same-sex blessings. The declaration upholds the sacrament of marriage as between a man and a woman, while also holding that pastors can, when asked, provide a simple blessing to couples in irregular situations and to same-sex couples.

Fiducia Supplicans didn’t exist through the early stages of the Synod on Synodality, which concludes at the end of October, therefore its publication adds another layer to the conversations.

Medley notes in the interim stage synthesis, published earlier this month, that Francis was described in the listening sessions as being “ambiguous” in his teaching, and people want the pontiff to “be direct and tell us what you actually mean.”

Medley further notes that pastors are on the front lines of dealing with sensitive topics like transgender issues, and same sex marriage, and “they expressed a desire for guidance from Church leaders on these issues.”

Led by Medley, the Diocese of Owensboro held its listening sessions during the 2024 Lenten season – Feb. 14-March 28 – to allow both clergy and laity the opportunity to respond to questions put forth by the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops during the current interim phase. The questions primarily focused on Church structures and organization and Church leadership.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommended each diocese hold two to three listening sessions. The Diocese of Owensboro held five, in which 153 people participated. The five sessions included one each with the presbyterate, parish council representatives, Hispanic ministry leaders, catechists and youth ministers, and diocesan staff.

Every diocese was supposed to send a synthesis report to the USCCB by April 8.

Among the concerns participants expressed in the sessions in the Diocese of Owensboro was the need for greater clarity from Church leaders on Church teachings was at the top of the list. Other top concerns in the report included the need for more priestly and religious vocations in the diocese, and the loss of youth and young adults in the Church.

Specifically related to clergy, the report states that as the presbyterate nears the point of being predominantly foreign, session participants expressed the need for more and better ongoing formation and support for international priests. It was also noted that in some places there are authoritarian priests/pastors who are hesitant to relinquish control to lay ministers.

Session participants, according to the report, also view the annulment process as “a stumbling block in bringing people to the Table of the Lord.” The report also states that the faithful are eager for more faith formation and for a greater understanding of their role in the Church’s mission.

On a positive note, the report states that participants highlighted how the local Church has “shined” in response to natural disasters through the local Catholic Charities branch. Hispanic leaders also lauded the diocese’s Hispanic ministry for its work, and Medley for supporting it.

There was also an appreciation expressed for the structure of the Church in providing people a framework for handing on the faith and providing continuity in worship, according to the report. It also states that there is an appreciation for Francis and his vision of a synodal Church.

Medley said that none of what was expressed in the sessions was particularly surprising. However, he said that there was great value in giving people the ability to speak, and that it was something they were grateful for.

“It was wonderful to be able to point out to participants that much of what was heard in the Diocese of Owensboro last year was also heard at the October Synod meeting in Rome,” Medley said. “There seems to be a cautious hopefulness that the synodal process is working and will result in positive change and a greater dynamism in the faith.”

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