ROME – A working document for the final gathering of Pope Francis’s controversial Synod of Bishops on synodality, presented Tuesday in a news conference, may strike most observers as more notable for what it didn’t say than what it did.

The official working document, called an Instrumentum Laboris, for the second Rome-based session of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, marking an official end to the three-year process, was published July 9.

At the close of last year’s initial session, a synthesis document summarizing the month-long discussion was also widely considered to be a disappointment for those hoping the synod would urge action on issues such as married priests, women’s ordination and the welcome of LGBTQ+ individuals, which were among the most emotional and contested discussion topics.

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Those unhappy with the synthesis document will also likely be nonplussed by the working document for this year’s gathering, which makes no mention of priestly celibacy or the married priesthood, and which is also absent of references to the LGBTQ+ community.

The document does not include any mention of “homosexual,” “orientation,” or “gay,” but offers a general acknowledgement of a desire from all continents “concerning people who, for different reasons, are or feel excluded or on the margins of the ecclesial community or who struggle to find full recognition of their dignity and gifts within it.”

“This lack of welcome leaves them feeling rejected, hinders their journey of faith and encounter with the Lord, and deprives the Church of their contribution to mission,” the document says.

On women, like the synthesis document, the instrumentum laboris recognizes a widespread desire to see women in roles of leadership and governance more often, and to foster a greater inclusion of women, but without offering any specifics in terms of women’s priestly ordination or the female diaconate.

It reported what it said was a general call from bishops’ conferences to acknowledge what women already do, and to further develop these roles, while also calling for greater “exploration of ministerial and pastoral modalities that better express the charisms and gifts the Spirit pours out on women in response to the pastoral needs of our time.”

Bishops’ conferences, the document said, suggested a broader participation of women “in the processes of ecclesial discernment and all stages of decision-making processes,” and wider access “to positions of responsibility in dioceses and ecclesiastical institutions, in line with existing provisions.”

Requests were also made for a “greater recognition and support for the life and charisms of consecrated women and their employment in positions of responsibility,” and for access for women “to positions of responsibility in seminaries, institutes and theological faculties,” as well as an increased number of women judges in all canonical processes.

On the women’s diaconate, the document noted that some bishops’ conferences called for access to it, while others voiced opposition, saying only that “On this issue, which will not be the subject of the work of the second session, it is good that theological reflection should continue, on an appropriate timescale and in the appropriate ways.”

Pope Francis has been studying ways to include women with his top advisory body, the Council of Cardinals advising him on church governance and reform.

Since last December, that group has heard several presentations from women on how to better include women in the life and leadership of the church, including proposals for the diaconate. However, Pope Francis said earlier this year, when asked in an interview with CBS that if women would ever be ordained priests or deacons, that this would not happen.

The synod’s working document noted that some theological and canonical questions regarding specific forms of ecclesial ministry for women, as well as their participation in the life and leadership of the church, “have been entrusted to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), in dialogue with the General Secretariat of the Synod,” and are being discussed.

Another topic addressed were the clerical abuse scandals, as the church continues to reel from high-profile cases such as that of Slovenian former Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik, accused of abusing over 30 adult women over several decades, and whose case is currently being investigated by the DDF.

On the abuse issue, the document faulted clericalism as a cause of abuse and acknowledged calls for greater transparency and accountability.

“In our time, the demand for transparency and accountability in and by the Church has come about as a result of the loss of credibility due to financial scandals and, even more so, sexual abuse and other abuses of minors and vulnerable persons,” the document said.

For the church to be more synodal, and thus more welcoming, the document said, “then accountability and transparency must be at the core of its action at all levels, not only at the level of authority.”

“However, those in positions of authority have a greater responsibility in this regard,” it said, saying transparency and accountability must be taken into greater consideration in the drafting of pastoral plans, methods of evangelization, and in contemplating “how the Church respects the dignity of the human person, for example, regarding the working conditions within its institutions.”

The document said the practice of accountability to superiors has been a common practice in the church, while “the dimension of accountability of authority to the community must be recovered.”

“Transparency must be a feature of the exercise of authority in the Church. Today, structures and forms of regular evaluation of how ministerial responsibilities of all kinds are exercised emerge as necessary,” it said.

The instrumentum laboris was compiled based on various reports summarizing reflection and discussion on a synthesis document published at the end of last year’s October session, which was published and sent back to bishops’ conferences for input.

According to an informational note from the Vatican, by June 30 the Vatican synod office had received 108 reports on the synthesis document from bishops’ conferences, as well as various religious institutions and from over 200 international entities, including universities, faculties, associations of the faithful and individual communities or persons.

The document was written by a group of theologians that included bishops, priests, religious men and women, and laypeople from around the world, with members of the Ordinary Council of the synod making final adjustments before formally presenting it to Pope Francis.

Members of the synod’s Ordinary Council include Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg; Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech; Undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops Spanish Bishop Luis Marín de San Martín, and French Sister Nathalie Becquart, who is also an undersecretary to the synod office

An initial version of the working document was sent to around 70 people representing various ecclesial ranks – including priests, consecrated persons, laypeople, theologians, and pastoral workers – whom the Vatican said represented different “ecclesial sensitivities” and “theological schools.”

After some modifications, the document was then sent back to the Ordinary Council, which made further adjustments before sending it to Pope Francis for approval.

The instrumentum laboris is divided into five sections, beginning with an introduction that is followed by a section dedicated to the foundations of understanding synodality.

Three “closely interwoven” parts follow that focus on the “missionary synodal life” of the church from three different perspectives, the first of which is the perspective of relationships: with God, with others and between churches.

The fourth session focuses on paths that concretely support and nourish the dynamic of the relationships explored in the previous section, and the fifth section is dedicated to concrete places in which these relationships are and can be formed, as well as differences and interconnected nature of these relationships, as rooted in the faith.

The document also offers what the informational note referred to as “theological subsidies,” giving canonical and theological references for the various themes presented in the instrumentum laboris.

These references, the note says, is meant to help synod participants understand the root of what’s in the working document and it points to references from scripture, church tradition, the Second Vatican Council, and Pope Francis’s magisterial documents.

It is expected that this October’s concluding synod session will produce a final document to be submitted to the pope for reflection and a potential apostolic exhortation, as has been the case in the past.

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With the lack of mention on concrete issues such as the women’s diaconate, some observers see the move as Pope Francis taking potentially inflammatory issues off of the table so as not to sidetrack the discussion with hot-button issues that lack consensus from the outset.

Francis made a similar move when ahead of the synod’s opening, Francis published responses to a set of dubia, or doubts, posed by five conservative cardinals about these issues in which he reaffirmed the ban on women’s priestly ordination while saying it could be studied, and opened a cautious door to the blessing of same-sex unions on a case-by-case basis, with certain caveats.

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