Today, 24 March, those 300 young people gathered in Rome at the invitation of the Vatican issued their own final document after a week-long discussion. Some 15,000 young people contributed to the discussions through Facebook groups. The participants at the meeting — which was open to people between the ages of 16 and 29 — were chosen by national bishops’ conferences, Catholic institutions, and the Vatican’s synod office.
This document will be handed to Pope Francis tomorrow, on Palm Sunday, and shall likely influence the discussions at the Synod of Bishops on the Youth which will take place in the fall of this year. As it states:
The document is understood as a summary of all of our participants’ input based on the work of 20 language groups and 6 from social media. This will be one source, among others, that will contribute to the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod of Bishops 2018.
As this final document of the pre-synod meeting informs us, it contains “reflections of young people of the 21st century from various religious and cultural backgrounds.” The authors state that this document might be “an indicator of what she [the Church] needs to do moving forward.” The authors go so far as to call this summary text “a compass”:
This is to give the Bishops a compass, pointing towards a clearer understanding of young people: a navigational aid for the upcoming Bishops’ Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment” in October 2018
Echoing Pope Francis’ own repeated words, the young at the Rome meeting lamentably regret the harshness of the Catholic Church, especially when they write: “The Church oftentimes appears as too severe and is often associated with excessive moralism. Sometimes, in the Church, it is hard to overcome the logic of ‘it has always been done this way’. We need a Church that is welcoming and merciful […]” They also say that “we need inclusion.”
With regard to the place and function of women in the Church, the authors request more influence for women. Young people could feel more “accepted,” they say, when “we seek to promote the dignity of women, both in the Church and in wider society.” The young authors regret that in society, “women are still not given an equal place. This is also true in the Church.” They add:
One key question arises from these reflections; what are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society? The Church can approach these problems with real discussion and open-mindedness to different ideas and experiences.
At a later place in the document, the authors return to the topic of women. They again regret that there is “an unclear role of women in the Church. If it is difficult for young people to feel a sense of belonging and leadership in the Church, it is much more so for young women.”
With regard to several controversial moral issues, the young authors show themselves to be divided, but they also indicate that hopes for changes in the Church’s teachings have been fittingly brought up:
There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today. Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church. What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues. As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least to have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions. Even though there is internal debate, young Catholics whose convictions are in conflict with official teaching still desire to be part of the Church. Many young Catholics accept these teachings and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching.
The authors of the final document additionally regret that they may not have more leading positions within the Church: “On many occasions, young people have difficulty finding a space in the Church where they can actively participate and lead.” They even go farther when they claim:
The Church must involve young people in its decision-making processes and offer them more leadership roles. These positions need to be on a parish, diocesan, national and international level, even on a commission to the Vatican. We strongly feel that we are ready to be leaders.
When speaking about vocations, the document does not bring up the idea of women as deacons nor as priests.
Thus, while the document seems much calmer than some observers had expected, the surrounding interviews given by some of the young participants — as well as media coverage — might have its own solvent impact.
Andrien Louandre, one of the young participants from France, just gave an interview in which he praised Pope Francis, especially his building of “a Church which is more open and where mercy is at the center. Truly, this question of openness is important, especially with regard to homosexuals; one needs to integrate them, but also give them permission to live their Faith within a positive homosexuality.”
Sandro Bucher, an atheist from Switzerland who participated at the youth gathering, explained in an interview with Katholisch.de that he had left the Church when he was sixteen years old because he was against the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, celibacy, and her rejection of female priests, among other topics. He also was opposed to the Church’s position concerning the “remarried” divorcees.
Looking at more ostensibly progressive media outlets,such as today’s National Catholic Reporter‘s report, there is given weight to the call to change Church teachings on various moral issues.
The young people address church teachings on same-sex marriage and contraception in a section of the document on how youth today are searching for meaning in life.
According to the report, “some of the young propose changes: ‘As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching, or at least have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions.'”
The author of the article, Joshua McElwee, also placed some pointed remarks on his twitter account, saying: “Pre-Synod document written by 300 young people in Rome acknowledges that some youth ‘may want the Church to change her teaching’ on ‘polemical issues’ such as contraception and same-sex marriage.”
As we reported a few days ago, two representatives of the feminist organization Voices of Faith — Nicole Perone and Alina Oehler — had been invited to participate at this youth gathering. Perone herself was asked to be a member of the drafting team for the final document of the youth meeting that will be handed to Pope Francis tomorrow.
Alina Oehler, in a commentary written for the German bishops’ website Katholisch.de, explains that “it was mostly unclear how the individual editors [of the final document] were chosen.” She continues, adding “that is an impression that remained present throughout the whole pre-synod meeting. Many participants had been invited on very short-term basis and did not know much about the background.” In this context, she was supportive of the document’s call for more transparency in the Church.
Oehler in her honesty also did not remain silent about the fact that the discussion as to whether or not to include those topics of “homosexuality and gender” in the final document was “contested until the end.” She herself is “happy” that the topic of women is mentioned four times, and prominently so.
The near future will likely show in what manner this new youth document will be used for more progressive purposes than what is perceptible at first sight. It certainly has given individuals the chance to promote their own views with regard to what the Church should change in order, putatively, to please the world of the young. And we also remember how it took Pope Francis two synods to reach the goal he had intended from the beginning with regard to the marriage question.