Consultation & Synthesis Report: Diocese of Dallas
Consultation & Synthesis Report:
Diocese of Dallas
On Ash Wednesday of 2021, I released a pastoral letter calling for our first diocesan synod since 1934: “This is a time of tremendous opportunity. This is not a time for going back to business as usual, but rather forward to fresh initiatives and bold witness to the enduring love of Jesus.” Since then, expectations arrived from the Holy See concerning our participation in the Synod on Synodality. Our diocese has joyfully embraced this process and included essential elements of the Synod on Synodality as part of our own diocesan synodal process. Led by the fundamental questions contained in the Preparatory Documents and the Vademecum, we have concluded the listening sessions. The Diocese of Dallas thus completed collection of the diocesan participation requested for the Synod on Synodality in February of 2022.
In order to complete this request and also fulfill obligations to our own diocesan synod, the Dallas preparatory commission under the direction of our core leadership team created a rubric for what we termed a “catechetical session,” replicated four times throughout our diocese. Over a two-hour period, the session began with a multilingual rosary, a catechetical talk, time for discussion at small group tables, a live Q&A session with myself and the Chair for the Synod Preparatory Commission to answer submitted written questions by attendees, and a final closing prayer with a blessing and dismissal. This catechetical session was structured so that during the catechetical talk, attendees would learn what a synod is, the value of synodality, the plan for our diocesan synod moving forward, and how all of these parts integrated with the Synod on Synodality. We structured the second half of the session to be a listening session for the Synod on Synodality, wherein we asked the questions derived from the Vademecum to create this report.
These four multilingual events were well attended. Overall, we saw roughly 1,300 individuals attend across all sessions, with representation from 69 parishes out of the 77 parishes, quasi-parishes, and chapels in our diocese.
As we distilled down the questions from the Vademecum, we chose to apply the same lens of Appreciative Inquiry to the questions written for our diocesan synod listening sessions. Appreciative Inquiry is a mode of exploration that focuses on what is working well, allowing organizations to adapt to create more positive outcomes by building on these positives. Our synodal questions were written with this guiding directional principle in mind, as well as the threefold theme for the synod on synodality of communion, participation, and mission. What follows are the questions we asked the faithful for the Synod on Synodality:
- Pope Francis outlines synodality in three key words: communion, participation, and mission. In your experience, do we – the Church in Dallas – enjoy the fraternal communion that brings together all the varied gifts of the baptized? What examples come to mind when you think of the Diocese of Dallas journeying together in this way?
- An essential aspect of journeying together involves listening, dialogue and the exercise of authority. In your experience, in what ways do we, the Diocese of Dallas, promote the participation of all the faithful within the structure of the Church? How does our shared passion in our mission permeate our dialogues and decisions?
- In a synodal Church, the laity, consecrated and ordained, are called together in order “to pray, listen, dialogue, and discern pastoral decisions. In your experience, when making decisions, how do we, the Diocese of Dallas, invite the participation of all its members, especially those at the furthest margins, and in what ways, do we pray, listen and discern together? How can the Church preach the Gospel to everyone on the peripheries of our society?
- What question, regarding our diocesan synodal process, would you like to ask our Bishop?
The fourth question was designed to tie together our two synods, and it offered me the opportunity to personally address some of those questions or concerns about the process and concept behind the synod at that moment. It led to a large number of questions. In the end, their questions were not limited to the synodal process but included questions about the practices of the diocese.
Although we chose not to collect these demographics, anecdotally those who attended our four sessions were about half men and half women who skewed 30’s and older with some outliers of youth and younger adults scattered throughout. We experienced a majority of Anglo participation, with the next-largest participation coming from the Hispanic, Asian, and African-American communities respectively.
Themes & Topics
The results of our questions fell into five main categories: leadership and governance, catechesis and ministry, communication, social and moral issues, and worship and sacraments. Remarkably, no comment was made at these sessions that fell outside of one of these five major category headers. Even though some of the critical comments were not oriented towards a positive resolution, many came from a place of genuine love and concern for our Church and a great desire to see her flourish.
Overwhelmingly, these six concepts came through as most represented throughout this process:
- The need for better catechesis, a more robust expression of the teaching authority of the Church in Dallas, and increased visibility of our Bishop.
- The need for renewal from within, and an increase of evangelizing efforts visible in the world from the Church and her members.
- Some ways to address the crisis of youth and young adult lack of involvement in the Church, and many general concerns about youth and their social pressures in the world.
- The need to encourage a better sense of belonging within our community, as well as improve our efforts for outreach and inclusion.
- The need to improve the use of media and communications with the public, and integrate the intentional use of technology.
- An appreciation for the work of Catholic Charities Dallas and St. Vincent de Paul in the diocese.
The beauty of this process was the shared experience drawn from these conversations. Many have commented that while attending these events, they were struck by how people at their tables cared about these issues and about the Church as a whole. Several times through this process, volunteers and attendees connected in meaningful ways and remained in contact with one another. What follows are some comments shared at these tables, documented by scribes, and distilled and discerned by members of the preparatory commission for our diocesan synod. These are highlighted comments that demonstrate how we arrived at the previously mentioned major common themes:
- “We feel listened to by participating in church activities and service organizations.”
- “We need a Pentecost experience.”
- “[We] need to find the strong youth programs in the Diocese and use this as a foundation to build from.”
- “Many times Catholics are signaled as perfect (in communion) and those who do not come forward to communion many times need help in coming back to communion.”
- “Big parishes that have small communities helps the sense of community.”
The six themes above, highlighted by these selected remarks, were comprised of many sentiments which explain the thematic headers more directly. Below are the most common sentiments.
Under the leadership and governance theme, people celebrated our strong community and appreciated the gifts and talents of the faithful. Many who attended expressed areas of growth they saw for us as a diocese, particularly in the development of individual leadership capacity and continuing to improve the quality of ministry available by improving administrative function and support for parishes. Some of those specific comments included the need to improve parish unity both between parishes and within a single parish, improve the relationship between the diocese and the parishes, and increase support for ministries operating at the parishes. Regarding leadership and leadership development, people commented on the need to improve the presence and quality of leaders at parishes, encouraging them to focus on their own spiritual development and remain close to God. Many comments discussed the need to encourage parishioners to develop and use their own gifts or talents in service to the Church and to empower parish leadership to learn how to use the gifts of others through volunteerism. Regarding administrative function, many asked for the diocese to help parishes in offering more similar programming and ministries from parish to parish, and make very clear what the expectations of the diocese are for parish life. Many commented on the movement of pastors and priests during reassignments, and also expressed a desire for parishes to be smaller. Thankfully, each of these concerns that are brought forth out of care for the future of the church are already intentionally included in our upcoming diocesan synodal process as things we intend to examine more closely.
The most common sentiments expressed under the catechesis and ministry theme included having strong clubs, groups, and retreats (specifically, ACTS, CHRP, and Knights of Columbus) and strong parish ministries. Many commented on strong outreach and welcoming efforts, good youth involvement, and having an impressive number of youth excited about the faith. Some made the observation that their parishes do not have enough ways to be involved or serve communities. Under the communication theme, many expressed appreciation for the televised and online Mass and our diocesan newspaper the Texas Catholic. Some held a negative perception of the diocese as only communicating when fundraising, but all who mentioned the synod itself saw our diocesan synod as a positive instrument of listening and wished it success.
The most common sentiments expressed under the social and moral issues theme included appreciation for multiculturalism and diversity within the diocese, and strong social justice efforts. There were broad and deep concerns about the state of marriage and families in our diocese, and an observation of ethnic and language tensions which included concerns both for and against immigration (i.e., we are not doing enough for immigrants, and we are doing too much for immigrants). Despite some thinking they had plenty of opportunities for social justice projects, some felt they did not have enough access to them. There were also concerns over the lack of clarity and sometimes lack of charity in handling LGBT issues within the Church. The most common sentiments expressed under the worship and sacraments theme included frustrations over liturgical differences and concerns over the Latin Mass, a highly expressed need for improved homilies that move and motivate people to continue the practice of their faith, a need for more Eucharistic reverence, adoration, and a recognition of the real presence, and a need for worship to be physical and not just televised.
Each of these themes and sentiments was an important part of the process for our participation in the Synod on Synodality and also for our diocesan synodal process. Each of the sentiments is incorporated into a listening session for our diocesan synod and will be addressed in much greater depth than we were able to address during this process.
We processed this information while paying particular attention to the less common perspectives expressed in this process. Some noted our Safe Environment process has improved, and praised good diocesan leadership including the Bishop’s increased presence at events throughout the diocese, support of vocations, and evangelization and catechesis. Some felt we have good Catholic schools, expressing appreciation also for diocesan Catholic radio and podcasts. Some felt we had good homilies, good parish to parish connections, are fostering family life well, and expressed appreciation for the targeted diocesan Masses for particular audiences like the Blue Mass for police and law enforcement.
The areas of concern included not having enough disability accommodations in the diocese and a lack of childcare at parishes for events parents want to attend. Some felt we needed more qualified and more educated staff at parishes and schools, and to increase their pay. Some say we need more, less expensive, and more faithful Catholic schools, as well as more ecumenical involvement in the diocese. Some experienced the diocese as not reaching out enough to other cultures, too political, not offering enough confession times, and had concern about abuse and previous scandals.
This data shows the people of God in Dallas care about the Church, what she does, how she is perceived, and care deeply about improving her for current and future generations. Some expressed anger, some expressed sadness, and some expressed joy. Yet we see from this effort and the reinforcement of the comments around this exercise that all appreciated being listened to and having an opportunity to speak their piece. This is being reinforced by our efforts around the diocesan synod listening sessions and preparatory process.
Questions that arose out of this process
This process has been helpful for our diocese. We have uncovered areas of opportunity and are encouraged forward in our diocesan synodal process. We were limited by physical space and time in how many could be invited and where the events were held. Several preparatory commission members noted this set of remarks may not represent our entire diocese due to such constraints as time, given that three of these sessions were held on weekday evenings from 6:30 – 8:30 PM. Having learned from this experience, we will offer alternate times for our diocesan listening sessions going forward to ensure as many as possible are able to join.
This synodal journey required us to examine how we are reaching those on the margins of society, those who have fallen away, how each of these groups are included in ecclesial pastoral planning, and in concrete pastoral responses. We will now examine each of these questions and recommendations separately.
We made strides in reaching the margins of society and those who have fallen away from the faith, yet more progress will be made over time. Our parish point person program for the diocesan synod was also used for the synod on synodality. This group assisted in promoting synodal activities within their parishes to ensure parishioners were informed. We offered presentations and discussion in both English and Spanish, the primary languages in this diocese. We also had an interpreter for our deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The multilingual rosary included languages represented within our diocese, with decades prayed in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog, and French. These languages were well received and encouraged others to attend later sessions. We created social media ads that reached individuals who may not have heard about this through their parish, or perhaps do not attend a parish. We also promoted sessions on Catholic radio, our diocesan newspapers the Texas Catholic and La Revista Catolica, and encouraged people to personally invite individuals in their own networks to attend.
We ensured participation by offering facilitation in both English and Spanish. One Chinese congregation brought their own facilitator so their members would be able to discuss in their own language. Our first session taught us how to later improve the timeline of the event to allow for more time for discussion in the subsequent three sessions. Yet, each of the sessions allowed time for conversation at these tables. We have heard that some tables got along so well they chose to stay in communication with one another after the event.
How we will continue to engage these groups remains a topic of conversation for the synod preparatory commission. There is still work that can be done in increasing this language inclusion, as well as efforts to reach individuals who are not already “in” the Catholic community and may feel marginalized from it. We discussed how to assist the fallen away in our own families, and providing those who have never engaged with Catholicism with an accessible entry point. Inviting others to Mass will always be an option, but recognizing that the primary liturgy of our faith is rich in symbolism and depth, it may be inaccessible for individuals who are unfamiliar or perhaps intimidated. Our diocese is choosing to engage with this deeper conversation through the remainder of our diocesan synodal process. We want to assess what it would mean for us to create opportunities for an invitation that allow us to bring individuals closer to Christ and see this synodal process as vital.
These are the recommendations we are taking for ourselves from this synod on synodality experience:
- That we continue to pray for the fruitfulness of both the universal synod on synodality and our diocesan synod to lead us closer to the will of God
- That we continue to explore ways to incorporate those on the margins of our society into not only the synodal process but fold into the Church to help them encounter Christ
- That we discern the ways we are called to address the concerns of the people of God within our diocese
- That we renew our commitment to marriage as an institution with proper preparation for those entering into it, ongoing formation for those already married, and a commitment specifically to supporting the domestic Church
- That we continue to work towards promoting the use of our homiletics institute as well as other elements that will improve the quality of preaching in our diocese
- That we continue to examine the accessibility and affordability of Catholic education in our diocese
- That we continue to examine ways to promote and support vocations to the priesthood and religious life
- That we look for effective ways to catechize the faithful and to communicate the Church’s teaching clearly and charitably to the broader society
The Diocese of Dallas hereby submits this report on our Synod on Synodality participation.
The Synod on Synodality & the Dallas Diocesan Synod: What’s the Difference?
by Gregory Caridi, J.D., J.C.L, Chancellor for the Diocese of Dallas
published in Texas Catholic on October 14, 2021
Bishop Burns has recently embarked on a multiyear diocesan synod process for the Diocese of Dallas. At the same time, Pope Francis has announced a universal synod for the whole Church, which will draw on input from dioceses around the world. An important question to answer then is: what’s the difference between these two synods?
First, it is best to begin with a definition of a synod in general. A synod is fundamentally just a meeting. More formally, it is a very large gathering of selected individuals in order to discuss and address issues, concepts or goals. These meetings are only advisory. That is, they serve to help the individual who called the synod (either the Pope or a diocesan bishop) make important decisions. Put another way, a synod is not a legislative body or a parliament, and while it does vote, its votes are not binding on the individual who called the synod. Following a synod, there is a document which articulates and analyzes the actions of the synod body.
Both that which was called by Pope Francis in 2020 and that which was called by Bishop Burns in 2021 are synods in this same general sense. They simply have different members, a different scope and address different topics. Namely, the synod called by Pope Francis will touch on issues that affect the universal Church around the whole world, while the synod called by Bishop Burns is focused on the local Church here in the Dallas area and will address issues that affect the Diocese of Dallas specifically.
The Synod on Synodality called by Pope Francis
In March of 2020, the Holy Father called a Synod of Bishops with the theme “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.” Popes have regularly called synods, especially since Vatican Council II.
This new synod hopes to address the fundamentals of synodality itself. Synodality is a term that has taken on many meanings but it primarily refers to the overarching consultative process by which the faithful work alongside the bishops and the Pope, who lead the Church. A synod meeting is an expression of synodality in that it is a process wherein the head of a church gathers together the faithful, listens, considers and then leads from what he has learned.
For this process, the Holy Father has called on dioceses around the word to address certain questions. The “fundamental question” of this universal synod is expressed in the following way: “A synodal Church, in announcing the Gospel, ‘journeys together.’ How is this ‘journeying together’ happening today in your local Church? What steps does the Spirit invite us to take in order to grow in our ‘journeying together?’”
In order to answer this fundamental question, among others, dioceses around the world, including the Diocese of Dallas, will convoke “synodal consultation meetings” to hear from members of the Diocese. This diocesan portion of the synod will begin with an opening Mass on October 10, 2021 celebrated by Pope Francis and then with Masses around the world, which will take place on October 17, 2021. The responses to these questions presented to dioceses will be due back to the Vatican in April of 2022.
Following the collection of these many responses, the Pope will convoke the formal synod meeting in October of 2023 in Rome, where these answers, along with other issues, will be discussed. The synod body will also vote on potential resolutions for the Holy Father to consider. From this meeting, the Pope will likely write an apostolic exhortation integrating all he has learned over this process.
While this synod process is entirely distinct from the diocesan synod called by Bishop Burns, since the timelines overlap between the two synods, Bishop Burns has decided to integrate the aforementioned “synodal consultation meetings” into the diocesan synod process. It is to that which we now turn.
The Diocesan Synod called by Bishop Burns
Bishop Burns announced a diocesan synod in February of 2021 through a pastoral letter entitled “The Journey Through Lent, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost: Diocesan Synod and Post-Pandemic Pastoral Plan for the Diocese of Dallas.” You can find this letter at https://www.cathdal.org/synod.
In that document, Bishop Burns gave a summary of the state of the Diocese of Dallas and expressed his vision for the future of the Diocese, with a particular emphasis on the apostolic mission of the Church. He described this time as one of “tremendous opportunity” and “not a time for going back to business as usual, but rather forward with fresh initiatives and bold witness to the enduring love of Jesus.”
In particular, he compares the Diocese to the early Church, where the faithful were left in the pagan culture of that day to “carry out the mission of Jesus after his Resurrection and Ascension.” He went on to add that “It is time to recover the faith and trust of that original apostolic community: to implore the risen Lord as they did, to beg him to set our hearts on fire again with the zeal of the Holy Spirit which came upon them in the Upper Room at Pentecost, to ask for the strength to set out to the ends of the Earth, with a willingness to do and to suffer anything if only to preach Christ crucified and risen as the only hope for the world.”
This synod was called specifically to discuss many concerns of the faithful in order to accomplish this renewal of the apostolic mission. The Bishop has appointed Ms. Lacy De la Garza as chairperson to run the synod preparatory process, the multiyear phase which precedes the actual synod meeting itself. He has also appointed a preparatory commission that will help manage this preparatory phase.
This phase will formally begin on December 12, 2021, the Feast of the Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Diocese of Dallas, with a Mass and accompanying celebration. Following this, over many months, the preparatory commission will hold “catechetical sessions” which will serve two purposes: one, to help the faithful of the Diocese better understand the synod itself and their role in it; and two, to serve as the “synodal consultation meetings” in order to address the questions that were presented by the Holy Father for his synod on synodality. These catechetical sessions are likely to conclude by February of 2022.
After the conclusion of the catechetical sessions, the Diocese will hold listening sessions all throughout the Diocese at parishes, schools and other locations. These listening sessions will not address issues of doctrine or Church teaching, which are established by the universal Church. Instead they will be focused on how to properly live and grow the life of the Church in the Diocese of Dallas. From these listening sessions, the preparatory commission will consolidate the feedback into formal resolutions that will be voted upon at the synod meeting itself. These listening sessions will take place over many months, and it is anticipated that ten to fifteen sessions will take place in total. These sessions are likely to conclude by December of 2023.
Following these listening sessions, the multiday synod meeting itself will take place some time in 2024. At the synod meeting, the synod body, which includes clerics, lay people and guests selected according to canon law and by the Bishop personally, will discuss the responses of the lay faithful and vote on the resolutions that were compiled by the synod preparatory commission.
The Bishop will hold a large Mass and celebration at the conclusion of the synod meeting. This is properly speaking when the synod has formally concluded. He will then review all of the discussions of the synod body. As noted, a synod is purely advisory. The Bishop is not bound to implement any suggestion voted on by the synod body. Instead, he will prayerfully consider the conclusions and requests in making decisions about the future of the Diocese. The Bishop will also issue a document reflecting upon the actions of the diocesan synod.
Implementation of synod resolutions is likely to take place over many years in the Diocese, but it is hoped that all proposals are completed by December 12, 2031, with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Both Pope Francis and Bishop Burns’ goals are ambitious, but they are distinct, important projects aimed forward at the renewal and expansion of the Church in the world. The Diocese is calling on all the faithful for their active participation in both of these processes.
How participant feedback from catechetical sessions impacts the future of our Synod
By Lacy de la Garza
Special to The Texas Catholic
The beginning of the synod listening sessions signifies the conclusion of the synod catechetical sessions.
As outlined in previous articles featured in The Texas Catholic, the Dallas Synod catechetical sessions were our way of participating in Pope Francis’s global Synod on Synodality while preparing the diocese for the progression of efforts surrounding our own diocesan synod.
This transition time offers an opportunity to reflect on what has been shared in these conversations thus far, and also to encourage readers to participate in the coming sessions over the next two years.
Now we look to give an overview of responses by category, explain what will happen with this information, and show that our diocesan synodal plan encompasses addressing each of these comment categories in depth.
The four catechetical sessions were completed over a period of four months from November 2021 to February 2022. In total, roughly 1,300 people attended these sessions. Around 1,900 comments were qualitatively categorized into five broad areas:
- Leadership & Governance
- Catechesis & Ministry
- Social & Moral Issues
- Worship & Sacraments
No comment was made at the catechetical sessions that could not be placed under one of these main headers.
It is noteworthy that all of the concerns, hopes, and excitement expressed in these comments is slated to be discussed at one or more of the upcoming diocesan listening sessions.
The 10 public listening session topics have been released to those signed up for Flocknote from the Diocese of Dallas. (To receive these notices directly, you can sign up at cathdal.org/synod.)
A question I am commonly asked is now that this is compiled, what happens with this information?
Since this data was gathered to compile the diocesan report for the global Synod on Synodality, the roughly 1,900 comments will be aggregated into our Diocese of Dallas report that will make its way to Rome this year. However, since we are also in the midst of planning for our own diocesan synod, we will use this information to continue to prepare.
The preparatory commission has begun to digest this data, which will continue to influence the formation of questions to be posed at the listening sessions.
The listening sessions, in turn, will continue to produce information that will then be used to draft the eventual synodal resolutions that will be discussed in depth at the Dallas Synod meeting in 2024.
These responses are a snapshot of experiences. It is the role of the faithful to share these experiences so they are accounted for in the synodal process.
Your participation in this process is crucial for its fruitfulness. We encourage you to attend one or more of the 10 public listening sessions occurring over the next two years.
Lacy de la Garza is the chair of the Diocese of Dallas Synod Preparatory Commission.