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 The Synod Process

Historical Synopsis Ninth Synod of Los Angeles 2000–2003

Inception of the Synod

On Holy Thursday, 2000, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, and the priests of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles issued their joint Pastoral Letter, As I Have Done for You. In this letter, the first Archdiocesan Synod since 1961 was convoked. By the end of the year, the Synod Office was established and in operation under the direction of Sr. Marilyn Vollmer, SSM, and the Synod Steering Body was assembled to give guidance, direction, and assistance to Pre-Synodal planning and implementation. The Steering Body was also to be responsible for assessing the progress of Synod planning, for providing oversight and finalizing decisions, and for ensuring that Synod processes and scheduling received high priority among the many responsibilities of the Archdiocese.

By December 2000, the Synod Director had gathered a range of perceptions about the Local Church from various leaders through meetings held with Regional Bishops and their Deans, with priests at individual Deanery meetings, with the Sisters’ Council and Brothers’ Council, with the Lay Leadership Committee of the Pastoral Councils Office, with the Deacon Representatives and their wives, with the Executive Committee of the Priests’ Council, and with Cardinal Mahony.

In March 2001, the Synod Preparatory Commission was established to provide leadership in generating the content of the Synod and in selecting the representatives for Regional Synod Assemblies and, ultimately, the delegates for the Synod itself.

Participants in the Process

Although the final number of Synod delegates would not exceed 352, wide consultation was involved throughout the process of determining the Synod agenda. Between October 2001 and June 2002 all members of the 287 parishes of the Archdiocese were invited to attend two Parish Consultations or “Speak Up Sessions.” At these sessions they were invited to speak their concerns and hopes for the future of the Church in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. A total of 657 parish consultation sessions were conducted and eleven languages were used. Over 26,000 parishioners spoke up at these sessions.

Parishioners were not the only participants in this initial stage of the Synod process. Similar consultations were also held for department heads and employees of the Archdiocesan Catholic Center, for the Major Superiors of women and men religious, for priests, for sisters, and for deacons in each Pastoral Region, for religious brothers, for students at the Major Seminary in Camarillo, for the members of the Synod Steering Body and the Synod Preparatory Commission, for participants at the annual Young Adult Conference, for college and university students at Catholic campuses and at the Catholic centers of public and private institutions, and for Catholics held in detention. A total of 59 such consultation sessions were held for these groups and involved 2,389 participants.

Between January and February 2002, parishes implemented several available methods for selecting parochial representation for the coming Regional Synod Assemblies. A designated formula based on parochial population determined the number of representatives each parish would select. A designated number of deacons, religious, and priests were also selected to participate as representatives. The title “representatives” was chosen to designate the participants in the five Regional Assemblies conducted in the fall of 2002 and to distinguish them from the “delegates” who would participate in the Archdiocesan Synod.

In addition to the other tasks accomplished at the Regional Synod Assemblies, these representatives also voted among themselves to nominate Synod delegates to represent their respective Pastoral Regions. Each Regional Bishop, working with a regional committee, selected delegates from among those nominated by the Regional Synod Assembly representatives, including a specific number of alternates from among the laity. Alternates were not chosen for religious, priests, and deacons. Additionally each Bishop named eight priests, six sisters, four deacons, and two brothers from his Pastoral Region. The Bishops met with the Cardinal to review the total list of potential delegates to determine the final list of Synod participants. Those who were selected and in turn accepted the Cardinal’s personal invitation to serve as a delegate were formally commissioned at the Pre-Synodal Gathering held in April 2003 at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks.

Synod delegates were composed of laity, religious, and clergy. The majority of delegates had been representatives at the Regional Synod Assemblies. However, additional delegates were identified by the Cardinal and Regional Bishops to meet canonical requirements (for example, Deans, Major Superiors, and Priests’ Council members), or to ensure a broad representation that reflected each Pastoral Region and the entire Archdiocese.

Demographic diversity was an important consideration throughout the Synodal process, and steps were taken at each stage of the process to ensure proper representation and participation. Considerations for diversity included such categories as ethnicity and culture, age, gender, socioeconomic status, educational background, and ecclesial calling. Delegates ranged in age from seventeen to eighty-plus. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of the Synod delegates were laity, twenty-five percent (25%) were priests, six percent (6%) deacons, and twelve percent (12%) religious. Fifty-eight percent (58%) were men, and forty-two percent (42%) were women. Fifty-six percent (56%) of the delegates self-identified as of European decent, twenty-nine percent (29%) Hispanic, nine percent (9%) Asian, 5.8% African American, and 0.2% Native American.

At both sessions of the Synod (May 16–17, 2003, and June 27–28, 2003), ecumenical and interfaith observers were present from a variety of faiths—Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Sikh— and from several Christian denominations— Episcopalian, Armenian Orthodox, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Lutheran. Although they did not vote, as observers they participated in the discussion among themselves, with delegates, and with other observers.

The Synod Agenda—Parish Consultations, Regional Assemblies, and Synod Sessions

From the very outset of the Synod process, every Catholic in the Archdiocese was offered the opportunity to participate in formulating the Synod agenda. Parish consultations were conducted in two time periods, the first in October and November 2001. This first parish consultation focused on the question: “As we look ahead, what are the areas that are most important for the Church to be concerned about?”

The information gathered from the first parish consultation or “Speak Up Session” was at first organized under five general themes through a process of prayer and discernment conducted in February 2002 at a “Discernment Day” held at the Claretian Center in Los Angeles. Among the participants were members of the Synod Steering Body, the Synod Preparatory Commission, and others invited for their pastoral wisdom and experience. The five identified themes were formulated as “calls” or “challenges” to the Church of Los Angeles under the headings: Call to Formation in Discipleship, Call to Holiness, Call to Leadership in the Church, Call to Stewardship, and Call to Witness to Christ in the World.

The Second Parish Consultation, held between March and June 2002, asked the question: “What should be done to address the calls and challenges identified through the First Parish Consultation?” Although not presented in the form of proposals, the results of this consultation process were gathered together into 769 specific suggestions, organized under 27 categories or topics. Forty-five (45) of the 769 suggestions were identified as “most frequently reported.” These topics or suggestions became the agenda for the five Regional Synod Assemblies.

The Regional Synod Assemblies were conducted in two sessions during October and November 2002 in each of the five Pastoral Regions of the Archdiocese. In addition to nominating lay delegates to the Synod, the representatives worked with the comprehensive report generated from the Second Parish Consultation. From the content of this report they were asked to identify major themes, later to be designated as “Pastoral Initiatives,” and to develop formal proposals for the Synod to consider.

From the eight (8) themes and 230 proposals generated by the five Regional Synod Assemblies, the Preparatory Commission narrowed the field to six Pastoral Initiatives and accepted all 230 proposals.

In December 2002 the Writing Commission and the Editing Committee were established to develop texts for the Synod based on the six Pastoral Initiatives and the 230 proposals that emerged from the five Regional Synod Assemblies. The task of the Writing Commission was to develop theological statements to explain and support each of the six Pastoral Initiatives and to draft a general introduction that would place the Synod within the social, religious, and ecclesial context of the moment. The responsibility of the Editing Committee was to properly combine and edit the 230 proposals, many of which duplicated similar ideas, so that their substance and intent would be clearly and distinctly understood. In addition, within each proposal, distinctions were to be made between goals and strategies for achieving them. At the same time, the Cardinal and the Regional Bishops were asked to identify under the six Pastoral Initiatives any areas of concern important to the Archdiocese that had not been addressed by the proposals that had come from the representatives of the five Regional Synod Assemblies. The texts developed by the Writing Commission and the Editing Committee were reviewed and approved by the Synod Steering Body and the Synod Preparatory Commission prior to being distributed to the representatives who had attended the Regional Synod Assemblies.

In April 2003, a Pre-Synodal Gathering was held at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, attended by the representatives who had attended the five Regional Synod Assemblies. At this Pre- Synodal Gathering, the representatives were invited to review the current draft of the Synod document produced by the Writing Commission and the Editing Committee and to offer suggestions and raise questions related to the clarity and presentation of the proposals. Four hundred fifty- five (455) written suggestions were offered.

These 455 suggestions were entrusted to a new Editorial Commission, replacing the former Editing Committee, and to the Writing Commission for further revision of the draft document. Together the two Commissions’ work produced the second draft of the Synod document, comprised of six (6) Pastoral Initiatives, forty-three (43) goals and ninety-seven (97) strategies. This second draft was sent to all Synod delegates in preparation for the first session of the Synod.

The Ninth Synod of Los Angeles was convened on Friday, May 16, 2003, with an Opening Liturgy celebrated by Cardinal Mahony in the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Following a keynote address by Fr. Robert Schreiter, CPPS, professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and at the University of Nijmegen, the Synod delegates began their first table discussions of the 43 goals of the Synod document and 97 strategies enumerated in the latest draft of the Synod document. On the following day, Saturday, May 17, the delegates submitted written interventions for revision of the text and participated in a first ballot to determine whether the delegates wished to accept, not accept, or modify the individual goals and strategies as presented. Where a delegate wished to modify an individual goal or strategy, the delegate was asked to submit a written intervention stating the delegate’s concern.

Four hundred fifty-eight (458) written interventions were presented to the Editorial and Writing Commissions for consideration in producing the third draft of the Synod document. Each written intervention was carefully considered for inclusion into the revised draft according to a set of eleven criteria. The third draft was organized according to the six Pastoral Initiatives and consolidated the content into nineteen (19) goals and one hundred five (105) strategies. Goals and strategies that were already in place or in the process of implementation in the Archdiocese were eliminated from the revised draft, and those which were deemed outside the competency of the Synod were withdrawn into a separate section of the document.

The Second Session of the Synod was conducted on June 27 and 28, 2003, in the new Cathedral Conference Center. This Session, which began Friday evening with a Prayer Service, involved individual discussion of each of the 19 goals and a process of voting to narrow the number of strategies (from l05 to 51) that would be brought forward for balloting the following day. On Saturday, June 28, the Synod Director explained the procedures for voting, including use of the electronic audience response system. This system allowed all those present at the Session to see immediately the voting results and to work rapidly toward the final selection of goals and strategies as prioritized by the Synod delegates. For passage by the delegates of the Synod, a proposal, whether it be a goal or a strategy, required 67% of the votes cast. When a procedural vote was called for, 51% of the votes cast was required for passage. At the conclusion of the Synod, six Pastoral Initiatives, nine Pastoral Priorities (formerly designated as “goals”), including two second level Priorities, and fourteen Pastoral Strategies were formally approved by the Synod delegates and forwarded to Cardinal Mahony for his action.

Conclusion of the Synod

Upon receipt of the decisions and recommendations of the Synod, the Cardinal appointed the members of the Synod Final Documents Commission, chaired by himself. By the end of July the Commission compiled the final draft of the Synod document and formally submitted it to the Cardinal for his consideration. On Saturday, September 6, 2003, in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony ratified the work of the Ninth Synod of Los Angeles and, with his signature, promulgated the decrees and legislation of the Synod.

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