Every American going to the Synod on Synodality: Full list and analysis
When church leaders gather in Rome in October for a weeks-long series of conversations, prayer and discernment, taking part in the Synod on Synodality, U.S. Catholics will be represented by as many as 20 bishops, priests, sisters and lay people, the Vatican announced Friday.
The slate of American representatives is a combination of those elected by the full body of U.S. bishops plus a handful of delegates selected by Pope Francis. The delegates are emblematic of the at-times competing ideological poles of U.S. Catholicism—and the continued effort by Francis to reorient U.S. bishops toward his vision for the church.
Those elected to attend by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops hold leadership spots in organizations and most have been vocal defenders of church teaching on culture war issues, especially around religious liberty, marriage and gender.
The slate of delegates is emblematic of the at-times competing ideological poles of the U.S. church—and the continued effort by Francis to reorient U.S. bishops toward his vision for the church.
The U.S.C.C.B. president, Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who heads the Archdiocese for Military Services USA, will attend, and joining him will be Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Tex., who heads the conference’s doctrine committee and who has been managing the synod preparation for the bishops.
Also elected by the bishops were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, who chairs the conference’s religious liberty committee, and Bishop Kevin Rhoades, the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, who will take over the same committee later this year. Bishop Robert Barron, the bishop of Winona-Rochester, Minn., and the founder of the popular Catholic media enterprise Word on Fire, was also elected.
The selection of bishops elected by their peers to attend the synod largely reaffirms the recent priorities of the body, a roster of heavy hitters who have been public figures in battles over religious liberty, abortion and immigration.
As he has done for previous synods, Pope Francis personally invited several church leaders to attend. They include some of his closest U.S. allies and advocates who share his vision for a more inclusive and welcoming church, individuals who have largely steered clear of some of the most divisive culture war fights.
Pope Francis’ picks included four U.S. cardinals: Blase Cupich, Wilton Gregory, Robert McElroy, and Sean O’Malley.
Francis’ picks included four U.S. cardinals: Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago; Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C.; Robert McElroy, the bishop of San Diego; and Sean O’Malley, archbishop of Boston. Archbishop Paul Etienne of Seattle and James Martin, S.J., editor at large for America and founder of Outreach, a ministry for L.G.B.T. Catholics, were also invited by the pope. (Another American, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, will also participate in his capacity as a member of the Vatican body that plans synods.)
Most of the bishops invited by Pope Francis to the synod spoke out against a proposal in 2021 that could have led to banning pro-choice Catholic politicians, including President Biden and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, from receiving Communion. More recently, Cardinal Gregory expressed compassion for transgender Catholics, while Cardinals McElroy and Tobin urged moderation as the U.S.C.C.B. embarks on a revision to their rules affecting Catholic hospitals when it comes to certain procedures and care for transgender patients.
Father Martin has frequently been the target of protests from Catholics opposed to his efforts to foster greater inclusion of L.G.B.T. people in the church and is in regular contact with Pope Francis, who has repeatedly blessed his work. The pope’s choice, while likely to further incense critics of the synod, sends a signal that Francis remains resolute in his commitment to finding a way to uphold traditional Catholic moral teaching while also welcoming L.G.B.T. people into the church.
October’s gathering comes at a critical time for Francis’ papacy.
October’s gathering comes at a critical time for Francis’ papacy.
The pope, who turned 86 in December and who has experienced a spate of health issues in recent years, appears to be squarely in the legacy-cementing phase of his pontificate. He has recently appointed a number of young prelates to high-profile dioceses, and he named an Argentine ally, Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, who is viewed as a kindred theological spirit, to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal office.
When the synod commences, participants will consider the findings from more than two years of conversations among Catholics at the local, national and international levels. Many of those conversations elicited pleas from ordinary Catholics for the church to find ways to reach out to disaffected believers, especially those turned off by the church’s treatment of women, L.G.B.T. people, young adults, the poor and Catholics reeling from the sexual abuse scandal.
Bishops in the United States engaged the synodal process with varying degrees of intensity, but critics have said that taken as a whole, the body did not put the amount of energy or resources into the planning process to be commensurate with the pope’s expectations. During the continental phase of the synod, for example, bishops from the United States and Canada met remotely, while every other region gathered in person.
How robustly the U.S. representatives contribute to the deliberations remains to be seen, but the ideological diversity among the group suggests that both Catholic traditionalists and those urging the church to be more open to new ways of living out the faith will be represented. When it comes to voting for the final document at the end of the synod, both groups can take comfort in knowing that their visions for the church were given a fair hearing.
The ideological diversity among the group suggests that both Catholic traditionalists and those urging the church to be more open to new ways of living out the faith will be represented.
The latter group, however, will be represented by clergy who not only have robustly championed the synodal process, but who also have the ear of the pope. And though to U.S. Catholics the synod may mirror certain democratic principles, it is Pope Francis alone who will ultimately decide how to implement the deliberations from the synod to move the church forward.
But changes the pope already made to the synod process itself means some church reforms will already be evident when delegates vote on various items in October.
Francis recently updated the rules of the synod to allow lay people to vote. That lay people will not only be present, but also be able to vote, is a change to the synod structure, and represents the pope’s commitment to building a fully synodal church. For Francis, that means moving away from a top-down style of management and instead embracing voices that have not traditionally been heard in the church’s decision-making apparatus.
Among those laypeople with the right to vote are several Americans who were nominated by the U.S.C.C.B. as part of the North American delegation. They span the breadth of the country and reflect his pastoral priorities, including outreach to L.G.B.T. people, church renewal and social justice.
The U.S. delegates include:
- Cynthia Bailey Manns, the director of adult faith formation at the Saint Joan of Arc Catholic Community in Minneapolis, Minn. The parish is known for its robust social justice ministry and unique style of worship, which includes regular reflections ahead of Mass delivered by laypeople
- Richard Coll, the executive director for Justice, Peace, and Integral Human Development, department at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- Leticia Salazar, O.D.N., who serves as chancellor for the Diocese of San Bernardino, California, and who previously held leadership roles with her religious order and worked in Hispanic ministry.
At least two young adults representing the United States will also be attending as voting members.
Julia Oseka, a native of Poland, who studies theology and physics at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, will attend. According to a 2022 profile in the campus newspaper, The Hawk, Ms. Oseka, who volunteers with her campus ministry center, delivered a talk about the synod last year that “drew from experiences she learned in the classroom to advocate for the roles of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals in the church.” Wyatt Olivas, a parish catechist who attends the University of Wyoming, will also be present.
The bishops also nominated a priest, the Rev. Iván Montelongo, ordained in 2020, who led the synod process for the Diocese of El Paso.
Two non-voting experts from the United States, David McCallum S.J., who runs a leadership training program in Rome, and Maria Cimperman, R.S.C.J., an ethicist and professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago who founded the Center for Consecrated Life in 2014, will also attend.