Part of a series on the Vatican Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, this is the third of Griffin Oleynick’s dispatches from Rome. Catch up on his first and second pieces here. Check back soon for the next installment.
Here at the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, it’s been impossible to ignore the news that continues to rattle the church. Earlier this week, at long last, there came the Vatican’s first official response to the “testimony” and accusations of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, by way of an open letter penned by Cardinal Marc Ouellet. Calling Viganò’s charges against Pope Francis “monstrous and unsubstantiated” and urging the former nuncio to come out of hiding and repent, the prefect for the Congregation of Bishops concluded that Viganò’s “unjust and unjustified attack” is nothing more than “a political plot...that profoundly harms the communion of the church.”
Still, even as those gathered in Rome absorb these latest developments, the reports from the Synod hall have largely been positive. A Panamanian bishop has described the atmosphere as one of alegría, that is, of joy. Journalists aren’t allowed into the hall, where nearly three hundred participants—the pope, delegates, and auditors—listen to four-minute speeches (fifty each day, translated simultaneously into various languages, with a three-minute period of silence for every five interventions) from the Synod fathers before breaking into small discussion groups organized by language. Summaries of their remarks are then given at daily press conferences, where two delegates (bishops, mostly) and an auditor (typically a young person) share thoughts and impressions before making themselves available for brief interviews.
The reports—delivered by way of detailed notes jotted down in the hall by veteran Italian journalist Paolo Ruffini, recently named Prefect for the Vatican Dicastery for Communication—are full of the themes you might expect. These include the dreams and aspirations of young people, mentoring, the prevalence of technology, and the dependency on social media—but also poverty, migration, sexuality, and, front-and-center from the very first day, the sex-abuse crisis. It’s still too early to speculate on precisely what might come of the Synod. Before specific programs and solutions can be proposed, one delegate told me, the real job is to recognize: that is, to become cognizant again—as thoroughly and accurately as possible, as if for the first time—of the concrete situation of young people in the world today.
Make that “situations”: plural. After all, the suffering of teenage refugees from Syria and Iraq is different from the problems that college students in wealthy, highly secularized countries might face, or that impoverished young adults looking to raise families in rural Africa confront. The range of national delegations represented also makes it difficult for the church, as a universal, international body, to articulate concrete ways of addressing each of these particularized social contexts with the specificity and care that each demands.