Pope Francis launches a two-year consultation to shape the Church

Pope Francis has opened a two-year consultation with global Catholic figures to shape the future of the Catholic Church in three stages.

Over the years, one of the world’s major religions has found itself in hot water over many things – from its conservative views in a progressive world to scandals covering sex and finances.

But now, the current 84-year-old figurehead of the Church is looking ahead. Pope Francis has initiated a move that many hope will modernise the Church’s views on social issues and the role of women in Catholicism.

Catholic Church mass
Photo: Ed Murray/NJ Advance

On Sunday, Pope Francis announced the start of “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission”. It’s essentially a gathering of Catholic figures from across the world, where current and future issues will be tackled in three stages.

BBC News outlines them with the following:

  • The “listening phase” – Catholics who work at a “diocesan level” across the world will discuss whether or not the Church converses with other social/minority groups, including young people and women. At this stage, the role of the Church in modern life will also be discussed.
  • The “continental phase” – bishops will collate their findings.
  • The “universal phase” – bishops will gather at the Vatican to report on the information. This is expected to last one month and will take place in October 2023.

When performing a homily in front of a (roughly) 3000 strong crowd at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Pope Francis stressed that the “art of encounter” will be a lifeline for the Church moving forward.

“Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with [Jesus] and with one another, without formalism or pretense, but simply as we are,” the pope said (as quoted by the US-based National Catholic Reporter).

“Let us ask: in the church, are we good at listening? How good is the hearing of our heart?”

“Do we allow people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they have had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered, rejected or judged?”

Moreover, Pope Francis also revealed he hopes the consultation will create an environment where all can feel at home and participate.

Pope Francis Catholic Church
Photo: CNS photo/Vatican Media

“Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us not remain barricaded in our certainties. Let us listen to one another,” he said.

The announcement has been met with a mixed reception.

The National Catholic Reporter praised the move, acknowledging that it may not be the best solution, but “the Church is more likely to address the needs of the people of God with it than without it”.

George Weigel, a theologian writing for the US Catholic journal, First Things, criticised the consultation. Weigel wrote it would only amount to “two years of self-referential Catholic chatter” that would not help with issues such as “[people] drifting away from the faith in droves”.

If successful, such a move could improve the global figures of people identifying as Catholic – something that has been declining since the ’70s.