Listening to Jesus, Listening to Each Other

Synod Preparation in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis

(En espanol: Escuchar a Jesús, escucharnos mutuamente)

Synod 2021-2023 logoThis report articulates the essential results of our local preparation process for the upcoming Synod of Bishops. The document is a report in that it is not a position paper or teaching document; rather it conveys input gathered through several methods of encouraging participation. (Methods of gathering information are addressed in the Appendix.)

Among the highlights surfaced are points regarding: accurate and inaccurate perceptions of Church structures and activities; the priority of listening to Jesus, along with each other, and; what it means to be listened to and heard.  In the few instances where input from participants indicates misperceptions about Church-related topics, a very brief clarifying note is offered and implications appear near the report’s conclusion.

The Synod Questions

For the most part we used the questions suggested by the Synod of Bishops.  Below are highlights of what we heard regarding each set of synod questions.

Companions on the Journey

Various groups were mentioned as being largely absent from parish life in general or at least at risk of feeling excluded.  A bit of misinformation started to appear in responses to these questions.  Here are a few highlights:

  • Young adults; Catholics who take a classical approach to devotions and liturgy; persons with disabilities; people who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual etc.; people of color and single parents are among those often described as missing from the table.
  • Clergy being present to parishioners was mentioned as fostering a sense of belonging; conversely when clergy are largely unseen in the course of parish life, parishioners can feel less welcome.  A desire was also expressed, in relation to what is often called the LGBTQ+ community, that Church leaders would be more consistent in speech and actions related to the breadth of sinful behaviors constituting grave matter, rather than appearing to focus on one or two (e.g. same-sex genital intimacy) while essentially ignoring others (e.g. premarital cohabitation).
  • The importance of providing formation for lay ecclesial ministers at parish and diocesan levels on various topics including intercultural competence was clearly expressed.
  • Finally, a perception of pedophilia among clergy in general was mentioned several times.  Given the rarity of so-called pedophile priests (i.e. sexually-abusive behavior with post-pubescent males being most common among the small percentage of clergy who are the focus of credible allegations) a broader cultural narrative about pedophilia in the Church appears to be misleading quite a few Catholics.


What it means to be heard is a prominent feature in responses to these synod questions.  Also, the breadth and priority of to whom we should listen appears often.

  • Many participants acknowledge that all of their ideas needn’t come to fruition in order for them to feel heard.  So long as most people have an opportunity to share their ideas and rationale, they express satisfaction with listening processes.  Conversely, some respondents imply that no one listens to them and they’re never heard based on one or more ideas of theirs being expressed but not acted on as-is.  Clearly what it means to be heard varies from person to person.
  • Stereotypes and prejudices can inhibit listening according to some participants.  Our Hispanic community expressed a concern that, when machismo is present, women tend to feel unheard.
  • To conclude this section, listening to Jesus and to His Church were identified as very important.  The value of listening to each other, sometimes hearing Christ in one another, isn’t negated; but being attentive to the major ways Jesus teaches us, especially Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, are paramount in striving to be God’s listening people.

Speaking Out

Room for improvement in the area of transparency is acknowledged in this section.  Low awareness of the natural law, especially as related to the question of a Christian worldview’s presence in the secular media, is evident in replies to these synod questions.

  • Current efforts at transparency (e.g. publishing minutes of meetings) are appreciated; more of the same is encouraged.  Based on their input, several participants are unaware of current measures encouraging transparency and representation; for example some respondents are unaware of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council’s existence even though this body and its activities are described frequently in the diocesan newspaper and social media presence.
  • Helping the faithful consume media through the lens of truth and hope is very helpful.
  • The importance of homilies surfaces in this section and appears throughout our various synod-related reports.
  • Fear of speaking out in favor of Church teaching is an acknowledged reality.  Our Hispanic community specifically articulated an occasional fear that speaking out would lead to being excluded from parish community life.
  • The fact that Judeo-Christian ethical teaching flows from natural law is lost on many participants; this shows in statements like “A Christian worldview should not be present in mass media,” as if portraying Judeo-Christian approaches to human interaction is an imposition of some sort.  Catechesis on Christian anthropology and related topics is called for in several replies, at least implicitly.


Joyful reverence is a theme that permeated many responses to this set of questions.  Homilies and the positive influence of those entering full communion with the Church as adults also appear in the highlights below.

  • Reverence demonstrated by priests and community when celebrating Mass was mentioned often by many respondents as key to instilling an appreciation of the Eucharist among all who participate in liturgy.  Experiences of adoration and helping people appreciate the importance of the Sacrament of Penance were also noted several times.
  • An insight expressed by one participant is that maybe when a person says he or she doesn’t believe in the Real Presence, it’s a rationalization (subconscious, maybe) for ignoring one or more additional Church teachings.
  • The deep appreciation often shown for the Eucharist by those who aren’t cradle Catholics was noted as a challenge and inspiration to deepen gratitude for the opportunity to encounter the living Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
  • Finally, it was suggested that people who could be described as seekers often need a warm welcome and personal invitation to opportunities for inquiring about various aspects of Catholic faith, including the role of the Holy Eucharist in our life as missionary disciples of Jesus.

Sharing Responsibility for Our Common Mission

A plea not to close churches again due to the pandemic (now that we know how to social distance effectively) arose prominently from this set of questions.  Also, promoting the family as the basic building block of society was identified as an important duty of Church leaders.

  • In addition to making access to the Sacraments a priority, even amidst possible future public health concerns, it was noted that parish leaders must respond and act when ministry surveys and related ways of listening to parishioners surface a desire by individuals to volunteer in service.  When a desire to serve flows from sacramental encounters, it mustn’t fall on deaf ears at the parish.
  • Providing education on Catholic Social Teaching—in the broader contest of overall doctrinal and moral teaching—encourages legitimate diversity in our Church.
  • Some respondents articulated a perception that abortion is the only social issue the Church cares about and speaks of; this perception should be addressed in that, given the plethora of life issues touched on by Church leaders at diocesan, national and universal levels, this falls into the category of additional misperceptions.
  • Families have primary responsibility to prepare members for a life of faith and mission, pursuing the common good in irreplaceable ways, benefitting our Church as well as society at large.  In the face of attacks on and redefinition of marriage and family life, several participants highlighted the benefits of Church leaders supporting and upholding God’s vision of family life—while providing encouragement to those for whom extenuating circumstances make living the mission of families particularly challenging.

Dialogue in Church and Society

Respect is a word appearing frequently in responses to these questions.  The importance of testing the spirits (i.e. being leery of trends when dialoging with society) was mentioned, as was the misperception that high-level dialogue within our local Church does not involve parishioners in any way—even indirectly.

  • Respect should always be shown when people engage in dialogue, hearing one another’s concerns.  Even when respect is shown, though, some people might not feel respected.
  • The word politics is used in a variety of ways by respondents.  For some, the mere mention of a connection between faith and our life together as a society is the Church being political—in a negative sense.  Other participants show an understanding that short of endorsing specific candidates, political parties, referenda etc. Church leaders are obliged to help connect the Gospel with everyday life.
  • Be leery of trends; so goes a thread of commentary throughout several answers here.  Dialoguing with society doesn’t mean embracing every fad.
  • A few respondents have the impression that the Church doesn’t want dialogue and that Church leaders are oblivious to the concerns of people in the pews; this perception, though, ignores realities like the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council as well as additional consultative bodies within our local Church’s organizational framework.


The importance of relationships appears prominently in answers to these questions.  Also noted is the priority that should be given to getting information about all Christian faith traditions, including our own, from authoritative sources.

  • Accentuating commonalties with various Christian groups is helpful, including the reality that sometimes we have similar goals/ends yet use different methods/means.
  • Some have the misperception that our Church condemns people who walk away from a life of Catholic faith; to the extent that individual Catholics might vilify or demonize any person, we must all respond with love and truth when the Faith is not embraced.
  • We should welcome fellow disciples of Jesus, even while addressing moral relativism, aggressive secularism and the poor fruit of the sexual revolution.  Being authentic in our relationships with fellow Christians means in part that we focus on the authentic teaching of all groups, basing perceptions about doctrinal and moral teaching on sources considered reliable and authoritative by each group, respectively.

Authority and Participation

Large numbers of people don’t express a need to make decisions per se; they do, though, want to be aware of decision-making processes and results.  In the mix of a pastor’s duties, the benefit of providing meaningful supervision for key ministry leaders was observed by respondents to this set of questions.

  • Surveys of parishioners were mentioned as a good way of inviting and involving people in decision-making processes.  A legitimate variety of ways to make decisions is observable from parish to parish; opportunities to collaborate in work leading up to decisions go a long way toward helping people know they’re welcome to participate.
  • In leading collaboratively and taking responsibility for decisions and progress in ministry, pastors are urged to choose staff (paid and volunteer) wisely, providing good formation and supervision.
  • The value of seminary preparation of future pastors to exercise authority well and foster suitable participation in decision-making among parishioners was expressed.
  • Hispanic communities find our Church’s clear lines of authority to be very helpful.
  • Reiterated in this section was the plea not to suspend access to Sacraments in the future now that social distancing techniques have been refined.

Discerning and Deciding

Avoiding cliques, especially in decision-making bodies, is addressed within this set of questions.  Traits making a person well-disposed for Spirit-guided discernment are also articulated here.

  • The idea was stated that it’s good to rotate people in and out of decision-influencing roles as part of parish life, generally speaking.
  • A few respondents expressed the idea that we can’t make people help with discernment and deciding—but we can be sure to ask and invite them into the process.
  • Anger at sexual abuse scandals in the Church surfaces in some of these replies; some replies repeated the mistaken notion that most abuse cases involved pedophilia.
  • A respondent summarized prerequisites for discerning and deciding in this way, “Discernment must be done through prayer and penance in accordance with the teaching of the Church by those in a state of grace.  It is only by this method that we can discern the Divine Will.”

Forming Ourselves in Synodality

Striving to become saints can help form us in synodality.  Employing the Church’s tools (e.g. the Catechism) for avoiding subjectivism and arbitrariness also contributes positively to our sense of being synodal.

  • Saintly leaders and parishioners aren’t defensive, reactive, timid say several respondents.
  • The importance of judging actions but not people was emphasized.  Especially useful in guiding prudential judgments in an objective way is the Catechism, as well as helping all Catholics understand the why behind Church teaching.
  • When leaders send mixed messages about Church teaching (i.e. inconsistency on basic doctrine and morality) people can feel isolated and divided in to camps of sorts.
  • Actions and activities like access to retreats, acknowledging charisms, providing catechesis, engaging in evangelization and nurturing discipleship help form people well.
  • Any improvement in availability of resources for people with sight- and/or hearing-impairment will be greatly appreciated, as will resources for various language, ethnic and cultural groups.
  • Finally, being synodal requires willingness to forgive, let go of grudges and begin anew.


What are we to make of all the thoughts and feelings shared in our synod-related conversations?  Among the implications for our Church are these:

  • Deficiencies in media literacy can foster myths and misinformation—especially when algorithms tailor processes like search engine results based on cookies and internet footprints.  Church leaders can encourage Catholics to get news and related information from a healthy variety of sources, to help us understand each other better.
  • Church leaders can also enhance how the large number of good efforts (i.e. works of mercy) put forth by Catholics—individuals and groups—is made known to the public.
  • Authentic human relationships lay groundwork for synodal interaction.  We love and respect each other unconditionally as we strive for truthfulness and fraternal correction.
  • Relatively small groups engaging in dialogue and sharing input with leaders in ways that cascade up and down a structure of organization and communication allow most people to live comfortably with decisions.  When we’re invited to share our ideas and rationale we feel heard even if a decision isn’t what we might have preferred.
  • This synod process puts us in a state of readiness for the National Eucharistic Revival.  We look forward to applying these synodal fruits to parish and diocesan life, growing closer to Jesus and each other especially by the grace of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Appendix 1

How We Encouraged Participation & Gathered Information

Like many dioceses, we made an online questionnaire available; we sought no demographic information via this questionnaire so as to minimize impediments to participation.  Nearly 300 questionnaires were at least partially completed.

Additional pertinent participants include:

  • Our Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, a representative body.
  • Approximately 20% of our 126 parish councils.   Parish leaders were encouraged to give special consideration to including the marginalized within their parish territories somehow in their synod conversation process.
  • A young adult group, our ecumenical and interfaith conversation partners, the Archdiocesan Catholic schools secretariat and Hispanic Ministry representatives.
  • Our Burmese and Korean communities via dialogue sessions with Archbishop Thompson.
  • Finally, a draft of this report was made available at a gathering with our Ordinary; attendees were invited to comment on the draft and suggest final edits.

We are confident that a reasonable quantity and quality of input occurred as a result of our process.  Also of note are our recent pastoral planning process and a current feasibility study.  The pastoral planning process involved input from many across the Archdiocese in a spirit of synodality; the feasibility study is rather synodal in that it involves interviews and discussion among clergy and laity throughout the Archdiocese with a focus on discerning Catholic identity and mission for the 21st century.

Appendix 2

Our local synod preparation sessions tended to end with this prayer:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for this opportunity to participate in a worldwide dialogue about your holy, Catholic Church.  I ask you to bless all Church leaders; may they always know and do your holy and perfect will.  Please bless me as I journey through my earthly life.  Keep me ever mindful that you made me, you love me and you want me to be happy with you forever in heaven.  Through Christ, our Lord.  Amen.”


Submitted by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis (Indiana, 6/9/22)

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