Catholic School Matters Top 5

This week, I am highlighting the Synod of Bishops which is taking place right now in Rome.  Perhaps because the topic is not ostensibly Catholic education or because Catholics are tired of hearing about bishops or controversies, the Synod seems to be flying under the radar.  In my mind, the disagreements which have emerged surrounding the Instrumentum Laboris entitled “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment” and the pre-Synodal document underscore important distinctions in the Catholic Church which we need to reconcile.

To that end, I’m speaking with three theologians this week on the podcast to gather their perspective on the Synod.  Here is the link to the “Final Document from the Pre-Synodal Meeting.”  The meeting took place in March and represents the thinking of the laity and clergy present at that meeting.  The document as well as the Instrumentum Laboris (IL) has provided quite a bit of controversy.  Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia published a criticism of the IL in First Things, and then Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago responded.  You can find another critical piece from the Cardinal Newman Society.

In the intervening months, there were calls for the synod to be called off or changed.  Katie Prejean McGrady argued that we still need a synod for youth, and Bishop Caggiano (who is participating) argued that the abuse crisis should be addressed.  Here is a great article summarizing the synod.  NCR has offered a number of articles on the synod and this page provides a plethora of links.  If you’re wondering about the problem the Synod is trying to solve, the Boston Globe ran a great story on how younger Catholics are moving away from the Church.

So what are the important distinctions?  The documents calls for accompaniment, dialogue, discernment, mercy, and vocation for all.  Objections to the document include the lack of objective truth, a focus on uncertainty, and dilution of Church teaching.  I harken back to the distinction drawn by Dr. Julie Hanlon Rubio (theologian from Santa Clara) who contributed an essay in Amoris Laetitia: A New Momentum for Moral Formation and Pastoral Practice (2018).  She describes that many Catholics diverge on the central question of what is most important—truth or mercy.  The same is true here.  If it’s most important to be correct, you will object to the parts of the pre-synodal documents which seem to question Church teachings.  But if mercy is what you desire, then the words of accompaniment and dialogue soar.

Perhaps the best scenario is what to do about co-habiting couples.  If you want to invite them in and accompany them a la Pope Francis in order to introduce the value of marriage, you are in the mercy camp.  But if you believe that cohabitation is wrong and should be called such, you are in the truth camp.  Ultimately, the question becomes, “how do we evangelize…by telling them the truth or showing mercy?”  My guess is that how you answer that question speaks to how you view this synod as well as Pope Francis’s focus.

If we understand the conflict of the Synod in terms of truth vs. mercy, then we can understand the rhetoric and draw the lessons we need from the experience.  And it should also help us relate to our fellow Catholics, allowing us to build bridges.

Top 5

I wade into the Bishop’s Synod on Young People in the blog section.  The pre-synodal documents are introduced and I also discuss a few of the controversies surrounding the synod.  On the podcast this week, I’ll talk to three theologians who will give background on the Synod as well as interpretations of the different positions.  It’s a great way to make current Church teachings relevant as they are being articulated.

But I also present a variety of links and articles in four different areas (American Catholic News, Leadership, Teaching & Learning, and Miscellany).  My hope is that you’ll find an article or two of interest in order to improve your professional practice and whet your intellectual appetite.

  1. In the American Catholic news section, the first article entitled “Eight Lessons to Move Us Forward from the Sex Abuse Crisis” is a great read. It’s not about pity, not about despair, it’s about real action items that should guide us forward.  And yes, there need to be more parents in the room when decisions are being made.
  2. In the Leadership section, “Wander the Halls, Say Hello, A New Approach to School Safety” is a great reminder about the value of building relationships among teachers and students and the value of Management by Walking Around. It turns out, making your community a welcoming place where everyone feels like they belong is a great deterrent to school violence.
  3. In the Teaching & Learning section, “Helping Teachers Manage the Weight of Secondary Trauma” really hit home this week. In the American Catholic news section, I included an article about the return of normalcy at Butte Central Catholic Elementary.  Last week there were threats of violence (via email) to the school.  The weight of this trauma for teachers is substantial.  Many of our teachers have to bear this weight every day.  How are we ministering to the ministers?
  4. Great 3-minute video on “The Power of Expectations” serves as a great reminder to all of us on how expectations shape our teaching. This is from NPR’s “Invisibilia” podcast and includes an interview with Dr. Carol Dweck of growth mindset fame.
  5. In the Miscellany section, “Winner Take All: How Markets Favor the Few at the Expense of Many” is a great Farnam Street blog about how the attitude of ends justifying the means has infiltrated our mental models.

Enjoy!  I’ll be dropping the Catholic School Matters Radio Hour on Wednesday (October 10th) and then will be back with another newsletter on October 21st.  Have a great week!


This week’s Catholic School Matters Radio Hour will be focused on the Bishop’s Synod.  I’ll be speaking with Fr. James Keenan, SJ to explore what a synod is (and isn’t) and how this synod fits into the context of the Church.  Then I’ll speak to theologian/author Dr. Ann Garrido about the pre-synodal themes and to Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernandez of CTU about important themes.  The podcast will drop on Wednesday, Oct 10th.