Historically, synods a turning point in life of archdiocese

Detroit — When Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron opens a synod of the Archdiocese of Detroit in the fall of 2016, it will be the 11th time such a gathering has taken place since the diocese was founded in 1833.

The 2016 synod, which the archbishop has said will focus on making missionary evangelism “part of the DNA” of the archdiocese, will be the first since Cardinal John Dearden convoked a synod in 1969 following the Second Vatican Council.

That synod, which was called in 1966 and completed in 1969, was largely a response to the council’s call for greater lay leadership in parish and diocesan life, and resulted in several reforms that have persisted in the Archdiocese of Detroit to the present day. Among them was the creation of advisory bodies to assist the archbishop — such as the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and Presbyteral Council — and the creation of several diocesan offices and structures.

The 1969 synod also brought about greater lay participation in the form of parish, vicariate and diocesan councils, put in place various financial oversights and reporting requirements and encouraged an atmosphere of greater ecumenism and dialogue with non-Catholic and non-Christian faiths.

“I think a diocesan synod does two things,” archdiocesan chancellor Michael Trueman wrote in a 2012 memo to chancery staff. “One, it brings a cross-section of the faithful of the diocese together to consider important matters affecting the entire diocese, which in doing so provides a forum by which a vision can be formed, or at least presented, and strategically executed.

“And two, it provides a ‘buy-in’ for the legislation that follows,” wrote Trueman, who added that although the bishop alone has authority to promulgate changes, the synod process allows the faithful the opportunity to present, shape and advise on important matters and promotes a sense of inclusion.

“Synods are a tremendous amount of work, but they have a legacy,” he said.

The structure of the 2016 synod will include “members,” or those appointed by Archbishop Vigneron to take part in the discussions and deliberations. Canonically, these include auxiliary bishops, vicars, cathedral canons, seminary rectors and members of various advisory bodies, but also include other clergy, religious and lay faithful appointed by the archbishop. A secretary of the synod is also appointed to oversee preparations and lead organization.

Before the 1969 synod, three other bishops have convoked synods of the faithful in Detroit.

  • Bishop Peter Paul LeFevere convened two synods, in 1859 and 1862, which focused on regulations pertaining to the clergy and established a board of consultors to advise the bishop.
  • Bishop Caspar Borgess called five synods from 1873 to 1886. These included the call for parishes to establish and support schools, the need to support certain charitable organizations, uniform liturgical celebrations, the creation of deaneries (similar to vicariates) and support for the construction of a new cathedral for the diocese.
  • Cardinal Edward Mooney convoked two synods, in 1944 and 1954, which also covered regulations pertaining to the clergy, liturgies, administration of temporal goods and the Church’s teaching functions.