Catholics in the Diocese of Trenton who took part in the months-long local phase of a worldwide Synod, shared honest and clear-eyed assessments of their relationship to their faith and the Church. Offered in a spirit of respect and love, the responses were often emotional and spoke of gratitude for the Church, but also, a sense of hurt, according to organizers.

Synods have brought together members of the Church around important themes throughout its history. The current effort began in 2021, when Pope Francis instituted what he called the “Synod on Synodality,” a two-year process in preparation for the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to be held in October 2023.  As part of that process, the Holy Father invited the whole Church, the People of God, to engage in dialogue and reflection, stressing that “a synodal Church is a Church that listens.”

Responding to the Holy Father’s invitation, Bishop David O’Connell, C. M., opened the Diocesan Phase of the Synod with Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, Oct. 17, 2021, taking steps to ensure “a systematic, welcoming approach to clergy and faithful of the Diocese” would encourage sharing and listening.

On June 24, 2022, Bishop O’Connell submitted the Final Report for the Diocesan Phase of the Synod, “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The report notes that, from January through April, the Diocese conducted more than 800 group listening sessions involving nearly 4,500 people, with 64 parishes, 70 priests and 156 deacons having actively participated.

The statistics, said Deacon Pat Brannigan, Synod co-chair, “show that from all four corners of the Diocese, people came together to listen to each other about their faith journeys.  [They] listened without resorting to ready-made answers or judgements.  In the selected summaries of participant comments people were deeply moved, many coming to tears as they listened to the stories of others and as they told their own faith story.”

The report, highlighting a mixture of joys, obstacles and challenges impacting the faithful, notes that most participants, “even those who were hurt, angry or disenchanted, expressed a deep affection and love for the Church, her teachings, and traditions; especially those around the Eucharist, other Sacraments, and prayer.  Some recounted episodes … when the Church had provided solace and guidance at important moments.  For this constancy, there was a profound sense of gratitude expressed.”

Obstacles cited inevitably prevented communion, participation and mission. The report states that “participants shared many instances in which they or those they know were made to feel unwelcome, uncomfortable, marginalized, ridiculed,” as well as times when they experienced a sense of loss from school and church closures. Also of concern is the clergy shortage, the need for “a theology of welcome” missing in some parishes, clericalism and a polarization in the Church, evident in listening sessions among “those who are advocating for the Latin Mass and those who do not.”

In his brief reflections at the close of the report, Bishop O’Connell acknowledged, “I was not surprised by any of the results of the Synod discussions in terms of content.  Positive experiences of ‘journeying’ with and in the local Church were affirming, especially the participants’ love for the Holy Eucharist and willingness to serve in various ministries. Similarly, challenges and obstacles to effective ‘journeying’ mentioned by participants were not surprising. The clergy sexual abuse scandal loomed large among peoples’ ‘hurts’ along with feelings of alienation by and among LGBTQ+ Catholics and Catholics who were divorced and remarried without an annulment.”

For Mary Liz Ivins, diocesan Synod co-chair, the experience was hopeful. “I was profoundly moved by the sincerity with which participants approached the sharing and listening within the Synod process.  Many were so very grateful that their Church wanted to hear what was in their hearts and on their minds.  I truly believe that the Holy Spirit moved, healed and inspired the faithful of the Diocese of Trenton in these simple yet powerful experiences of journeying together.”

Moving forward, said Terry Ginther, diocesan Chancellor and executive director of Pastoral Life and Mission, “I hope we can learn from both the joys shared by people during the Synod listening, as well as the obstacles.  The stories certainly point us to where healing and improvement are urgently needed.  But we can’t fail to see how the Lord has touched the lives of so many people during their journey with the Church, too.  I found these stories of faith and consolation in difficult times inspiring and am praying for the Holy Spirit to pour out a transforming grace upon us and show us the way.”

To learn more about the Synod process that was conducted in the Diocese of Trenton and for a digital copy of the Diocesan Final Report, visit:  For news coverage of the Synod, visit: