Synodality for Steubenville…Why not?

When it comes to the potential shutdown of the Diocese of Steubenville, the laity were ignored - so much for the virtues of synodality.

When the news first broke announcing the imminent end of the Steubenville diocese, not even the Holy Ghost, so it would appear, had been told. By all accounts, only the bishop himself knew, and he alone would decide, which he unilaterally did the other day. End of story.

Of course, it was all done on the basis of the strangest sort of arithmetic I’ve ever seen. Not enough clergy? Check. Too little cash? Check. So, let’s just shut the place down. Besides, given the fast-depleting numbers of practicing Catholics to make it all worthwhile, why on earth would we want to continue life support? Just euthanize the patient and let’s all move on. Fish or cut bait, as they say; and since the diocesan boat is so small anyway, and the fish in the Steubenville sea so few, we might as well stop casting our nets.

So, the plug will soon be pulled on the Diocese of Steubenville, leaving an imploding population to make its way two hundred miles west where the Diocese of Columbus has agreed to become our new home. How welcoming that will be, of course, remains to be seen. But why should that matter? It’s not as if the views of the laity were to be taken into account. Pray, pay, and obey seems to be the order of the day. And never mind the chorus heard round the world extolling the virtues of synodality. When you get down to brass tacks, it’s all about power, of which we laity have none to exercise.

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Nor the local clergy, for that matter, none of whom were informed about the decision, much less consulted. When the ax fell, they were as blindsided as we were. But they are not taking it on the chin, at least not all of them. They will not go quiet into that good night. And while they may not exactly rage against the dying of the light, they nevertheless seem pretty determined to try their best to reverse this thing. Like the people who run Motel 6, they actually want to keep the lights on for us.  

The arithmetic seems to be on their side, too. Not only is there enough cash to keep the boat from capsizing, but plenty of clergy to sail it. As for fish, while the sea may be small, it is certainly not empty, especially when you count the non-Catholic fish, for whom Mother Church has always professed a great love. If you doubt it, just have a look at the Bernini colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Basilica. The symbolism of the thing should be obvious even to bishops. There she is, like a mother, with arms outstretched, eager to embrace the entire human race.  

Why can’t we redouble our efforts, therefore, and simply evangelize all these people? A half-million or so unchurched souls are out there, scattered about the twenty some counties that make up our diocese—do they not have souls to save or lose? Why shouldn’t they be asked to come on board? If it’s salvation we’re selling—actually, we’re giving it away—why aren’t we out there selling? Or is that too heretical an idea these days? The founder of the Christian religion didn’t think so. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19).  

Didn’t He also assure us that not a single Gate of Hell would prevail against us? Why are we so hesitant then, craven even, to take Christ at His word? Does He not urge us, despite every storm out at sea, not to be afraid but to enlist all in the preaching of the Gospel, inviting everyone to become beneficiaries of the Good News? How did St. Peter, that holy and impetuous man who became our first pope, put it? “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).  

Perhaps we have forgotten hope, or mislaid the mission which entirely depends on it in the great economy of salvation. How are the unchurched to be reached unless the rest of us are fired by that hope, filled with longing to see them inside the boat? Unless, that is, God has another plan, one which does not include thirsting for souls—for every soul, by the way. Why else do we call ourselves a Pilgrim Church if not to make room for others to join? We’re not some private pilgrimage to the house of the Father.  

And when armed with the grace of God and the sacraments of Holy Church, what’s there to stop us? Do we not want to help win back a world for Christ? He surely didn’t think the mission applicable only to a chosen few, a handful as it were of survivors strewn along the beach, their boat smashed to bits by a couple of waves out at sea. It applies to everyone for whom Christ first entered the world to redeem, in order to draw them all into the Body of His Church.

I am not a synodal sort of guy, as anyone who knows me will confirm. I do not pine away in restless longing for a process that, please God, may go on and on forever. That would be my idea of Hell. But aren’t we supposed to be this great “listening Church,” where every voice counts and nobody gets shoved aside? After all, it was only a year ago that Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, exhorted the bishops of the United States: “Let the pastors not be afraid to listen to the flock.”

Well, I’m a member of the flock, and maybe a bishop or two might listen to me. Do not shut us down! Let us instead—for the love of God and the people of God—do all we can to magnify the Lord by growing His Church. Yes, even here in Steubenville.

[Photo: Bishop Jeffrey Monforton [credit: Diocese of Steubenville])

  • Regis Martin

    Regis Martin is Professor of Theology and Faculty Associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He earned a licentiate and a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Martin is the author of a number of books, including Still Point: Loss, Longing, and Our Search for God (2012) and The Beggar’s Banquet (Emmaus Road). His most recent book, published by Scepter, is called Looking for Lazarus: A Preview of the Resurrection.

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