NACC member Bridget Deegan-Krause has been named a delegate from the Archdiocese of Detroit to the next phase of the global Synod on Synodality. She spoke recently to Vision editor David Lewellen about the process so far and hopes for the future.
Q. What was the first phase like for you?
A. There wasn’t a ton of specific direction as to what the first consultation phase was supposed to look like, but in short order, communities around world came together and began a discernment of what the Holy Spirit is calling the church to. The resulting synthesis report released in October is quite remarkable. What’s fascinating is the consistency of themes from people around the world. Francis said he was taking a chance on letting the Holy Spirit have the mic – which is what seems to have happened. Some of the current excitement, I think, comes from just recognizing that the process is actually working.
Q. What’s the next step?
A. The goal for this next Continental Phase is for each continent to discern priorities for moving forward. I will be a delegate in a small group discernment process on Jan. 25, which is one of the last meetings. The team at the USCCB, with the Canadian bishops, has put together a process they describe as the “spiritual conversation model,” which is basically circle work – and completely familiar to me and my chaplain colleagues. The image of the church walking together and its members circling up for conversation is very horizontal, very empowering – and it’s hitting the fan in some corners right now, criticism of Francis consulting with the laity. Yet that’s exactly what the Synod calls us to.
What’s fascinating to me as I pray with the document from Rome it is the choice of title, based on scripture. “Enlarge the space of your tent” comes out of Isaiah (54:2). It’s an interesting choice, because a tent is a structure that can be expanded, flexible or be movable. A compelling challenge for us.
The Synod synthesis document for the continental phase is essential reading for every Catholic chaplain. Each of us needs to know what millions and millions of Catholics around the world have collectively discerned are the issues the Church must attend to.
Q. What are the implications for the NACC or for chaplains?
A. I am really struck how a small but mighty handful of us NACC chaplains have found our way into this process. We tend not to engage with ecclesial or diocesan structures. Lots of us, myself included, fly under the radar. Yet because of our skills as facilitators, in guiding discernment, we are practiced in the art of sacred listening. I think many of us are equipped to help others in this work. Chaplains have been engaged deeply in work of the Church for a long time. We have a strong sense of the Church’s limitations and where it could be going. The Synod is a place for us to exercise leadership on the Church’s next steps.
Q. What about the special section on women?
A. This is a moment for women in chaplaincy. Sections 60-64, among the largest sections in the report, call the rethinking of women’s participation “critical and urgent,” and talk specifically about the active role of women in governing Church bodies, preaching in the parishes. And it names specifically the potential call for a female diaconate. Healthcare has been hospitable to my ministry and so many of my sisters in chaplaincy. We’ve been creative in carving that out. But how much more would it mean for the Church to create pathways and spaces for chaplains to be governing and preaching and exercising the full sacramental activity of the diaconate?
I’m grateful the Vatican has handed me this beautiful solid document. Now we narrow in more concretely on what matters, real issues discerned by millions around the world that need attention. For example, the problem of being an exclusive church came through loud and clear in this document.
Q. What do you think of the theory that religion in general is being chaplainized, that most of the “nones” won’t find religious interaction until they meet a chaplain at a time when they need it?
A. As chaplains, we are closer to that reality than anyone, because we serve on the margins so often, dealing with folks in crisis situations, who no longer feel connected to institutions. As a hospice chaplain, for example, I did a lot of funerals for people who were no longer connected to a church. Also we have been called into new creative places in our ministries. For example, I’ve mentored a chaplain who does racial justice work in her community. She asked, “Why me? I’m a white woman.” But she has facilitation skills and listening skills and has been recognized for her leadership charism. You could talk to any chaplain and they could tell you a story of creative ministry to the margins.
Q. Couldn’t one goal of this process be to attend to those on the margins?
A. Yes, very much so. And of course, on the margins is just where Jesus is! The whole synod process is intended, as stated in the foundational document, to help bring the periphery to the center. In the first phase, the dioceses were instructed to preference women and other marginalized voices, and they did.
Q. It’s ironic that this is such a big institution, but Jesus wasn’t institutional.
A. He was called rabbi. He wasn’t an anointed official of his church, yet depending which gospel you pay attention to, he was about the wider institution of community and navigating it to new reality. Maybe this will force me to focus inward a bit and love our institution in a little different way.
Q. Any final thoughts?
A. A whole other piece, for us as chaplains, is stepping into peership with our bishops, recognizing and owning our pastoral authority. Bishops are laying track as they go. This process has been very iterative, yet we chaplains are iteratives. We roll with that because we have to be creative and figure it out. Not for our own sake, but for the sake of the folks on the margins.
This process has helped me keep an eye on the bigger picture, the world church. That’s our catholicity. I feel less preoccupied and bothered now with the divisions in the American church when I know I get to be part of a bigger conversation. At first I was like, “oh gosh, another Church thing that will get talked about and nothing will happen.” But something is happening here that could result in some sweeping changes. The diaconate is one of them. We’ve got to be ready. We could quickly see a bunch of our ranks discerning diaconal ordination, but we haven’t been taught it’s safe to even dream about this.