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The Steubenville diocese conducts listening sessions

STEUBENVILLE — The Diocese of Steubenville conducted four listening sessions for its members Sunday, inviting them to share their thoughts on how the organization can better live out its mission.

Announced to churches across the 13-county diocese, the listening sessions were hosted at Holy Rosary Church in Steubenville, St. Benedict Church in Cambridge, St. Mary Basilica in Marietta and St. Joseph Church in Ironton.

At Holy Rosary, eucharistic adoration was offered throughout the largely silent, 90-minute session, during which attendees could answer a list of questions online or on paper.

Questions — the same for all four sessions — regarded how to better the diocese’s communal advancements “with Christ toward the kingdom (of God);” missionary work; devotion to the eucharist, believed by Catholics to be the body and blood of Jesus; service to the poor; and efforts toward relational “peace, justice and dignity … (in the) diocese and throughout the world.”

A summary report for the sessions is expected to be available later in the year, said Dino Orsatti, director of communications for the diocese.

Sunday’s sessions marked the diocese’s latest input for the ongoing 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, a synod being an ecclesiastical gathering under the Catholic Church’s hierarchical authority.

Known as the Synod on Synodality, the synod is a three-year process of listening and dialogue initiated by Pope Francis in October 2021, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Given the theme “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission,” the synod’s role is to “provide an opportunity for the entire people of God to discern together how to move forward on the path towards being a more synodal church in the long-term,” the Vatican’s official synod website states.

The synod of 364 voting delegates — lay and clergy — was assembled to discuss furthering “synodality,” defined as “Christians walking in communion with Christ toward the Kingdom along with the whole of humanity … (and involving) reciprocal listening, dialogue, community discernment and creation of consensus as an expression,” according to the synthesis report of the synod’s first session.

That first session took place in Vatican City from Oct. 4-29, and the assembly plans to meet again in October.

Prior to the first session, churches and other Catholic institutions worldwide held their own listening sessions. Among those institutions was the Diocese of Steubenville, under the leadership of then-Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, now an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

In a letter, Monforton asked all the diocese’s churches, religious communities, schools and Catholic organizations to select a representative to attend an initial consultation. From those individuals, a group of facilitators was picked who would conduct local-level synodal meetings online and in various parts of the diocese.

Chosen as facilitators were Sister Agnes Therese Davis, T.O.R.; Debbie Riccardo, chair; and Alan and Nancy Schreck.

The diocese collected responses from meeting participants between November 2021 and November 2022. In a 10-page summary report of the responses, the diocese noted that “these initial sessions … (contained) a mixture openness to and interest in the purpose of the synod and the synodal process itself but also some questions (and even skepticism and suspicion expressed) about the necessity and purpose of the synod.”

The summary report, containing perceived problems and suggested improvements, was submitted in May 2022 to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which then compiled a report for submission to the Synod of Bishops for its review.

The Diocese of Steubenville’s summary report can be read on the diocese’s website, along with other synodal resources.

On Jan. 30, a second group of listening sessions was called for in the diocese by Bishop Paul Bradley, apostolic administrator, who was appointed by Pope Francis to the position in September.

“Synodality invites us to pray attentively, to listen to the word of God faithfully with open minds and hearts and to engage in respectful and productive dialogue with one another,” Bradley said in January. “These synodal sessions will also provide those who participate an opportunity to identify their experience of the vitality of the church here in our diocese and what we can do to revitalize our faith through outreach.”

Bradley will remain in the apostolic administrator position indefinitely, with the final result of a proposed merger between the Steubenville diocese and the Diocese of Columbus to ultimately decide his fate. The Steubenville diocese has reported that conversations are ongoing about the viability of a merger.

Although Bradley was appointed to continue overseeing the merger discussions, a recent statement expressed his positive outlook on the Steubenville diocese’s solvency and vibrancy.

Bradley told the Catholic news site Crux on Jan. 31: “I think what we’re finding is that while there are some who think that the Diocese of Steubenville is not able to survive, that is not what I’ve found so far.

“If I didn’t know what others have concluded themselves, I would have no basis that I can see for coming to that conclusion,” Bradley said, later adding, “and maybe there are things that I’m just not aware of at this point.”

The diocese commenced an external financial audit in early February to help determine the diocese’s viability. As part of a broader movement toward transparency, the diocese has posted its financial statements and independent auditors’ reports from the last four years on its website — a report showed approximately $2.5 million in profit during the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2023.

“The diocese continues to hold its own,” Bradley told Crux. “We’re not dipping into reserves. We’re able to be supported from the normal, regular, financial income for the diocese, based on campaigns and things of that nature.”

At Holy Rosary on Sunday, Bradley and the diocese had the prayerful support of the Rev. Matthew Gossett, who presided over eucharistic adoration and concluded the listening session with prayers for Bradley and the diocese, preceded by the rite of benediction.

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