Synod snafu: The USCCB tweet Catholic Twitter can’t stop talking about

Synod on Synodality logo / Courtesy USCCB

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 11, 2022 / 10:43 am (CNA).

The U.S. bishops took to Twitter Monday seeking feedback on the upcoming Synod on Synodality. And hoo, boy, they got it.

The 11 a.m. tweet from the Twitter account of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops backfired in a big way, triggering hundreds of negative comments from people who took umbrage at what they saw as the USCCB’s awkward embrace of corporate buzzwords.

Within hours it became “the tweet that Catholic Twitter can’t stop talking about,” as one commentator phrased it. By Tuesday morning, the USCCB had shut down comments from anyone it doesn’t follow or mention by name.

“Here are seven attitudes we can all adopt as we continue our synodal journey together. Which one inspires you the most? Let us know in the comments below,” the USCCB tweeted. The attitudes listed are: innovative outlook, inclusivity, open-mindedness, listening, accompaniment, and co-responsibility.

Most chose option 8: biting sarcasm.

“If you truly are being held captive in the HR Department, blink twice, we will send in a rescue team,” wrote one of the first people to respond.

“If I wanted corporate speak I’d go to my job on Sundays,” another person said.

“Sounds like something that comes out of the Calm app, not Catholicism. Thanks, I will skip,” wrote another.

“Who wrote this spiritual guidance, Nabisco Corp?” someone wanted to know.

“Is this entire synod being run by human resources interns?” another wrote.

“We’re not a Fortune 500 company, we are literally the body of Christ.”

And on, and on, it went. You get the idea.

No one said gathering constructive input from the world’s 1 billion Catholics was going to be easy. And with a name like “the Synod on Synodality,” even the best minds on Madison Avenue are going would have their work cut out for them.

Still, this clearly was not the sort of dialogue the USCCB had in mind. A USCCB spokesperson did not immediately respond Tuesday morning to an email seeking comment about the tweet.

The Synod of Synodality is a global, two-year consultative process of “listening and dialogue” that began in October 2021. The opening of the process is a diocesan phase expected to last until April 2022. The Vatican has asked all dioceses to participate, hold consultations, and collect feedback on specific questions laid out in synod documents.

A synod is a meeting of bishops that aims to discuss a topic of theological or pastoral significance, in order to prepare a document of advice or counsel to the pope. At the end of the current process, a synod of bishops is scheduled to take place in Rome in October 2023 to produce a final document.

An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. Vatican Media.
An infographic showing the timeline for the synod on synodality. Vatican Media.

“Pope Francis invites the entire Church to reflect on a theme that is decisive for its life and mission: ‘It is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium,'” the USCCB says on its website.

“This journey, which follows in the wake of the Church’s ‘renewal’ proposed by the Second Vatican Council, is both a gift and a task: by journeying together and reflecting together on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through Her experience which processes can help Her to live communion, to achieve participation, to open Herself to mission.”

In its early goings, however, many Catholics still haven’t heard about the Synod on Synodality, or don’t understand what it is, exactly. Other Catholics are suspicious about the process, or already hostile toward it, believing it will serve to amplify voices of dissent and be used in an attempt at changing Church discipline.

All of those attitudes, and more, were reflected in the avalanche of comments to the USCCB’s tweet.

The Vatican published a social media toolkit in October to help bishops and others guide the consultative process. The document includes templates for social media posts, a suggested hashtag (#ListeningChurch), and a host of other recommendations. One section is titled, “How to manage eventual negative engagement.”

“As you know, in the digital world, many people can make some negative comments on some posts. But as Christians, we have the perfect example (Jesus-Christ) of how to treat each other and to love one another, no matter where they are from,” the guidance reads.

“Simply, don’t panic if you receive some negative comments on your social platform and take this opportunity to reflect on what God wants us to answer,” it continues. “We should always ground our responses in faith.”

To be sure, some of the comments to the USCCB tweet were harsh, and a few people who wanted to talk seriously about accompaniment or listening were quickly drowned out.

But there was humor, too. Several commenters likened the tweet to a parody about “corporatespeak” sung by “Weird Al” Yankovic, called “Mission Statement.”

“We must all efficiently operationalize our strategies, invest in world-class technology, and leverage our core competencies, in order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy,” is one of the lines.

Not everyone was in a joking mood. (Nor is the USCCB at the moment, one would imagine.) Some people said they were offended, saddened, or embarrassed by the conference’s tweet.

“The world is starving for grace and truth and we’re being fed empty platitudes and sentimentality,” one person wrote.

“When you replace the traditional BEATITUDES with the modernist ATTITUDES….” reads another tweet.

“I want Jesus,” another person wrote.

Two of the more well-known responders tried to strike a more helpful tone.

“If you need 7,” author Leah Libresco Sargeant began, before listing the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“How about you adopt this attitude,” actress Patricia Heaton offered. “‘Christ shed his blood on the cross to save you, so attend with an attitude of repentance, humility, gratitude, joy and worship. Let your lips be full of praise for your savior Jesus.'”

But even she couldn’t resist adding, “Or ‘innovative outlook’ I guess…”

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