Awake Synod Sessions Will Ensure that Victim-Survivors and Advocates Are Heard

When Kathy Ann Coll learned about the 2021-2023 Synod on Synodality called by Pope Francis, she was eager to take part. The synod is designed to engage people around the world in the process of creating a vision for the future of the Church. In the United States, the synodal process involves holding small group sessions to gather people’s thoughts and hopes for the Church and summarizing the conversations in reports that will be sent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) by the end of June.

An active member of her Catholic parish in Pittsburgh, Coll has helped to organize synod listening sessions there. But she has a particular perspective as a Catholic who experienced sexual abuse by a priest as an adult. This spring she reached out to the Awake team with this question: “Can our voices as survivors be heard as a part of Pope Francis’s synod and how?”

Coll’s simple question motivated Awake’s leadership team to begin planning “Awake Synod Sessions” to center the voices of victim-survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, as well as their loved ones and all who care about this issue.  

“In researching the synod initiatives of various U.S. dioceses and organizations, I did not find any that were specifically reaching out to victim-survivors and others who are deeply impacted by the problem of abuse in the Church,” says Awake executive director Sara Larson. “While there are many important issues in the worldwide Church, we at Awake want to make sure that the voices of survivors and their loved ones are not lost or ignored in this synod process.”

What Is the Synod on Synodality?

The Vatican website for the Synod on Synodality states that this process is meant to bring people together to “plant dreams, draw forth prophecies and visions, allow hope to flourish, inspire trust, bind up wounds, weave together relationships, awaken a dawn of hope, learn from one another and create a bright resourcefulness that will enlighten minds, warm hearts, give strength to our hands.”

Importantly, the Synod process is also designed to engage people who are often unheard or marginalized in the Church. The Vatican states that part of the mission is to “enable the Church to better witness to the Gospel, especially with those who live on the spiritual, social, economic, political, geographical, and existential peripheries of our world.”

But victim-survivors of abuse have told us at Awake that they do not always feel safe sharing their stories and viewpoints in ordinary Catholic settings. For example, it can be traumatizing when fellow Catholics respond to their stories with doubt, impatience, or a lack of sensitivity. Some survivors face an increased risk of panic attacks or other trauma responses when entering parish facilities or sitting near clergy members.

Still, victim-survivors have essential perspectives on the life of the Church. “I want to tell my story, not just [of the day I was assaulted], but the many days since, where my life has changed drastically,” Coll says. “I have not lost my faith in God at all. I have lost faith in my priests, my bishop, the American nuncio, and cardinals who have all heard my story, but don’t respond to my pleas to meet and make changes, or who use triggering language during homilies or who are not trauma informed and just remain silent to me.”

Awake Synod Sessions

Awake will offer two Synod Sessions focused on the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Coll, Larson, and a team of volunteers are planning a trauma-informed, survivor-sensitive experience for all who participate. While Awake is making specific efforts to invite victim-survivors and their loved ones, anyone who cares about the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is encouraged to participate in these conversations.

The sessions will be held on Zoom on Thursday, June 9, from 7 to 9 pm CDT and Sunday, June 12, from 6 to 8 pm CDT. The two sessions will be identical, so participants can choose the session that works best for their schedule. Most of the meeting time will be devoted to small group sharing, with questions sent to participants in advance.

Awake will create a report from the small group notes and submit it to the USCCB Synod Office. Julia McStravog, the USCCB’s Synod Consultant, has offered her personal assurance to Awake that our report will be read and considered by the USCCB. Awake will also share a report on our website and other communications. No names or identifying information from participants will be included in any reports.

To participate, please register here. “I urge other survivors to get involved,” Coll says. “This will be a safe place.”

—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog

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