My comment on the synthesis

On 2022-07-22 I sent the official Estonian synthesis together with the Bishop’s accompanying letter to the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. At that moment the synthesis was not published. But here is my comment on the synthesis, which the Bishop quotes in his accompanying letter.

Catholics in Estonia are a small community. We humbly did our best to fulfil the instructions received from the Secretariat of the Synod. Our synodal team consisted of five lay persons and one priest, all lay persons were active members of the Tallinn Peter and Paul congregation. Receiving inspiration from the Holy Mass, we managed to focus on administrative topics during our meetings. We invited other confessions and non-religious people to participate in our synodal meetings, but as expected they showed little interest. During the discernment phase we proceeded systematically: each member received two of the ten topics to focus on, then read the 17 reports received during the consultation phase and sent their observations to the main editor. The main editor synthesized these observations into a final draft, which she presented to the team on 2022-06-04. The team suggested two corrections. Our draft was given to the Bishop on 2022-06-08. We carefully avoided causing controversial noise in public. We did not publish our final synthesis because we consider it an intermediate part of the Synod. (P.S. see Estonian synthesis went public)

My thanks to the members of the synodal team, who faithfully did their job despite my disturbing presence. My special thanks to the main editor who wrote the final synthesis despite her high work load. My special admiration to the Bishop, who remained a wise and constructive advisor even in the most critical moments.

I was the only disturbing element in the team, the only to remain deeply dissatisfied with our synthesis because I feel that it leaves out an important part of the church’s reality.

In a personal endeavour I had formed a second team during the consultation phase, this time taking care for diversity. This “Team B” was inter-confessional and consisted of mostly Protestant, several Catholic, one Anglican and one Orthodox Christians and even of non-religious people. It published 17 intermediate versions of a draft report, collected feedback from several dozens of contributors. The team met 4 times 4 hours in a prayerful atmosphere, where we discussed about our draft. Their final draft was produced by an editor team of 4 authors. Besides the four authors, ten more team members agreed to have their name published in our report, which we submitted on 2022-03-31 at the end of the consultation phase. The work of this team is abundantly documented on my personal website:

And the work of this inter-confessional team is not mirrored, not even mentioned, in our synthesis. The synodal team did not consider it noteworthy. My plan had been to have the two teams sit together with the job of writing a single text to which both teams would agree. When I realized that this was not going to happen in due time, my hopes collapsed. I even considered leaving the church. I had failed across the board: My job as the Synodal Contact Person was to form and lead a team that synthesizes what people have to say at the Synod. But already when forming the synodal team I failed to care for diversity. Furthermore I am impatient, do things on my own and too quickly. I lack experience with managing bigger projects. I don’t speak clearly when needed. My provocative style causes counter-productive emotions. But there is no way out of the church once you “have believed, and have come to know, that [Jesus] is the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69). And indeed there is no reason to despair. As the Bishop wrote, “if the Holy Spirit didn’t blow sufficiently in Estonia during this phase of the Synod, let’s hope that it blew elsewhere.” And I would add that it actually does blow quite much also here in Estonia, we are just very good in silencing things down.

The fact of having failed to reach a consensus between the two teams might be our most valuable contribution to the Synod. And I remain confident that God can turn even our unfinished reconciliation into a useful contribution to the Synod.

I hope that the Synod on Synodality will encourage all church leaders to take the fundamental steps required for reconciling and uniting in full diversity all those who follow Jesus.

Luc Saffre
Synodal Contact Person for the Apostolic Administration of Estonia
June 2022