Diocese of Bridgeport to unite with upcoming synod

As he prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of his installation, the new leader of the Diocese of Bridgeport continues to open doors of communication between the leaders of the church and area Roman Catholic parishioners. To that end, Bishop Frank Caggiano has announced the fourth diocesan synod to be held throughout the next fiscal year.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport will convene a diocesan synod this fall for the first time since 1981. According to Catholic.org, a synod is a gathering of designated officials and representatives of a church, with legislative and policy-making powers. The synod in 1981 was held under the second bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, the Most Rev. Walter W. Curtis. There were also synods in 1971 and 1961.

Caggiano recently told The Trumbull Times sister publication, The Darien Times, that the synod is a process required under old church law. He hopes that the synod process will help make strides in issues facing the diocese, including the need to improve transparency and communication, and young Catholic adults feeling distant from the church.

“I’ve heard over and over that people are anxious to do something — to have input and be heard. What we are going to do is get together to address this and there is no better way to do it than a synod,” he said.

“It will help to establish people to feel they have an opportunity to express their thoughts, to be listened to and engage in consultation with officials and one another,” he said.

Caggiano said he hopes the atmosphere will make people feel “empowered, hopefully excited and enthused.”

The process has already begun, with parishes and schools throughout Fairfield County that belong to the diocese choosing delegates to represent them during the spring, including Darien’s two Roman Catholic Churches, St. Thomas More and St. John Parish. Caggiano said approximately 300 to 400 delegates have been chosen and there will also be a group of young people who will parallel the synod. Other groups represented will include immigrants, ethnic groups and the Voice of the Faithful.

Caggiano broke the Diocese of Bridgeport’s long-standing policy of rejecting the Voice of the Faithful since its inception. Previous diocese leaders have condemned the group and banned them from meeting on Catholic church property.

Diocese communications director Brian Wallace told The Darien Times earlier this year that “one of the first things Bishop Caggiano did after arriving here was to reach out to the Voice of the Faithful, and in four months he has had several conversations with the VOTF leadership.”

The Voice of the Faithful began in Massachusetts as parishioners’ response to allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen. Reports of sexual abuse hit a crisis level nationally in 2002, with reports of misconduct involving hundreds of Roman Catholic priests and thousands of young victims. There were 23 lawsuits involving sexual abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport alone.

Roman Catholics in Fairfield County soon followed suit, organizing affiliated chapters at St. Jerome Parish in Norwalk and St. Paul Parish in Greenwich. After the St. Jerome affiliate wrote to then-diocese head Bishop William E. Lori, he responded by prohibiting Voice of the Faithful from meeting on Catholic Church property. Bishop Lori issued a statement that the group’s goals “were not in keeping with church teaching.”

The group incorporated as the Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport in February 2003, according to its website.

Caggiano met with the group at a public meeting earlier this year and Wallace said the meeting had a “sense of history being made in a quiet way in a spirit of reconciliation and candor.”

Caggiano told The Darien Times that the group has nominated three or four leaders to represent them at the synod.

“They are part of the church and many of them are very faithful members of their parishes. They were created in response to the abuse crisis and much of what they have raised has been controversial,” Caggiano said.

“I’ve said to them, and to everyone, the synod is designed to talk about things we can change — not what we can’t. The synod has no ability to change theology. They understand and are very cooperative,” he said.

“We can learn from one another. We don’t have to agree with everybody to respect everyone,” Caggiano said.

The goal of the synod is to set a pastoral game plan with specific objectives and goals “we can agree on.”

The synod will have four themes as outlined by Caggiano in a recent homily.

The first theme is to empower the young church. “The young are not spectators in this process. They are full participants in the synodal process. The young may have the answers we are looking for,” he said.

The second theme is to build up the spirituality of the family.

“If families are healthy, the church will be healthy. We must, my friends, build those communities of faith above all others,” Caggiano said.

The third theme is to foster evangelical outreach.

“Too many of our Catholic brothers and sisters no longer feel the need to be part of our worshipping family,” he said.

“They feel that no one misses them. But we do miss them and want them to be present with us,” Caggiano said.

The last theme of the synod is to “find new ways to promote works of charity and justice, to allow us to get the good news of what is already underway; the good works of Catholic Charities and all of the parish-based programs that many of you serve in quietly.”

Whether or not one is chosen as a delegate, all Diocese of Bridgeport members are able to provide comments through the diocese’s website.

Bishop Frank Caggiano was installed as fifth head of the Diocese of Bridgeport on Sept. 18, 2013. The Brooklyn native sat down with The Darien Times last August to share his optimistic thoughts on the future of the church and the diocese.

He said he felt the church was heading into a new era led by Pope Francis.

“The Catholic Church has gone through a period of difficulty in the last few years, but we are beginning to see a new chapter in the church,” he said.

“Pope Francis has the simplicity, the humility, the directness,” Caggiano said last summer.

The synod will begin in September with an opening evening of prayer and close the following September. The bishop hopes to close the synod with a Mass celebrated at Webster Arena in Bridgeport.

Caggiano closed his recent homily by saying “the synod is not going to be the end of the journey, it is only the beginning.”

He echoed those thoughts to The Darien Times.

“I’m excited to have a process that involves so many different people and the leadership of the diocese on every level,” he said.

“It’s an exciting time. I have every confidence it’s going to be great,” Caggiano said.