Youth participants in the synod of bishops at the Vatican. RNS photos by David Gibson

At Vatican summit, millennial Catholics have no vote but do have a voice

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — The more than 30 young adults taking part in a global meeting of Catholic leaders to discuss how to engage today’s youth have been dismissed by critics of the summit as irrelevant, or insufficiently orthodox, or worse.

Vincent Nneji, 30. RNS photo by David Gibson

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“What is their real role here other than a nice backdrop?” one commentator asked.

For critics, these millennial Catholics are just window dressing for a confab whose real outcome will, and should, be decided by the 260 bishops who will vote on the final document that is being drafted and debated ahead of a final ballot on Saturday (Oct. 27).

In other words, business as usual in the top-down Roman Catholic Church.

But in interviews and in their public comment these young “auditors,” as they are called, have shown that if they don’t have a vote at the synod, they do have a voice.

And the hierarchy is listening.

That’s come as a surprise to some young delegates.

“I expected the normal practice of the church to be to restrictive and be rigid with the rules,” said Vincent Nneji, 30, a delegate from Nigeria. “But it changed a lot. A lot of regulations and rules were bent for our sake. I’m glad of that.”

Nicole Perez, 23, agreed.

Nicole Perez, 23. RNS photo by David Gibson

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“I thought the chance of us really speaking out, really giving our ideas and thoughts about the synod and what the youth are thinking, this is not something I was expecting really,” said Perez, who is from the Philippines. “The interaction with the bishops, in the small groups — coming out of it, it was quite overwhelming.”

For Daniel Bashir, a 25-year-old medical doctor from Pakistan, the synod was so moving that he has decided to study to become a priest when he returns home.

“For me this was a life-changing experience,” Bashir said. “I have hope in my heart now.”

The youth delegates were also powerful voices in pushing back against the vocal critics — most of them from outside the synod hall and many centered in the U.S. — who sought to cast the assembly as useless, dangerous to the faith or “rigged” toward a predetermined end.

Daniel Bashir, 25. RNS photo by David Gibson

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The churchmen themselves, from Pope Francis on down, seemed just as surprised, and delighted, by the effect of the young delegates. The young people sometimes whooped or cheered the brief speeches that each of the more than 300 participants delivered, grading them according to a “clap-o-meter” they developed.

Francis at one point walked up into the youth section in the theater-seating lecture hall where the closed-door meeting is held to encourage them to keep making noise.

Synods may never be the same.

“Because of the presence of young people, some of the speeches were unforgettable,” Italian Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti told reporters on Thursday. “Unforgettable” is not an adjective commonly applied to the somnolent synods before Francis became pope.

But buried in this cloud of good feeling is a clear warning: The prevailing narrative about Catholicism outside Vatican City is still a tale of scandal and crisis and hypocrisy. The dynamic that has developed here over the past three weeks has to be translated to the rest of the world.

Going back to the same old ways is not an option, said the young people who spoke to Religion News Service.

Sebastian Duhau, 22. RNS photo by David Gibson

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“If bishops do this back home it could make a big difference, if young people are invited to be part of the discussions,” said Nneji. “It could bring young people back to the church because they could feel, yeah, they have opportunity to dialogue with leadership of the church and walk with them.”

Sebastian Duhau, 22, who works in youth ministry in Australia, said “all the bishops and young people here have had a fire that ignited in them.”

But, he said, it is vital that there be a personal and institutional follow-up by the bishops, not just with practicing young Catholics like the synod auditors but with all those who are distant from the church or from any religious practice.

“There have been a few bishops that have really acknowledged that, ‘Yeah, I’ve come to realize that I have neglected accompanying people, neglected stepping outside of the church, stepping outside of the walls of my diocese, to meet the people immediately around me,'’’ Duhau said.

“That’s been a beautiful thing to acknowledge, and witness, and see the sense of vulnerability of some people who acknowledge, ‘Hey, actually I haven’t necessarily been doing the right thing, or doing things the best way.’”

Julian Paparella, 25. RNS photo by David Gibson

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Still, Duhau added, “I really hope to see action comes from that. Not just an acknowledgement that they could have been doing things better, but a conscious decision to say, 'I will definitely change the way I do things.'”

Julian Paparella, 25, a Canadian auditor and campus minister at McGill University who spoke to RNS during a morning coffee break, said the church needs to offer young people community — not promises in the headlines.

“Do we reflect Jesus?” he asked. “Are we a place where they feel welcome? Where they feel at home? Where they feel nourished? That’s what’s going to impact people.”

Percival Holt, 25. RNS photo by David Gibson

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Percival Holt, 25, who leads a Catholic youth organization for the bishops of India, said Catholics “need to be open to everything and look at everything from a different perspective.”

Holt said church leaders need to understand theology — and the lives of people around them.

“To understand the souls of people, not only the external situations,” he said. “I think that’s what we need.”

(David Gibson, a former national reporter for Religion News Service, is director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture.)


  1. Ok – this is the Xth article on the youth at the recent synod; and I still have no idea what exactly they (the kids) are looking for.
    One article on RNS stated that they had concerns with the environment, LGTB issues, economic equality; etc. – this one says nothing other than they want to feel welcomed by the church.
    I would love to hear how they feel they are not welcomed; what they feel WOULD be welcoming; and then decide whether they have a beef or not.
    This sounds a lot like the people I work with; they got a lot of complaints; but when you ask them if they have any solutions – they stare at you like you have three heads…

  2. Stop oppressing and lynching LGBTQ+ people and bombing abortion clinics.

  3. If they don’t have a vote, they don’t have a voice. This being the 21st century, not the 10th century.

  4. Fetuses don’t wear clothes, nor do they have rights. Seek professional help for your delusions.

  5. The long-term trend, or expectation, is that young people will become more conservative as they age into being older people. That worked better before conservatism entered the phase of ruining itself with outrageousness, as is now occurring in several countries at once. How this affects the Catholic Church going forward is anybody’s guess. But we are in a different information age, worldwide, and future challenges of the next 20-40 years are not going to be the same as those in the past.

  6. Does the RCC authority ever release transcripts from these “on high marketing” meetings?
    This could shed some light on what the young auditors brought to those in power.

  7. Well, one thing that will never change within the Catholic hierarchy across the globe…women will never have a voice let alone a vote.
    Be silent, submit, and suffer.

  8. I’m sure there are releases somewhere. It’s been in the Catholic news outlets; but you have to search.

  9. Yup; sorry.
    If you want to work the women’s suffrage angle, you could join a convent.

  10. You always talk about others killing LGBT people; but you have no problem doing it inside the mother’s womb; or worse, at 8 months partially born.
    I just don’t understand why you don’t love lgbt babies…..

  11. Slightly – only after your woe as me comment. 🙂

  12. Not enough to respect their civil rights or bodily autonomy, obviously.

  13. I don’t think ANY of the articles at RNS on the youth at the synod reflect what the kids are looking for.

    They reflect what the articles’ authors are looking for.

  14. The Catholic Church is NOT a democracy, a republic, a debating society, or a representative legislature.

    Those looking for those things need to look elsewhere.

  15. You have no idea what kids are looking for.

  16. I see most folks have blocked you.

    With anti-Catholic comments like that, I will also.

  17. So, do not join it.

    That solves your problem, and solves its problem.

  18. No, generally there are no public transcripts.

    If decisions are made, positions taken, recommendations agreed upon, those are released.

    In the past individual bishops have had staff make notes, but those are not public documents.

  19. Really? Then why do Christians keep acting as though the 1st Amendment only applies to them?

  20. The Vatican doesn’t want you to know…

  21. Thousands of abuses by pedophile clergy are being uncovered, with thousands more to go. This corrupt and deviant church of Satan will never recover from the filth it has tried to keep hidden. It’s great fall into oblivion is coming very soon. Jesus loved and loves little children and has wept because of all of the abuse.

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