Diocese of Knoxville parishioners, clergy, religious, others are urged to participate online
By Jim Wogan
The Vatican’s version of a supersized poll of 1.2 billion Catholics living on every continent and in every country in the world begins in earnest in the Diocese of Knoxville this month—when parishes, schools, and other organizations start surveying their populations and gathering feedback using a specially designed survey.
The springboard survey, an online tool used to canvass the Catholic and non-Catholic populations of the diocese, is now available at https://synodsurvey.org.
The results, in some fashion, will be included in a report presented during a gathering of the world’s Catholic bishops in 2023.
This Synod on Synodality was officially opened by Pope Francis in Rome on Oct. 9.
The Holy Father has invited every Catholic “to pray, listen, analyze, dialogue, discern, and offer advice on making pastoral decisions” with “a call for the involvement of all who belong to the People of God—laity, consecrated, and ordained, to engage in the exercise of deep and respectful listening to one another,” the Vatican stated.
Dioceses around the world, including the Catholic Church in East Tennessee, were called on short notice in September to implement this noble endeavor.
Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, and Lisa Healy, executive director of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, have been appointed by Bishop Richard F. Stika to lead the synod effort locally.
“Synodality is about listening, and journeying together,” Deacon Smith said. “There are 2,900 dioceses and archdioceses in the world, and the Holy Father is calling us to come together as diocesan families and prayerfully discern and discuss what is on our minds.”
After reviewing two sets of detailed Vatican documents and contemplating how best to move forward, Deacon Smith and Mrs. Healy assembled a Diocesan Synod Team (DST) composed of 26 members of the Catholic community in East Tennessee. The team includes laity, clergy, members of consecrated religious communities, as well as non-Catholic invitees.
“It was important for this advisory team to be diverse and to reflect all segments of the diocese, and even include people who aren’t necessarily Catholic,” Deacon Smith said. “I think we did that. These folks were very committed, very serious, and very, very helpful to me and Lisa Healy.”
The Diocesan Synod Team met Nov. 11 in a three-hour session to review and offer suggestions on the first draft of the survey that is being offered to jump-start discussion at parishes, schools, and other ministries in the diocese.
The survey should take 20-25 minutes to complete.
“This survey will be a big benefit to the parishes and all of our organizations,” Deacon Smith said. “It can be used as a tool to spur discussion if any of them desire to have a town hall-style meeting. It will also give me an opportunity to quantify results with hard numbers that can be used when I assemble feedback from more than 70 different entities in the diocese.”
The first meeting with the DST on Nov. 11 helped refine the survey methodology. After meeting again on Nov. 17, three different surveys were reviewed and approved: one for Catholics, one for non-Catholics, and one for the homeless and other people living in crisis.
“This is an excellent opportunity to reach out to those who are living on the fringes and those who aren’t engaged in a Church,” Mrs. Healy said. “These people, the homeless and others, have a voice and unfortunately it’s often not heard. It won’t be easy getting to them, but we are making a serious effort to reach out personally and include them so that they can be heard.”
Deacon Scott Maentz was instrumental in crafting the surveys for online use. It has been designed to assure the anonymity of those taking it.
With the DST meetings concluded and the springboard survey tool finalized, it was time to bring the process to the parishes and others who will implement it over the next couple of months.
On Nov. 22, Deacon Smith, Mrs. Healy, and Deacon Maentz arrived at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City to begin training group coordinators. Other training sessions were scheduled for Knoxville (Nov. 29), Chattanooga (Dec. 6), and the Tri-Cities (Dec. 13).
“Group coordinators signed up for this beginning in September,” Mrs. Healy said. “Recently, it’s been about planning and training. Now, we get down to real action. It’s up to the individual parishes, through their pastors and schools and others to decide how, or even if, they want to take this further with small-group or town hall-style discussions.”
During training sessions, group coordinators were cautioned that this process could become uncomfortable. “Hot button issues are part of the survey and could become part of a listening session,” Deacon Smith said. “But we are reminded that this is about listening and dialogue, not debate.”
Parishes, schools, and any other groups participating have until March 1 to summarize their results into a one-page report that will be sent to Deacon Smith.
Deacon Smith has until March 31 to synthesize reports from more than 70 diocesan entities into a 10-page report for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. From there, the national report moves to the continental level and then on to Rome for consideration by the Assembly of Bishops in October 2023, and eventually by Pope Francis.
To participate in the online springboard survey please visit https://synodsurvey.org.