Organizers of Pope Francis’s ongoing Synod of Bishops on Synodality announced Thursday that ten different working groups had been formed in the Roman Curia to address specific topics that came out of last year’s session.

These topics, they said, are restricted to issues mentioned inside of the synod hall and include hot-button questions such as women’s access to the diaconate and ways of welcoming the LGBTQ+ community.

Asked specifically whether the working groups would touch on issues of homosexuality and the women’s diaconate, Monsignor Piero Coda, secretary general of the International Theological Commission, said “of course they are on the agenda,” and that various materials will be included in the reflection on these topics.

“If you look well at the issue of access to the diaconate, it’s said specifically that it was a topic that emerged from the synodal assembly and is a question of agreeing on this need to have a study,” he said, saying the results of the two past commissions established by Pope Francis to examine the issue, which were inconclusive, will be considered in the current study.

However, asked whether a working group dedicated to the relationship between the Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches would address the disputed question of mandatory priestly celibacy, Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Vatican office for the Synod of Bishops, said no.

“The topic of celibacy was never put on the table during the assembly,” Grech said.

Similarly, Jesuit Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, general relator for the Synod on Synodality, stressed the importance of recalling that “these study groups don’t treat all topics discussed in the Church.”

“They only involve those points that were presented by the People of God during the synodal process,” he said, saying, “We don’t do ecclesial politics, we are servants of this synodal process.”

Hollerich said he has tried and believes he has succeeded in the synod “to not put my own contents, but content that comes from people of God.”

Organizers were also asked whether a working group dedicated to examining “controversial doctrinal, pastoral, and ethical issues” would revisit blessings for same-sex couples given the widespread backlash created by the Vatican declaration that allowed them.

The declaration, Fiducia Supplicans, was published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in December 2023 outlining methods for blessing couples in irregular situations and has generated enormous backlash and debate.

However, Hollerich told journalists Thursday that for him, Fiducia Supplicans “is a very important document,” describing it as “very beautiful, because it means God loves everyone, even those who are in an irregular situation.”

The blessing given is a sign of God’s love, he said, saying “It is a pastoral document, it’s not a doctrinal document” and the synod has nothing to do with it.

“I find it very beautiful in my pastoral context, it helps me. I think that what the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pope have already decided is not a question to take up again in the synod,” he said, but added that this was his personal opinion.

On Thursday the Vatican published two documents resulting from the Synod of Bishops on Synodality, which opened in 2021 and has included consultations at the local, continental, and universal levels, culminating with the first of two Rome-based month-long meetings in October 2023.

A second and final month-long meeting will be held from Oct. 2-27, to further examine issues that arose from the various stages of consultation, as well as major discussion points that emerged during last year’s meeting, bringing the multi-year process to a close.

The first document, titled, “How to be a synodal Church in mission?” offered five different perspectives it said required theological reflection ahead of this year’s synod meeting.

Those perspectives include the “synodal face of the local Church” examining local realities and ministries, including the question of women’s involvement and the potential creation of new ministries, and “the synodal face of groupings of churches” on the relationship between national, regional and continental bishops’ conferences.

Another perspective is “the synodal missionary face of the universal Church,” which the document said implies “a new way of exercising the Petrine ministry” and examines the relationship between bishops and the pope, as well as the topic of ecumenism.

The liturgical and sacramental roots of a “synodal Church” exploring the ecclesiology of participation of laity while respecting hierarchal authority is another perspective requiring reflection, as is the “synodal Church in mission,” addressing the evangelization of culture versus the inculturation of the faith and the need for “ecclesial communion” at all levels on major pastoral and moral questions.

A second document was also published outlining ten different study groups dedicated to specific issues that have emerged in the synod process thus far, and which will be addressed by the synod office in collaboration with competent dicasteries of the Roman Curia.

These study groups are:

  • Some aspects of the relationship between the Eastern Catholic Churches and the Latin Church
  • Listening to the Cry of the Poor
  • The mission in the digital environment
  • The revision of the Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis in a missionary synodal perspective
  • Some theological and canonical matters regarding specific ministerial forms
  • The revision, in a synodal missionary perspective, of the documents touching on the relationship between Bishops, consecrated life, and ecclesial associations
  • Some aspects of the person and ministry of the Bishop (criteria for selecting candidates to Episcopacy, judicial function of the Bishops, nature and course of ad limina apostolorum visits) from a missionary synodal perspective
  • The role of Papal Representatives in a missionary synodal perspective
  • Theological criteria and synodal methodologies for shared discernment of controversial doctrinal, pastoral, and ethical issues
  • The reception of the fruits of the ecumenical journey in ecclesial practices

In a Feb. 22 letter from Pope Francis to Grech ordering the creation of these study groups, the pontiff said the groups must be comprised of not only curial officials, but experts from all over the world, brining not only their expertise, but “current experiences in the People of God gathered in the local churches.”

These study groups have already begun their work and have been tasked with developing a working plan that they will present during this year’s October synod meeting. They have been asked to conclude their studies and present results to the pope by June 2025.

Given the broad spectrum of issues being addressed, the study groups are working in close collaboration with the International Theological Commission, the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and a Canon Law commission established in agreement with the Dicastery for Legislative Texts.

Experts who form part of the study groups, the document said, must come from a variety of cultural and geographical backgrounds, they must represent different disciplinary fields, and must include both men and women.

The Vatican’s office for the Synod of Bishops will also establish a “Permanent Forum” to further explore the theological, juridical, pastoral, spiritual and communicative aspects of “the synodality of the Church.”

Organizers stressed Thursday that the groups, though established as a response to the synod, are not part of it, but are a personal initiative of the pope that are designed to outlast the Synod on Synodality itself.

Speaking to the press, Hollerich said the specific topic of the synod “is synodality. A lot of topics came up from people of God, but it’s impossible to treat all of these topics in a synod.”

“There needs to be a certain reflection, so the pope took up his responsibility as pastor of universal Church” to explore specific issues of broad interest, he said.

Similarly, Sister Simona Brambilla, the new secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, said the synod is “not about this or that topic.”

“The important thing is how to reflect in a synodal way,” she said, saying the Church at various levels “must clarify how to do this reflection in a synodal way” and “walk together” in addressing important topics of broad interest.

This, she said, “applies to all topics” in the synod, examining how they were brought up, how to reflect on them, and how to live them “in a synodal way…it’s not on this or that topic, but synodality.”