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Pope Francis' lesson for a polarised world: Focus on the process, not the outcome

  • 11 October 2023
Early images from the Synod on Synodality, currently taking place in Rome have begun to emerge. We've seen the first of shared inter-religious prayer services and of small groups meeting and discussing questions facing the Church. Pope Francis is squarely concerned here with process. He is concerned with the question, in Christian terms, how is the Holy Spirit able to be heard in the decision making of the Church?

Much time is spent considering whether he intends this process to lead to particular outcomes on questions of inclusion and identity. There are concerns from some, and hopes from others, that the Synod might make way for moves in Church teaching on issues including the role of women and possibly their ordination, the place of LGBTIQ+ people in the Church and the status of people divorced and remarried.

Often commentators seem unable to conceive that the Pope does not have a settled view on these issues, among others, that he is steering the Synod to adopt. But what if his agenda is not the outcomes, but as suggested, the process?

The context of the Synod is distinctly religious but secular society has been grappling in the past several years with the role and power of process in political decision making. The rise of populism tends to undermine the role of process because the satiating outcome is all that matters.


'Where might a focus on process, before arguing about outcomes, improve our political decision making?'  

We are left in a political context of winners and losers. And the winners take all; there is no room for compromise. The lack of process means a lack of relationship between the array of people affected by decisions and those with different perspectives seeking to make them. The relational becomes secondary to ideological conviction.

The Pope really seems concerned with the way decisions are made through collaborative listening, even within the context of hierarchical structures. What might that have to suggest to secular democratic societies? Where might a focus on process, before arguing about outcomes, improve our political decision making?


Julian Butler SJ is a Jesuit undertaking formation for Catholic priesthood. He previously practiced law, and also has degrees in commerce and philosophy. Julian is a contributor at Jesuit Communications, a chaplain at Xavier College, and a board member at Jesuit Social Services. Main image: Pope Francis at the Synod. (Vatican News)