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Report: Confidential Synod on Synodality records aren't secure

A delegate participates in round-table discussions at the Synod on Synodality, Oct. 10, 2023. / Credit: Vatican Media

Vatican City, Oct 13, 2023 / 04:22 am (CNA).

Reports on the private deliberations of participants at the Synod on Synodality are accessible via an unsecured server, The Pillar news outlet reported Friday.

The records, which the Pillar found to be openly available to anyone with the correct web address without any need of a password, include rosters of the Synod’s working groups and the “table” reports they filed at the conclusion of the synod’s first round of discussions.

The Pillar said it is not publishing the group assignments or the reports “following Pope Francis’ request for ‘a certain restraint’ in press coverage of the synodal process.”

But its report is a major embarrassment for the Vatican and an extraordinary breach of the wall of secrecy the Synod’s managers have sought to impose since the monthlong assembly got underway Oct. 4. Among other things, the report raises the question of who else has been spying on the Synod’s supposedly confidential deliberations all along.

Additionally, the availability of the Synod’s working group assignments calls into question organizers’ decision to not make the information available to the media. Paolo Ruffini, president of the synod’s information commission, has previously said that he did not know the assignments and wasn’t willing to obtain and share them with members of the press.

The assignments have been a source of controversy because, in a break from precedent, only certain Synod members have been assigned to focus on certain topics. This has raised concerns that table reports might not reflect the views of the entire assembly—especially on controversial issues like pastoral ministry for same-sex attracted and transgender-identifying individuals, as well as the possibility of opening the diaconate to women. 

The table reports will serve an important basis for a summary document of the monthlong assembly, which will in turn provide the starting point for the second and final Synod gathering in October 2024.

Furthermore, the Pillar’s general description of table reports raises doubts about Synod leaders’ long-standing claim that the Oct. 4-29 assembly would not focus on Church teaching, but on how the Church can better include its members. As the Pillar reported, “while some working groups emphasized doctrinal fidelity, at least one report expressed a call for the Church to reconsider doctrine on sexual morality.”

The finding aligns with Ruffini’s recent remarks at a press briefing that some Synod members have asked for “greater discernment on the teaching of the Church on the subject of sexuality,” while others have said “there’s no need for this further discernment.”

More broadly, the Pillar noted that the working groups reports reflected the “synod updates provided by the Vatican press offices.”

The Pillar said it accessed the unsecured server on Oct. 12. after being alerted to it by an undisclosed source, and “immediately notified the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications.” Vatican representatives have not responded to CNA’s request for comment, and it has not been confirmed that access to the server has been restricted.

The apparent communications blunder seems to undermine Pope Francis’ focus on keeping Synod proceedings confidential. Members are not allowed to disclose the contents of discussions inside Paul VI Hall, and tables reports and speeches made from the floor are not being released. Pope Francis has said these restrictions on transparency are necessary to allow Synod members to “express themselves freely.”

This is a developing story.

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