Synthesis of Synodal Listening in the Interim Phase – In the Diocese of Owensboro, Kentucky


  1. Structure of the Listening


During the season of Lent, 2024 five listening sessions were held in the Diocese of Owensboro to address the questions put forth by the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops during this interim phase.  Because of the tight timeline, our focus was on groups already in place in the Diocese:


  • Presbyterate – 35 in attendance
  • Parish Council representatives – 25 in attendance
  • Hispanic Ministry leaders – 20 in attendance
  • Catechists and Youth Ministers – 38 in attendance
  • Diocesan staff – 35 in attendance


A total of 153 people participated in the sessions.  In each session, the participants were engaged, participative, and expressed gratitude for once again having the opportunity to participate in the synodal process.  Much of the work was done in small groups with reports made to the larger assembly. The discussions in the small groups were animated and could certainly have continued beyond the time allotted.


The questions presented to the participants for their small group discussion are as follows:


  1. Regarding Church structures / organizations (global, national/conference, diocesan parish, movements, formal communities, etc.):
    1. Where have I seen or experienced the Church’s structures / organization in a way that I would describe as successful or fruitful?
    2. How have these encouraged the Church’s mission?
    3. Where have I seen or experienced the Church’s structures / organization in a way that I would describe as distressing or unsuccessful?
    4. How have these hindered the Church’s mission?


  1. Regarding the Church’s leadership (global, local, clergy, or lay):
    1. Where have I seen or experienced the Church’s leadership in a way that I would describe as successful or fruitful?
    2. How have these encouraged the Church’s mission?
    3. Where have I seen or experienced the Church’s leadership in a way that I would describe as distressing or unsuccessful?
    4. How have these hindered the Church’s mission?


  1. How can Bishop Medley help the diocesan faithful succeed in carrying out their mission?

As with the listening that occurred last year, there was some commonality in the ideas and opinions expressed at each of the sessions. 



  1. What’s working well?


Regarding what seems to be working well in our Church, the following is some of what we heard:


  • Appreciation was expressed for the structure of the Church which provides a framework for handing on the faith, provides continuity in worship, and is an effective means of communication.
  • Several participants expressed their love for the beauty of the liturgical rites and for the universal nature of the church – both of which make us one.
  • The local church has shined in its response to natural disasters through the work of our Catholic Charities.  Faith in action has been a tremendous witness to non-Catholics and Catholics alike.
  • Organizations, movements and activities that were cited as being particularly fruitful include:  National Eucharistic Revival, Cursillo, RCIA (OCIA), St. Vincent de Paul, Knights of Columbus councils, Catholic Schools, Eucharistic adoration, small group parish communities, FOCUS ministry on college campuses, NCYC, and parish pastoral councils.
  • Local initiatives cited as bearing great fruit in parishes include:  Grace Marriage (a marriage enrichment program), Acts 2:42 (small group faith-sharing program similar to RENEW), a leadership formation program for lay leaders in the church sponsored by our local Catholic university, our diocesan youth camp, Youth 2000 (a Eucharist-based weekend retreat experience for youth), and ODYC (a local version of NCYC).
  • Appreciation was expressed for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and his vision of a synodal church.
  • The Hispanic leaders report that overall Hispanic ministry in the diocese is working very well with tremendous support from the Bishop and diocesan leadership.  However, there is always a need for more priests who speak Spanish.



  • What’s not working well?


The areas of frustration and concern are listed below.


Lack of Clarity Regarding Church Teaching

  • At each of the five listening sessions, frustration was expressed about the lack of clarity from church leadership, citing especially Pope Francis.  This was generally related to Fiducia Supplicans and the confusion and consternation it caused among the faithful regarding what was perceived to be an approval for the blessing of same sex unions.  One priest remarked, “A lack of clear statements from those in positions of authority in the church leaves people feeling confused and afraid.”
  • Pope Francis was described as being ambiguous in his teaching and in his casual remarks.  A plea was made for the Holy Father to “be direct and tell us what you actually mean.”
  • Pastors are on the front line in dealing with sensitive matters such as transgender issues, homosexuality and same sex marriage.  They expressed a desire for guidance from church leaders on these issues – specifically from both Pope Francis and the local Bishop.  “As pastors we would welcome more of the church’s formal guidance on sensitive issues including transgender people and their presence in parish life.”



  • We are experiencing a lack of priestly vocations.  There simply are not enough priests to meet the need.  How do we help young men hear and respond to the call to priesthood? How do we empower families to cultivate vocations?
  • Our presbyterate is quickly nearing the point of being predominately foreign-born.  The presence of foreign-born priests in our diocese has been a tremendous blessing and has allowed us to keep parishes open.  However, it has presented challenges of language and inculturation into the U.S. Church.  The need was expressed for more and better ongoing formation and support for international priests. 
  • We need priests who are healthy physically, emotionally, and spiritually and who display joy in their ministry.  How do we support our presbyterate in these ways?
  • Professional lay ministers expressed frustration in working with some priests who are hesitant to relinquish control and to empower lay people to use their gifts in ministry and live out their baptismal call.  One pastor remarked, “Authoritarian pastors/priests have hindered the Church’s mission in some places.”
  • Because of the demands of parish life, priests tend to assume the role of administrators in addition to the pastoral care of the faithful.  One individual stated: “When priests hold on to too much administrative control, they become administrators and not shepherds who smell like their sheep.”
  • A strong sentiment was expressed that people want good, challenging, and effective homilies that are relevant to today’s life and issues.  They want to be left with something they can carry with them throughout the week.


Women Religious

  • Women religious have been a tremendous treasure to our church in the past.  However, their numbers have fallen dramatically.  Their absence from parish life is a great loss.
  • How do we help young women hear and respond to the call to religious life?





Professional Lay Ministers

  • With the decline in numbers of clergy, more well-trained lay ministers are needed in our parishes.  That need will only grow.  One professional lay minister asked, “Who is going to take our place?”
  • Professional lay ministers and their pastors would benefit from leadership formation and formation in how to work together as a team with a shared vision.


Youth and Young Adults

  • At each listening session, the participants lamented the loss of youth and young people from our parishes. This was certainly a sentiment expressed in the synod listening sessions held last year as well.  Too many young people seem to find a lack of relevance for the church in their lives.  How do we reach youth and young adults more effectively with an expression of the Good News and its relevance for them?
  • The diocese offers some excellent retreat experiences for youth.  How do we support them after these mountain-top experiences?  How do we help them keep the fire burning in their heart without relying only on the strong feelings with which they left the event?


Annulment Process

  • Once again, as in the listening that occurred last year, the annulment process was cited as an obstacle to people returning to the Table of the Lord.  The process was described as difficult, lengthy, cumbersome, painful, and intimidating.
  • There was a call for more well-trained lay advocates who can accompany people through the annulment process.


Faith Formation for Adults

  • We also heard once again a hunger for more faith formation for the lay faithful. They feel generally inadequate in passing the faith along to their children and in carrying out their mission as evangelizers.
  • The need was expressed for a re-evangelization of cradle Catholics.  One person stated that they see great life coming from the RCIA process and lamented that there’s nothing similar for practicing Catholics.
  • Questions we heard several times during the listening sessions include:
    • How do we engage the people in the pew?
    • Families are lacking a fire for the faith and so can’t pass that fire along to their children.  How do we ignite a fire in people’s faith?
    • We put too much pressure on the Sunday homily to be everything to everyone.  In what other ways can we evangelize people?
  • As noted above, many participants expressed strong feelings about Catholic teaching and a desire for more clarity from Church leaders.  They want to know what the Church teaches on difficult and sensitive issues – especially LGBT issues.



  1. Summary


Given the short notice and quick timeframe, we were pleased with the level of participation in the listening sessions.  Perhaps it was because we invited groups who are already serving in the Church, but participants were engaged by the questions offered for discussion.  Conversation in the small groups was animated, thoughtful, and respectful.  The overall attitude was one of great love for the Church and its priests and a desire for everyone to be empowered to live out their baptismal call.


There was certainly an understanding among those who gathered of the co-responsibility of both clergy and laity in carrying out the mission of the Church.  There was frustration, however, among some of the lay leaders who felt that their pastor was not willing to relinquish control. One professional lay minister stated: “There needs to be humility and docility to the Holy Spirit on the part of both the clergy and laity.”


There were several points we heard expressed at each one of the listening sessions and seem to be in general the issues weighing most on people’s minds and hearts:

  • There is a universal hunger for greater clarity from church leaders on Church teachings.
  • We need more priestly and religious vocations.
  • There is tremendous concern about the loss of youth and young adults from our Church.
  • The annulment process is a stumbling block in bringing people to the Table of the Lord.
  • The faithful are hungry for more formation in their faith and for a greater understanding of their role in carrying out the mission of the Church.


As with the previous rounds of listening done last year, there was nothing particularly surprising in what we heard.  However, the greatest value was in the listening itself and in providing a forum for people to speak.  We heard multiple times that people were grateful for the opportunity to use their voice and to be a part of the synodal process.  It was wonderful to be able to point out to participants that much of what was heard in the Diocese of Owensboro last year was also heard at the October Synod meeting in Rome.  There seems to be a cautious hopefulness that the synodal process is working and will result in positive change and a greater dynamism in the faith.


Respectfully submitted,



_____________________________________                      Date:    April 2, 2024

Most Reverend William F. Medley

Bishop of the Diocese of Owensboro, KY