The Fifteen Issues of the Synodal Process

For those who might be interested, this is a list of the fifteen main issues that were highlighted in the synthesis presented at the Athlone Synodal meeting on June 18. Along with listing the topics, I am also including a line or two from the presentation on each, to give some sense of the flavour of what was presented.

  1. Abuse is part of the Story of the Church.   

Abuse relates to so many areas — our understanding of sexuality and of power; the absence of women in decision making roles; transparency and accountability in governance; clericalism. It is a lens through which all else needs to be viewed.

2. Sense of Belonging.

Strong sentiments expressed around the theme of belonging and a desire for the development of a more welcoming and inclusive Church emerged from all syntheses.


The role of women in the Church was mentioned in almost every submission. Several submissions called for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and the priesthood.


There was a clear, overwhelming call for the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ in the Church, expressed by all ages and in particular by the young. This would involve less judgmental language in Church teaching.

5. Sexuality and Relationships.  

Belonging, and not belonging, to the Church was linked in many ways to sexuality, sexual ethics and relationships. A warped understanding of sexuality and sexual sin impacted on the way people were formed within the Church. This has been a source of great suffering. Calls for a review and re-examination of all Church teaching and its understanding of human sexuality.

6. Culture.  

The syntheses highlighted the significance of the prevailing culture in shaping the context for journeying together, both in this Synodal process and generally.

7. Covid19 Pandemic.

There is still fear that the impact of the pandemic will be long term particularly on numbers attending Mass, and a knock-on effect on Church finances.

8. Family.  

Many of the syntheses place a strong emphasis on the central place of family in all three elements of our Synodal process: communion, participation and mission. The Church is, in reality, a family of families.

9. Youth.

Young people and the groups that represent them were critical of the Church regarding women, clerical celibacy, and its handling of the abuse crisis. A significant number of them failed to understand the Church’s teaching on sex and sexuality, and the Church’s position on sex was considered a barrier to participation by some.

10. Education and Catechesis.

The issues of religious education, catechesis, faith formation are frequent in the submission across all age groups. The skills necessary for discernment , crucial for making decisions in a Synodal style, were lacking at all levels. Another recurring theme was the call to remove sacramental preparation and education out of schools and into the parishes.

11. Liturgy.

A lot was said on this topic, about quality and engagement in our liturgies. Homilies came in for particular mention as being too long, ill prepared, irrelevant, monotonous, boring, and not always connected with life. Issue of language of homilies and Church generally came in for strong criticism.

12. Adult Faith Formation.

There is a serious weakness in adult faith formation in Ireland. Our spiritual growth is stunted. As adult members of the Church, we are not sufficiently grounded in our faith, and do not have the confidence in speaking about our love of God. With the decline in clergy, who is going to instruct in the faith?

13. Clergy.

There is much appreciation of our priests, their dedication, hard work, presence, availability, and pastoral care, particularly around the time of funerals. Priests are over-worked.

Clericalism in all its forms was frequently associated with hurt and abuse of power; the structures of the Church are not inclusive; they operate through patriarchal, hierarchical and feudal ways. 

14. Lay Ministry.

The basic equality and dignity in our Church is rooted in our common baptism and a Synodal Church needs to encourage and empower the laity. 

There was an overarching thread that the gifts of the laity were under-utilised by the  Church. Their involvement should not be seen as complementary to the priest, but as each person’s mission as a baptised Catholic.

15. Co-responsible Leadership.

There is a general discontent, and at times frustration and anger, with the processes of decision-making and exercise of authority at all levels in the Church.

The exclusion of laity, and in particular of women, in these processes is of note.

There is a lack of clarity around leadership roles and responsibility. 

There is a psychological and theological shift needed to adopt the Vatican II model of Church as the People of God, where everyone is using the gifts they have been given by God.