Suggestion for a successful Synod

The Synodal Process has been launched in the Irish Church. Though from what I have seen on the ground, nothing much is happening as yet. But it is early days. 

I have listened to a number of people speaking on the Synod, from different points of view, including Bishop Leahy of Limerick, who seems to be the main person from the bishops side who is involved. He was on the radio, Leap of Faith, the other evening with Derek Scally and Ursula Halligan. He should have known that it is not advisable to debate on air with Ursula unless you are very clear on your position and can express it well. Sufficient to say he wasn’t, and he came across poorly, and didn’t give me much hope for the success of the National Synod.

There are a host of issues that are contentious in the Church at present, teaching on sexuality, and especially on LGBTQ, the Eucharist, and in particular the text of the Mass, the impact of Covid, and many others. But over and above them all, and showing up clearly in one survey after another, is the place of women in the Church, especially in decision making and ministry. The Synod will, I believe, stand or fall on how it deals with this, and there is no indication as yet that there is any coherent position developing among those charged with the organisation of the event. Will they try to keep it off the agenda, saying that matters of doctrine are outside the remit? The only way they can do that is by rigidly controlling the agenda and the people allowed to participate. That straight away would be its death knell. 

We already had a number of ‘listening exercises’ in diocese, some better and more professionally organised than others. But they all got caught on this issue. The way they seem to have dealt with it is that it was not part of the final document, but the bishop promised that he would take it to the Bishops Conference or to Rome, or both. If they did so, it was done secretly and nothing further was heard. If that is the best that the current Synod can do, it would be as well to call it off now, rather than further increasing disillusionment and alienation. The Church authorities can no longer get away with fobbing people off by ‘holy’ or platitudinous talk, as Bishop Leahy tried to do with Ursula Halligan.

I know none of this is easy, and there is only so much that any one national church can do. But I would suggest the following:

There has to be open and free discussion during this process, and no effort can be made to sanitise the agenda, or the collating of ideas. The views of the people need to be listened to and faithfully reported. Then, when inevitably issues are raised that have to do with Church structures and doctrine, these too have to be part of the final report, carrying the same weight as every other part of the report. So if, for instance, there is a significant majority of people in favour of the ordination of women to the priesthood, that has to be represented in the final report, along with whatever else comes through. The same with a call for change in Church teaching on LGBTQ issues.

Then the final document will have to be submitted to Rome with the backing of the whole Irish Church, including the bishops conference. It will be essential that all this is done publicly. 

That is the only way that we can be sure that this process will be worthwhile, and that Roman bodies will not be able to ignore it. It would also set a trend for other national church synods, and that could lead to a body of reports going in to Rome that they would find it impossible to ignore.

I think the Irish bishops should think seriously about the implication of what they are embarking on in this National Synod, and if they are willing to go with what I am suggesting in this article. If not, they should come clean on it before we go any further. Most of us who are still committed to the Church are in the later stages of our lives. We have experienced, seen and heard, a lot from our Church in the course of our lifetime. We are no longer easily fooled. If this process is not real, open and transparent, it will fail, because we will quickly see through it and pull back from participation. 

Bishop Leahy, in that radio interview, talked about the ‘great success’ of the World Meeting of Families a couple of years ago in Dublin. It was not a great success; it was a damp squib, that made no impact outside of a very small group. The pathetic efforts of the organisers to try to control partihcipation in the lead up to the event not only generated a negative atmosphere around it, but also, sadly, fed into the lack of enthusiasm for the visit of Pope Francis, which to me was really sad. 

Let’s not have something similar this time.