Has Pope Francis’ bigger agenda been missed?

Oct 14, 2015 | 4 comments

Robert Mickens

Robert Mickens believes that in focussing exclusively on those issues of family life that form the agenda for the present synod, we have all missed what’s really going on: synodality and collegiality as the normal mode of governance of the church is in the process of being established.

To read the full NCR article click:

‘The real synod has yet to arrive’


  1. Martin Murray

    A very insightful article in which Robert Micken highlights the true status of the Synod of Bishops, pointing out that it is perpetual in nature (making it currently 50 years old) and that what we have this year is but a three week long ‘session’ or ‘assembly’ of the Synod. He also reminds us of the expectation for it being further developed to play a more incisive role in universal governance, and the potential for it to be the main structure through which the Bishop of Rome governs over and above the Roman Curia.

  2. soconaill

    As this synod on the ‘vocation and mission of the family’ may well reveal the limitations of celibate hierarchical wisdom on this topic, one has to wonder if this too may have been part of Pope Francis’ plan – and if he might next promote national and diocesan synods that would be open to those with familial responsibility. It is surely counter-educational to maintain a non-dialogical educative regime. Can we hope that the pope’s insistence on ‘dialogue, dialogue, dialogue’ will soon reach that ‘periphery’ where most of us live?

    • Martin Murray

      I couldn’t agree more Sean. I’d go further and make the following 10 suggestions regarding structural reform in the local church:-

      (1) The church needs to develop a process of moving toward TRUE partnership between clergy and laity on an ongoing basis. The language of partnership has of course been much used by the hierarchy in the past, but it must be authenticated by concrete evidence of this being embedded into the structures of the church. This may entail an extended preliminary phase of joint envisioning and education by providing at very least, a mandatory annual coming together of the clergy in each diocese with their pastoral councils in conference. This should gradually develop a much needed level playing field. Clergy need to be in the same room with their fellow lay leaders. Lay pastoral council members need this experience to know their status/office/ministry is being given proper acknowledgment and respect. As things stand it is little wonder that there is minimal interest or enthusiasm among the laity for joining pastoral councils or attending their events.

      (2) The status and operation of Pastoral Councils needs ongoing review and development in line with the capacity for true partnership that is achieved through (1) above. A mere advisory role will not be enough to sustain these structures into the future. The church may not be a democracy, but it still needs to develop shared decision making processes.

      (3) In order to avoid the development of a lay ‘elite’ conversational events such as the ‘Faith and Life Convention’ in Down and Connor should also continue annually, allowing individual Catholics outside of Pastoral Councils the opportunity to engage with their bishop in the new culture of dialogue and debate. These events would help prevent committed church members being left unheard and alienated from any new structures that are put in place.

      (4) Current structures do not have the capacity to allow for issues of church reform to be addressed within the local or national church. This is the church burying its head in the sand, pretending that Catholics locally or nationally are not interested in or affected by these issues. They are both deeply interested and affected. For example, efforts at evangelisation are being undermined by these outstanding issues not being addressed. The beauty of the gospel lies obscured on the other side of dysfunctional and archaic church traditions and structures. For this reason each diocese should facilitate the regular engagement of the bishop, the diocesan pastoral council (where it exists) and representatives of reform groups, to dialogue on these unaddressed issues. There is nothing to fear. If conduced in a spirit of true dialogue and with an openness not only to influence but also to learn, a new level of communal maturity could be achieved, along with an enhanced ability to live with and value difference and diversity.

      (5) Other interest groups apart from reform groups should also enjoy the same opportunties to be heard. To facilitate this bishops should spend less of their time working with children and more time working directly with the lay leadership in their diocese, e.g. sitting in on parish pastoral council meetings and meeting with pastorally active groups. To allow for this, confirmations should be deferred to priests.

      (6) Every opportunity should be taken to dismantle the closed culture of clericalism within the Church. For example, diocesan correspondence usually channelled and restricted to parish clergy should as a rule be cc-ed to parish pastoral councils in order to develop transparency.

      (7) Parish and diocesan pastoral councils should be mandatory. Parish priests should be monitored and held accountable for how they utilise pastoral councils in their parish.

      (8) A diocese pastoral plan should not be that of the bishop alone. If the laity are to buy into and have ownership of a diocesan pastoral plan then they have to be involved in its creation. For that reason every diocese should be required to develop an ongoing pastoral plan based on a process involving the laity of the diocese in synod on a three to five year cycle.

      (9) Diocesan pastoral councils membership should be primarily drawn from and elected by Parish Pastoral Councils in conference and not solely appointed or hand picked by the bishop.

      (10) Priests should spend more time out of uniform when formality doesn’t require it. This would help overcome the false dichotomy that has developed between priests and people and help tackle clericalism. Seminarians should be encouraged to do the same. Currently the opposite is the case.

      ‘Dialogue! Dialogue! Dialogue!

  3. soconaill

    Hard thought has gone into that comment, Martin. It offers a very promising template for our upcoming discussion with Archbishop Eamon Martin next month. Thanks.


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