Ireland’s Synodal Pathway Not a ‘Parliamentary Debate’: Chair

Oct 6, 2021 | 0 comments

Dr Nicola Brady – Chair of Ireland’s Synodal Pathway Steering Committee

In a statement that seems designed to reduce expectation of major change in church disciplines such as priestly celibacy and the male-only priesthood, the Chairwoman of Ireland’s Synodal Pathway Steering Committee has made clear that what will not happen over the next five years is ‘a parliamentary-style debate where the objective is to win votes for particular decisions’. 

Dr Nicola Brady, in an article for the Irish Times on Monday 4th October, writes that ‘synodal processes create space for different views, and different visions for the future, but in a spirit of sharing, respectful listening and discernment, rather than argument’.

“At the heart of our work is this question: “What is God saying to the Irish church at this time?” We will be exploring this through a process of discernment which, in a Christian context, is understood as a decision-making process in which discovery leads to action, guided by the Holy Spirit.”

Notably missing from Dr Brady’s statement is any reference to any crisis in the Irish Catholic church – even though the current context includes rising concern for the growing  lack of interest shown in sacramental observance and church matters by younger generations and the apparent ineffectuality of the church’s historic reliance on Catholic schools for faith formation. (In August 2021 the Irish Association of Catholic Priests argued that school-centred preparation for early sacraments is no longer fit for purpose.)

There is also a looming crisis of priestly manpower and a likely inability to keep many small rural churches in continued use – but this gets no mention in Dr Brady’s statement either – unless that is what is referred to by ‘challenges that discourage people from taking a more active leadership role in the life of the church‘.

Instead her statement speaks of likely ‘tension’ between those concerned that major change may ‘secularise’ the church and others concerned that the scale of recent social change may not impact sufficiently upon the process.

That many of those who do currently practise their faith may be well aware of the need for change – especially to reveal the relevance of faith to younger generations – is not adverted to.

In sum, while Dr Brady’s initial statement may allay elder fears that what is central to their Catholic faith is in danger, it also fails to explain why ‘walking together’ is not just another option for the Irish church but probably essential to its survival and recovery. She writes of an intent to heal wounds, but there is no hint that any or all of these could be fatal to the clericalist model of church that enabled them.

Neither ‘crisis’ nor ‘recovery’ can even be mentioned, it seems, because the obviously ailing patient – the Irish Catholic Church – cannot even yet be frankly told that it is seriously ill.

For those with access, Dr Brady’s complete statement may be read by clicking here.

Sean O’Conaill
6th October, 2021


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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