Synodality Secretariat Deplores Church’s Historic Abuse of Power

Sep 22, 2022 | 0 comments

The Catholic Church body organising the 2023 Universal Synod on Synodality in Rome has strongly deplored the church’s ‘oppressive’ abuse of power in the past and re-emphasised the principle of the equality of dignity of all baptised members of the church.

The document states that:

“The [Church’s] need for mercy and forgiveness also reaches into the past, not least for the ways in which the Church has consciously and unconsciously been an agent of oppression…The Church herself comes to recognise that she cannot secure her existence by the accumulation of power but only from God, in whom is all her strength and security.”

This confession comes in ‘Towards a Spirituality for Synodality’ prepared by the ‘Commission on Spirituality Sub-Group-Spirituality for Synodality’.

The document does not give a detailed list of these historic abuses of power but predicts a ‘more extensive treatment’ of those, ‘drawing on the experience of the whole church’. This may indicate that the October 2023 general synod in Rome will initiate that ‘more extensive treatment’.

The ‘Doctrine of Discovery’

Pope Francis is currently  in dialogue with Canadian bishops with regard to the so-called ‘doctrine of discovery’ – the historic church statements that encouraged the seizure by European nominally Christian conquerors of lands belonging to indigenous peoples (and not just in Canada) during the ‘age of discovery’ that followed 15th century voyages of global exploration begun by Portugal and Spain. A statement on this has been promised soon.

As the Catholic church becomes more global, with expanding membership in Afica and Asia, it could make sense for the church’s leadership to distance itself from past church policies that favoured European adventurers at the expense of indigenous peoples in foreign lands. As a bishop from the world’s southern hemisphere Pope Francis is especially sensitive to the issue of European dominance of the church in the past.

However, it might be seen as logical to simultaneously ‘call out’ the oppression of members of the European church itself under ‘Christendom’ – the centuries-old union of church and state that began to come asunder with the French revolution of 1789. These ‘marginalised’ members of the European church included, for example, women who in Ireland were pilloried for pregnancy out of wedlock and indigent children committed to church run residential institutions, as well as families whose members suffered clerical sexual abuse that was also in many cases a consequence of the failure of bishops to act decisively.

Just how far the 2023 universal Synod will go in asking for forgiveness for the past remains to be seen. Once begun the historic task of giving a full account of church ‘oppression’ in past centuries might logically be thorough if it is intended to be convincing.

Click here to go to a .pdf version of ‘Towards a Spirituality for Synodality’.


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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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