25 March 2021, The Tablet

Liverpool synod puts laity at heart of reforms

Liverpool synod puts laity at heart of reforms

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon at Liverpool cathedral.

Liverpool archdiocese’s synod has published recommendations that place lay men and women at the heart of efforts to revive and sustain the Catholic faith.

They present a vision of the laity working alongside clergy in almost every sphere of activity including paid pastoral roles.

The 19 recommendations cover a broad range of topics including evangelisation, spiritual formation, governance and synodality, property, the environment, ecumenism and the place of the Church in the world. One seeks “a process that ensures women are equal, valued, visible and heard” and another, “dialogue with those who feel excluded”.

“The richness of the recommendations which have come out of this synod process we are journeying on together is great to see,” said Archbishop Malcolm McMahon in a statement. “They demonstrate the commitment shown by synod members, and indeed the whole archdiocese, particularly in what has been a very challenging year.”

The archbishop inaugurated Synod 2020 in February 2019 and invited the archdiocese to consider: “How do we become the Church that God wants us to be?” The backdrop is one of remorseless decline with sharp falls in Mass attendance and in the number of priests. If present trends continue, there will only be 50 active priests in 25 years. Forty-seven churches have closed in the last 20 years.

Five hundred synod members will vote on the recommendations at a virtual meeting on 19 June. The archbishop and his working group will then translate those approved into a pastoral plan which he will promulgate on the First Sunday of Advent, 28 November.

Synod moderator, Fr Philip Inch, who is a member of the working group, said the synod will provide a clear steer for the plan: “Some of the recommendations are very general, but hiding in each one is such a strength of feel- ing that includes the place of people who feel excluded, on the margins, people who are gay, who are divorced and remarried, those excluded because they prefer to worship in the Extraordinary Form. That’s the challenge of the next step: to make them into con- crete actions, and to affect how the diocese operates.”

Fr Inch said the synod recognises that the present model in which parishes are organised is no longer sustainable: “We have to look at how we deploy clergy, at parish and deanery boundaries, and at the employment of lay ministers.” He added that the vocation of the priest is being seen afresh as encouraging “the flowering of the gifts of the lay- people as it says in the Catechism”.

Appeals for women’s ordination and for an end to compulsory priestly celibacy loomed large in the 25,000 responses from Catholics in a listening exercise at the start of the synod process.

But these and other issues, including dissatisfaction with the current English translation of the Mass, and sharing Communion with other denominations, are regarded as outside the synod’s remit. Fr Inch said members understood this and that women’s ordination had accounted for only five to ten per cent of the 3,500 written proposals.

At plenary meetings on 12 and 13 March, Professor Peter McGrail, of Liverpool Hope University, and a priest of the archdiocese, presented a video titled: “Matters outside the remit of the synod” using actors to voice members’ proposals. One says: “We as a Church need to look at radical change: women deacons is a must. Long overdue! If it wasn’t for women in this parish, it would grind to halt.”

Another is quoted as saying: “The synod should support the calls to introduce female deacons, priests, bishops and cardinals if young girls are to continue sup- porting the Church in the future.”

A third supports women’s ordination, and for the priesthood to be open to married men and women, adding: “This full proposal represents the strongest and widest opinion of members of our parish engaged in the synod”.

Archbishop McMahon watched the presentation, listened to the discussion that followed and promised the issues will feature in his synod report to the bishops’ conference and to the Vatican.

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