21 September 2021, The Tablet

Our society 'fears difference' – Timothy Radcliffe OP on synodality

‘Synods depend upon both having the confidence to speak and the humility to listen.’

Our society 'fears difference' – Timothy Radcliffe OP on synodality

Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP
CNS photo/Philippe Vaillancourt, Presence

Speaking on the subject of synodality at a witness to the General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops, Father Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master of the Order of Preachers has called for greater respect for political differences in the Church community. 

“Synods depend upon both having the confidence to speak and the humility to listen. Listening is daring to open yourself to people who’ve got views other than your own, views with which you may disagree with strongly,” he said in a video posted by General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops at the end of August.

“Our society fears difference, google and facebook have algorithms which steer us towards the like-minded, so we’re tempted to live in bubbles of people who think the same thing,” he added, calling for more acceptance across political boundaries.

Directly addressing division in the Church, Father Timothy said:  “The Church itself has been touched by these sterile culture wars of left and right, and they are unfruitful.

“Now to transcend this fear of difference we have to imagine why it is that somebody holds views other than my own. Instead of trying to first prove how they are wrong we must imagine what have their lives been, their experience, their fears, that they think like this.”


He quoted Scottish theologian, writer and Dominican priest Fergus Kerr, who spoke at an earlier Dominican provincial chapter, suggesting that we should expect a range of views within the Church:

“If you ask me to say what I prize more and more the longer I’m in the order then I have to say it is a way of thinking, of expecting people to have views we may disagree with, expecting also to understand why they believe what they do.”

Fr Radcliffe is a patron of Catholic for AIDS Prevention and Support and The Council on Christian Approaches to Defence and Disarmament. His book What is the point of being a Christian? won the Michael Ramsey prize for theological writing.

In February 2021 Pope Francis appointed Sister Nathalie Besquart as the first female undersecretary to the General Synod of Bishops. The Pope has called for greater synodality and for dioceses to consult with lay Catholics as part of the Church’s ongoing dialogue.

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