A leading Catholic theologian has revealed a strong “lament” that has emerged from the “listening phase” of the Church’s global synodal process.
Catholics, it turns out, are desperate for their priests to preach better homilies.
Professor Anna Rowlands, St Hilda Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice at the University of Durham, is being seconded to the Vatican for two years where she will work with both the General Secretariat of the Synod and the Dicastery for Integral Human Development.
She will still be based in Durham but has been freed up from teaching and administration for two years. She will spend half her time in research, writing and supervising PhD students and the rest of her time working on the synod process for the Vatican and Catholic social teaching for the dicastery, such as migration and refugee issues where she is known for her expertise.
Speaking to The Tablet for a podcast on her new roles, she said it was now “all hands to the pump” after the unprecedented grass-roots listening process across the world and, in the last few weeks, the continental phase meetings.
“Now we are going to pivot and turn into the next stage of the synod which is the discernment phase, where it is our task to reflect together on what the global Church has said, what the priorities should be for reflection.” She said the process was “advisory” to the Pope.
Professor Rowlands is one of the few people to have read every single documented submitted to the synod office from the worldwide church as a result of the listening phase.
She said that in some areas of the world, such as New Zealand, in response to the listening phase there had already been change as local churches had realised they could increase lay participation in areas such as renewal and outreach, without the need for discernment at the level of the universal Church.
“Lots of things were things that could be acted on without needing major policy change from Rome,” she said. This included better formation for priests and lifelong formation for the laity.
But one strong, universal theme that emerged from the listening phase was concern about the quality of sermons.
“The quality of homilies is a major, major universal feedback across the Church – people lamenting, either sermons that are just too hurriedly prepared or sermons that are too abstract and intellectual, or sermons that lack any kind of real meat and content to them.
“So there’s a kind of lament from across the world that we would like better homilies that genuinely feed us spiritually. Well that doesn’t require a policy change in Rome to make that happen.”
At the level of the global Church, issues such as better governance, more transparency, the response to the abuse crisis and the recognition of the dignity of the baptised for women were themes that came up, although with different emphases in different parts of the world.
The synod process is leading up to two meetings in Rome in October 2023 and October 2024.