05 July 2023, The Tablet

How the Irish Church is working to understand ‘synodality’

“We will be journeying into 2026 and beyond as we continue to identify the areas for consideration. It is a long-haul process.”

How the Irish Church is working to understand ‘synodality’

Julieann Moran is the general secretary of the Irish Synodal Pathway.
We Are Church Ireland/Youtube screenshot

A lack of understanding around the various elements of synodality is hindering the development of a synodal church, according to new research.

Plans are underway for a second national assembly at the end of the year as part of the Irish Church’s next step in its National Synodal Pathway.

Julieann Moran, general secretary of the Synodal Pathway in Ireland, said the gathering would be similar to the one that took place in Athlone last year and was hailed as a success by participants.

Other developments in the Irish Synodal Pathway include the publication later this year of new research findings about the synodal process in Ireland to coincide with the rolling out of a training programme in synodal leadership.

Last week the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference met with the national steering committee and task group of the Irish Synodal Pathway to discuss recommendations regarding the structure and content of the synodal pathway for the coming years in Ireland.

Addressing a webinar hosted by the Association of Catholic Priests, Julieann Moran explained that stages one and two of both the Irish Synodal Pathway and the universal synod are now complete.

In stage three, she explained, the Irish Church is trying to continue its engagement with the universal synod while making preparations for its own series of synodal gatherings or an assembly.

“We are going to be journeying into 2026 and beyond as the Irish Church continues to identify the areas for consideration for either a series of assemblies or an assembly. It is a long-haul process.”

She explained that the research, conducted in March, was aimed at understanding how synodality could be developed as a key aspect of the life and mission of the local church and also how training in leadership in a synodal style could help.

An online survey was conducted with those who led the original listening process across the Irish Church while six geographically spread-out focus groups were also consulted. The information gleaned from these two fora will aid the design of the training programme.

According to Dr Moran, the publication of the research findings signals the willingness to work transparently.

The research is currently being assessed but initial findings indicate that there is a desire for change in the Church, particularly in relation to co-responsibility between priests and laity.

While there was “much discussion about the declining numbers of priests and the impact of this on the celebration of the Eucharist in parish life, the desire to find a meaningful way to develop and express faith was a much stronger driver for change than the reducing numbers of clergy in ministry”, she said.

Another research finding was a lack of understanding around the various elements of synodality and that this is hindering the development of a synodal church.

Four of the focus groups had a mix of lay, religious and ordained. The two other focus groups were made up of priests because fewer priests had participated in the diocesan stage of the synod than expected.

“This was an opportunity for them to say why they had participated or why they had not participated.”

According to Dr Moran, one of the themes that emerged from the priests’ focus groups was that priests felt there was insufficient support provided to help them understand how synodality is asking something different from them and how to transition from being an individual leader in a parish, with a heavy workload, to a more collaborative leader who consults with much wider input.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99