27 October 2023, The Tablet

A conversation with Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, ‘spiritual father’ of the synod

A podcast in The Church’s Radical Reform series

 A conversation with Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP, ‘spiritual father’ of the synod

The process of listening, says, Fr Radcliffe, is the “foundation for any subsequent things to happen”.
© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk

The reflections of Fr Timothy Radcliffe have been one of the highlights of the October 2023 synod assembly in the Vatican. The English Dominican friar led the synod participants on a retreat before the synod gathering and offered wise reflections and spiritual guidance. Some have called him the “spiritual father” of the synod. 

For this episode, I sat down with Fr Timothy to discuss the synod process and how to navigate disagreement in an increasingly polarised world and church. Fr Timothy led the worldwide Dominican Order from 1992-2001, the first English friar to do so. He knows the universal Church and the workings of the Vatican and has attended several synods. 

“I think to see Roman Curial cardinals sitting with young women from Latin America and Asia and listening, really listening. I think that’s what is most transformative,” he told me.  

The process of listening, he says, is the “foundation for any subsequent things to happen” and that both individuals and the Church collectively need to be “changed” before they know which changes need to be made. On one occasion in the synod, he referred to a story that had been told to participants about a bisexual woman who had taken her own life as she did not feel welcomed by the Church.

“The question always put is: is the Church’s teaching going to change? That’s not the issue. The issue is, will we love and welcome our fellow human beings?” he says. “If we love them, and listen to them and make them part of our lives, if there are evolutions to happen, they will happen. But you don’t start by asking what changes have to be made.”

He stressed that the synod is counter-cultural because it demands people listen to those with whom they disagree.  

“We inherit a tradition, Catholicism, which does actually believe in reason,” he pointed out.

“We see a lot of irrationality in our society because people don’t believe in reason anymore, but the Church does, and this should act in a healthy way to open not just our hearts but our minds, so we listen attentively with all our intelligence to what the other person is saying, and try to see how even if we disagree it bears some tiny seed of truth that we need. So I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out, when we look back, that one of the great roles of the Church will be to carry on believing in reason.” 

Talking about indifference or scepticism of the synod among the clergy, Fr Timothy said there needs to be a “positive, affirmative vision of the priesthood” to ensure more priests get on board with the synod process.  Finally, he talked about his recent health struggles and how Pope Francis took him by surprise and phoned him while he was in hospital. 

The Church’s Radical Reform podcast is sponsored by the Centre for Catholic Studies at the University of Durham in partnership with The Tablet. 

Producer: Silvia Sacco 

Editor: Jamie Weston 



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