Why the Limerick Synod may not be the model for an Irish synodal process

To be successful in the process, we must respectfully listen to those who have something to say born of the experience, writes Garry O’Sullivan

When Pope Francis decided in 2013 that he would eat in the canteen like the rest of the staff, people realized that a different type of Church was being promoted. I remember a very reliable Roman source telling me that a Vatican bishop who was having lunch at the same high end restaurant as my friend stopped showing up in bishop costume and instead donned the black costume desk with collar. When the manager asked him why the change of dress, he simply replied “Papa Francesco!” And not nicely. But he continued to have lunch every day in the good Roman restaurant.

They say the synodal process is in fact about the new church and not the old church, simply dressed in a different yet more collaborative appearance. The Irish bishops are committed to it, but is their heart there? After all, if they cannot be synod with each other (Jesuit Gerry O’Hanlon wrote that he feels like an informal conversation with the bishops themselves that they recognize as the conference episcopal itself is weak and almost dysfunctional, and that the real power remains with each bishop and diocese) how can they be synod with unruly lay people?


So why should we trust the laity in the Irish synodal process as conceived by the bishops apparently on the model of the Limerick synod? Was the Limerick Synod a resounding success and if it was, where is the proof?

We have to do the process really well and that means listening with respect to those who have something to say born out of the experience, like Dr Catherine Swift.

Dr Swift, Senior Lecturer in Medieval Studies at Mary Immaculate College Limerick, attended the Limerick Synod process two years before the actual Synod and “although it started with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” she says as the synod approached, the energy supplied by the ground seemed to decrease. “The large amount of data that had been collected required summaries and crystallization, but the underlying processes seemed to become increasingly centralized over time.

I remember being disappointed that the extensive work with children that led to a discussion of love for and for pets seemed to disappear in its entirety, which I thought was a shame. Likewise, the large number of vocal and passionately enthusiastic women seemed to decrease in number over the months and I was very struck by the large size of an elderly cohort of men and women who seemed to predominate in the room for the days of the synod itself.

This is interesting because by far the biggest issue in the Limerick process was the role of women in the Church. If women are leaving, especially younger women, it’s a sad day for inclusiveness and this process model.

To summarize

Dr Swift adds, “The synod itself spent a lot of time summarizing and narrowing down topics to individual motions (a process that involved individuals chosen by synod organizers making their own selections from articles and notes that groups of people seated at tables had pinned to the wall resulting from the table discussions). So the organizers, that is to say the clergy, chose the selectors again questioning the independence of the process.

Dr Swift continued: “We then voted on these wordings after short general discussions involving comments from the audience. Immediately thereafter, we each received a large number of motions that had been adopted. Since I received this volume, I haven’t heard anything.

Is it true that the laity paid in the service of the diocese have taken over and that there is no longer a need for consultation?

“I have no real idea of ​​the impact of the synod on the diocese, but it has not had a lasting impact on my own relationship with the Catholic Church. I feel like I’ve talked to people, both delegates and non-delegates, is that many found the end results disappointing, but that’s my impression – it’s kind of a lost opportunity, I think, that the people who gave so much time and effort for a long time were not subsequently solicited for their opinions on the processes involved and that no discussion of the Synod by all who attended never took place. “

So if she is right, we are being asked to adopt a synod model that has not been evaluated at all and those involved have not been invited to give their opinion on this synod process. Yet will he impose himself on the national Church?

Dr Swift says: “I also think very strongly, from the publicity I have seen so far, that the model that Limerick originally put in place has been broadly adopted by the Irish bishops. Many of the themes mentioned in what I have read so far are very similar to those that appeared in the early years of preparing for the Limerick Synod. I don’t feel like the people promoting a national synod have learned what worked well in Limerick, what didn’t work and what ideas and approaches, absolutely valid in and of themselves, left people feeling a little flat and disappointed and disappointed at the end of it all. “

Dr Swift isn’t the only person in Limerick to say this, the question is: is this a dominant sentiment among the clergy and laity? The point is, we don’t know because no one seems to have bothered to ask them.


“As an exercise that cost a very considerable amount of money for one diocese, I would be happier if the Irish bishops had conducted more research into its long-term impact on the confidence of ordinary Catholics in institutions and decision making of the Church, ”she said.

So a prominent professor at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick says the Irish bishops have adopted a synod model for the national synod without any research, focus group or consultation with those who have gone through this process.


Dr Swift alludes to what she sees as the same old Church, the same old power games: Ireland. I see no evidence that the voices or experiences of the more than 400 people who eventually attended the Limerick Synod (and the many more who contributed) had anything to do with the planning of this new assembly. national as far as it is available to read in the newspapers. To me, this strikes me as antithetical to the whole concept of a modern synod, as its supporters explain their conception of it and it raises questions in my mind about the long-term possibilities and hopes of this new assembly. national. “

These are the perspectives of one person, an intelligent, insightful and intelligent woman who has been part of the two-year process. We are still new to these processes here in Ireland, so there is a need to critique them to find a formula that will work for the National Synod. We had a World Meeting of Families which cost millions, what benefit did it bring to the Irish Church? We had a papal visit that cost millions and what benefit did it bring to the Irish Church? If we want to have a National Synod that is obviously to benefit the besieged Irish Church – which is probably costing people a tremendous amount of time and money – then let’s stop the status quo approach. Let us have true lay representation on the Episcopal Committee, have regular updates, and have an independent research firm to interview delegates to the two-year Limerick Synod to assess its overall success or failure in whatever area it is. he tried to process.

To fail

Top-down leadership is lacking everywhere in the contemporary world, religious leadership must begin with the art of discernment – from the bottom up. And that means speaking out and listening to the concerns of all Catholics, Mass spectators, non-participants, liberals, conservatives, those who have lost their faith. It is also really listening to priests. Many are tired, many are retired and still work, the youngest are overworked. We need to hear from priests, priests who feel free to speak and who fear no censorship. They are at the front and it is they who are asked to organize listening processes, to reach out to young people (how does a 70-year-old bachelor attempt that?), To all his functions.

When Cardinal Grech spoke to the Bishops of Maynooth last March about the possibility of an Irish Synod launching a new Missionary Church, I wondered if his address was written 50 years ago, when Maynooth was teeming with young priests. ! He declared to the bishops: “Indeed, from the recent contacts that I had with some of you, I had the feeling that, like Pope Francis, you“ dream of a mission option. – you are preparing to adopt a missionary attitude and to help the Church in Ireland to come out and reach the margins of humanity! “

In fairness, many bishops are simply trying to take care of their aging priests, dwindling resources, and other challenges associated with a changed church.

I wonder how many of these bishops stay awake at night dreaming of mission and preparing to go out and reach the fringes of humanity? And I wonder how many wake up in cold sweats, wishing that the nightmare of synodality and collaboration and the heightened expectations of clergy and laity were just that, a passing nightmare.

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