Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of Synod of Bishops. Credit: Diocese of Gozo (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Cardinal Mario Grech told Irish bishops that embarking on a “synodal process” could lead to an “ecclesial springtime.”
In an address published on the Irish bishops’ conference website on 4 March, the Secretary General of Synod of Bishops said that it was “more than understandable” that the bishops might worry about whether embarking on a “synodal process” was “the right decision.”
He said: “But keep in mind the assurance given to us by the Holy Father: ‘it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.’ A synodal process promises an ecclesial springtime — a rebirth of an authentic Church.”
The Maltese cardinal gave the address — entitled “Towards a Synodal Irish Church” — on 3 February, Sr. Nathalie Becquart, one of two new under-secretaries of the Synod of Bishops, also took part in the meeting.
The Tablet, a British Catholic weekly, reported on 1 March a committee of six Irish bishops had begun working on plans for a national synod and received advice from Grech.
An Irish national synod would add to a growing number of similar initiatives.
The Catholic Church in Germany embarked in December 2019 on a “Synodal Path”: a process bringing together lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.
In January, Pope Francis encouraged the Italian Church to hold its own national synod.
The Australian Church, meanwhile, is planning to hold the first plenary council since 1937 in October.
In his speech, Grech said that the Irish bishops were “gearing up to take on a missionary attitude and help the Church in Ireland to go out and reach the fringes of humanity.”
“Some may get startled when they learn that the bishops in Ireland are in a missionary mood because traditionally your nation was one of the world’s most deeply and most stable Catholic countries,” the 64-year-old cardinal observed.
“But as the Holy Father acknowledges, ‘Christendom no longer exists.’”
Grech said it was clear that “a new evangelization or a re-evangelization” was necessary throughout the Western world.
The cardinal recalled that Bishop Paul Dempsey, who was appointed bishop of Achonry in January 2020, had asked at a previous meeting how Catholicism could thrive in Ireland “considering that the Church’s reputation has been shattered by scandals and that the majority of interlocutors, although baptized, fall outside the Catholic mainstream model — divorced remarried, non-practising Catholics etc.”
He said that “the synodal way” was one answer to the challenges facing the Church.
“If the church wants to become a missionary church, then it has to be a synodal Church, for synodality is not just a methodological choice, but the mode of being of a church which wants to go out in mission,” he said.
“Indeed, synodality is not only a ‘methodos’ but an ‘odos,’ not only a method but a way towards a re-thinking of the Church’s role in contemporary society. Indeed, synodality is at the way towards a Church which is in a permanent state of a mission.”
He outlined the characteristics of “synodality” — the topic of the next assembly of the Synod of Bishops in Rome in October 2022 — saying that while the Synod is “essentially an episcopal body,” it should also strive to “give voice to the entire People of God.”
“Now, if this process of wide participation is fundamental for the Synod of Bishops, a fortiori it is an indispensable element for other synodal processes which go beyond the strict synodal structure,” he said.
He suggested that this would require “an ecclesiological conversion.”
“To be implemented at all levels of the Church, synodality needs ‘leaders’ capable of leading and accompanying synodal processes. Synodality cannot be fostered and implemented without the service of those who exercise authority,” he said.
“But this requires this new style of leadership inspired by Pope Francis’s primacy of ‘listening,’ which can be characterized as collaborative leadership; no longer vertical and clerical but more horizontal and cooperative. A servant leadership that is a way of exercising authority conceived as a service of freedom.”
Addressing the bishops’ potential reservations about launching a “synodal process,” Grech commented: “The moment we embark on a synodal process, we will open the way for Jesus to visit us. It is a Kairos. The fact that the people of God (and here I am referring to all the baptized, bishops and clergy included) are still not spiritually and theologically equipped to engage in a synodal process should not dishearten you.”
He concluded his address by assuring the bishops of his willingness “to help and accompany you in this timely synodal experience.”
He said: “If in your esteemed judgment you surmise that at any stage of this journey my humble presence as Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops will offer you a beam of comfort, I will do every effort to comply.”