Ireland: Cardinal Grech launches an “Irish Synodal Church”

May 26, 2021
Cardinal Mario Grech

Appointed Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops on September 16, 2020, Maltese Cardinal Mario Grech will be the coordinator of the next Roman Synod on “synodality,” in October 2022.

Created cardinal during the November 28, 2020 consistory, Msgr. Grech spoke on behalf of the thirteen new cardinals to discuss “the profile of the synodal Church and of synodality as the form and style of the Church.”

Thus the cardinal, “listening to all the bishops,” specifies that he wants to do more “by supporting the bishops and the Episcopal Conferences in the maturation of a synodal style, without interfering, but by accompanying the ongoing processes at various levels of ecclesial life.

With this in mind, he addressed the Bishops of Ireland on February 3, 2021, in a speech entitled “Towards an Irish Synodal Church.” On March 3, 2021, Msgr. Paul Dempsey, Bishop of Achonry and Msgr. Fintan Gavin, Bishop of Cork and Ross announced, on the sidelines of the online General Assembly of the Irish Bishops' Conference, that a synodal path would be officially launched on this occasion.

A Reverse Authority

In this so deeply Catholic country, where today Christendom no longer exists, Bishop Paul Dempsey wonders “how the mission of the Church in Ireland could prosper.”

To which Cardinal Grech replied that “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 emphasizes.

“To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous, and fruitful, the pope encourages each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification, and reform,” he continues.

And he explains that “the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God.” This is why, “an ecclesiological conversion is urgently needed.”

“Unfortunately, clericalism still continues to underestimate the laity and their contribution in the Church,” laments Cardinal Grech. But synodality calls for a new way of exercising authority, following the image of the “inverted pyramid.”

Here the cardinal takes up the words of the American Amanda C. Osheim, doctor of theology: “conceiving of hierarchical authority as an inverted pyramid reverses an older pyramidal conception of the Church, a trickle-down ecclesial economy in which the Holy Spirit was given first to the pope and bishops, then to clergy and religious, and finally to the faithful.”

“This pyramid effectively divided the Church into the teaching Church (ecclesia docens) and the learning Church (ecclesia discens). By inverting the pyramid, Francis’ analogy recasts authority as being dependent on reception - listening to and learning from others - within the Church.”

An “Ecclesial Spring”

This “repositioning or change of style” implies a “process of broad participation” by the laity and by the Catholic hierarchy - the bishops and the pontiff - insists the cardinal. He emphasizes that it was Pope Francis himself who “promoted the role of synods and inaugurated a new style of synod marked by real freedom of expression.”

This new style of authority, inspired by the primacy of “listening” is a “certain way of leading by placing oneself in the midst of others, to be with them in a co-responsibility that seeks the empowerment and participation of all.” Bishops and pastors then have the “responsibility to guide and maintain the objective of synodality, which is to build a people, a fraternal and missionary community at the service of the common good of society.”

Cardinal Grech does not hesitate to assert, “it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium.” A synodal process promises an ecclesial springtime! We must understand: ‘a rebirth of an authentic Church.’ - Behind these pompous words, we must see a real subversion!

A National Synodal Assembly

The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference published on its website on March 10, 2021 a statement following the Spring 2021 General Assembly. The bishops first, “decided to embark on a synodal path for the Catholic Church in Ireland leading to the holding of a National Synodal Assembly within the next five years.”

In June 2021, at the next General Assembly, a working group - made up of lay women and men, including young people, religious, priests, and bishops - will be organized to plan and oversee the first stages of the synodal path.

An online page is open on the website of the Episcopal Conference to collect ideas and suggestions. The bishops “encourage reflection, study and research on the theme of synodality at the parish, diocesan, regional, and national levels” by inviting writers, theologians, and lecturers to submit articles in the initial phase of the next two years.

In an interview granted in November 2020 to La Civiltà Cattolica, Cardinal Grech spoke about the conditions of the Church in times of pandemic, denouncing “a certain clericalism,” to call for a new ecclesiology, the culmination of this path of synodality.

The confinement imposed by the pandemic “brought to light a certain religious ignorance, a spiritual poverty,” inserted the Maltese prelate. He emphasizes that “some insisted on freedom of worship,” even daring to say that the life of the Church was interrupted.

This is forgetting that with freedom of worship: “we did not realize that there were other ways through which we could experience God” - i.e. without the celebration and reception of the sacraments.

“During the pandemic a certain clericalism has emerged, even via social media. We have witnessed a degree of exhibitionism and pietism which smacks more of magic than an expression of mature faith,” comments the cardinal, to conclude: “It will be suicide if, after the pandemic, we return to the same pastoral models that we have practiced so far.”

So the situation of this past year has allowed the Church to “discover a new ecclesiology, perhaps even a new theology, and a new ministry.” And, explains the cardinal, “it is time to make the necessary choices to build on this new model of ministry.”

Thus, “this will be an opportune time for us as the Church to bring the Gospel back to the center of our life and ministry. Many are still ‘Gospel illiterates’ (sic)!”

Indeed, continues Cardinal Grech, the Eucharist is not the only “real presence” of Christ, and to feel lost outside the Eucharistic or religious context indicates “a certain spiritual illiteracy,” but it is also,” he continues, “proof of the inadequacy of current pastoral practice.”

Thanks to confinement, this new ecclesiology emerged: the rediscovery of the family home! “Here lies the future of the Church: in rehabilitating the domestic Church and giving it more space…We must live the Church within our families…The great community church is made up of small churches that meet in homes. If the domestic Church fails, the Church cannot subsist.”

The cardinal bases this “new evangelization” on the domus ecclesiæ of the Acts of the Apostles: “And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:46).

“It is not the family that is a subsidiary of the Church, but it is the Church that must be a subsidiary of the family.” And this “should be an environment where faith can be celebrated, meditated on, and lived,” according to “the teaching, in the wake of Judaism, of St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom.”

This implies, in the cardinal's statement, that “it is the duty of the parish community to help the family to be a school of catechesis and a liturgical hall where bread can be broken on the kitchen table,” leading “the passage from the clerical liturgy to the family liturgy.”

However, there remains the obstacle of clericalism, “a perversion of the life of the Church,” which delays the arrival of this ecclesial springtime, “despite the fact that the Second Vatican Council had recovered the notion of family as the “domestic Church.”