Diocesan synods last chance saloon for Catholic Church, priest meeting hears

More difficult ‘to reach the angry alienated, as opposed to the disappointed alienated’

Fr Kieran O’Mahon said the setting up diocesan synods was ‘radically new’, and it was being carried on in a context where ‘the effective handing on of faith has ceased ... for decades now’. Photograph: iStock

Current consultations with lay Catholics, at national and international level, must work or “the church is in serious trouble,” a meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has heard.

Augustinian priest Fr Kieran O’Mahon said the setting up diocesan synods was “radically new”, and it was being carried on in a context where “the effective handing on of faith has ceased ... for decades now”.

It was, he said, “quite difficult to reach the angry alienated, as opposed to the disappointed alienated”.

Addressing the ACP annual general meeting, which took place via Zoom due to rising pandemic infection rates, he said the church had been in crisis at least since 1990, including over the role of women and the laity.


“A way has to be found to include women at all levels” of the church, he said, while canon law covering pastoral councils had to also be changed to allow for laity to hold the chair instead of just a parish priest. This,he said, was now also “unavoidable due to the collapse of ministerial priesthood.”

Describing Pope Francis as “a radical, not a liberal” the current worldwide synod was “his biggest idea so far,” this “consultation with every Catholics in the world over a number of years.”

Each diocese has been asked to hold a synod with bishops who will eventually supply a synthesis of the results for a synod assembly of bishops at the Vatican in 2023.

Survey finding

Fr O’Mahony said the initiative was “a recovery of the vision of the Second Vatican Council,” said and that “if this synod fails, the church is in serious trouble. It has to work”.

But, he advised, the meeting to “permit yourselves to be excited.”

Peter McLoughlin, a lay leader in the mainly Co Mayo Killala diocese, where a very successful synodal process has taken place, drew attention to a survey finding there that by 2035 there would be just 10 to 15 priests left.

He expressed concern at a decision that, where synods in Ireland and worldwide were concerned, bishops were to prepare “a synthesis” of the views of Catholics in each diocese, before submitting this to Rome.”Will bishops report what people are saying?” he asked

Colm Holmes, of We Are Church Ireland, said lay involvement in the synodal process was “only in the first months. Thereafter we’re into bishops, bishops, bishops.”

Patricia Melvin, another lay leader in Killala, remarked how “life goes on, with even the church doors closed during the pandemic”. It had prompted her elderly mother to comment that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass was just “a man-made law”.

Church role in schools

Meanwhile, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has defended the church’s role in the boards of management of State-funded schools, saying a true plurality of patronage in education “needs to ensure parental choice while enabling all patrons, including Catholic patrons, to be true to their own ethos and characteristic spirit”.

“The Catholic ethos and characteristic spirit is rooted in the Christian vision of the human person, in what we have come to hold as essential for human life to flourish,” the archbishop said.

“Catholic education in particular, contributes to the growth and wellbeing of individuals, their community and society, caring for the common good, and now more explicitly too, caring for our common home” he said.

In these islands it was provided by the Church “in partnership with the State which has an obligation to provide education for the children of all its people.”

Speaking on Wednesday night, during a Mass to mark the opening of Dublin City University’s academic year at St Patrick’s Campus in Drumcondra, he remarked how Catholic schools were valued across the world “because of, and not despite, their Catholic ethos. Catholic schools embrace a variety of young people of various cultural identities and nationalities, and the plurality of their religious and other belief systems.”

A great strength of faith-based schools “has been their rootedness in local communities. Those who do not share our faith come to our schools because they know that at their heart there is the acceptance of values motivated by our faith – values that present a specific vision or view of human life. Furthermore, inter-religious and inter-belief dialogue is at the heart of the Catholic school enterprise,” he said.

The Catholic school provided “academically excellent education; it provides faith-based formation that allows each student to develop a moral foundation on which to stand for the rest their lives and, it gives a vision and hope beyond the limits of value-free education,” he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times