ACP members invited to comment on Leadership Draft Submission on the Synodal Pathway

Dear ACP Member


The Irish Bishops are inviting submissions on methods/models to be adopted before the Synodal Pathway consultation gets underway. They are seeking submissions of no more than 300 words, by 23rd May.


The ACP Leadership has prepared a draft submission and invites members to comment on it. Please note the parameters allowed in making the submission, as per the notice on the website of the Irish Bishops.


From the Irish Bishops website: Initial Submissions Easter to Pentecost 2021

Before embarking on the Synodal Pathway consultation, between Easter (5 April) and Pentecost (23 May), 2021, bishops are inviting submissions to reflect on what methods/models to adopt in these coming two years of conversations. For example: focus groups, questionnaires, deep-listening sessions; written submissions; family-focused gatherings; summary of findings of assemblies that have already taken place across dioceses; and/or conferences.

These submissions, in not more than 300 words, are not yet about the themes for the Synod but rather how to go about this phase of setting up the initial conversations.

Question: What would be your preferred option for engagement in a conversation process about the Synod?


ACP members are invited to submit their comments on the ACP draft Submission (see below) BEFORE Monday 10th May to

Members comments and observations will inform the actual ACP submission to the Irish Bishops Conference.


ACP Leadership Team

John Collins, Tim Hazelwood, Roy Donovan, Gerry O’Connor.


ACP Draft Submission:

Synodal Pathway – ACP ‘initial conversations’ draft submission


  1. The proposed task force – to be credible and effective – needs to stand its ground in a context that is very different to what has preceded this important, ground-breaking initiative. The ground rules are almost as important as the process itself which needs to take account of the present unease and distrust of traditional modes of authority underpinning the crisis in Irish Catholicism, the low morale, energy levels and number of priests, the ever-declining numbers of ‘practising’ Catholics and not least the problematic legacy of the child sexual abuse scandals.


  1. We are coming from an extremely low base and from an indisputable acceptance that what has worked before will not work now, and that for the Catholic Church to respond to its central purpose of spreading the Good News it will have to be a very different Church from what it was in the past.


  1. Key constituents of the process are: (i) respect (ii) realism (ii) credibility (iii) inclusivity (iv) an open agenda; (v) transparency; and (vi) ownership – all of which should be reflected in its leadership and its modus operandi. In delivering these, both reality and perception are important.


  1. In discerning what God wants of the Irish Church, we need to attract the engagement of people of faith, commitment and ability, but from a different gene pool from heretofore.


  1. It is crucial that parameters of time, conditions, agenda and strategy are not cast in stone or any other mechanism accepted that can be interpreted as controlling, ruling out specific areas or evidence that the conclusion has already been arrived at.


  1. The suggestions proposed to guide submissions – focus groups, questionnaires, deep-listening sessions; written submissions – all have their merits but repetition and unnecessary discussion need to be avoided.







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  1. Jo O'Sullivan says:

    This is a powerful posting from Catherine Swift. My sense is that she is absolutely spot on in her analysis of how things work in the Irish Catholic Church. I do not have any experience of being having been involved in the Limerick Synod, or any other Synod! But I have tried to be involved in my local parish community’s “leadership” by being part of the Parish Pastoral Council and have found that a lot of what the clerics claim to be sharing responsibility is really just allowing people to speak and then ignoring what they’ve said (and that’s on a good day when one gets as far as being allowed to speak!)
    My fear is that even a lot of the good men, those who subscribe to the notion of the laity being partners in the running and development of the Church, are blinkered as a consequence of their seminary training and formation. They genuinely feel they know better, and that they have to assert authority, maintaining a position of watchdog, guarding the integrity of Church doctrine and practice against the less spiritually formed and developed lay men and women. They may not even be conscious that they are doing so! Is it any wonder so many good, committed lay people eventually throw their hands up in despair and say “There’s no point trying to have my voice heard”?
    Thank you Catherine, for your honest report on your experiences. I think I understand exactly what you’re saying.

  2. Catherine Swift says:

    I may have posted the following comment under the wrong heading so I’d like to apologize for posting it twice.

    I was involved as a general lay person with the Limerick synod. For me, it began as something which had a lot of energy behind it and a lot of enthusiasm. The meetings I attended, starting some two years before the actual synod itself, were fairly lively affairs although I have to say that about fifty percent or more of our discussion time seemed to end up circling around the discussion of women in the church.

    It was clear that the organizers worked very hard to collect information from a wide variety of people in those initial phases and to widen the debate beyond that one issue of the role of women though my sense at the time was that it was the driving issue for a lot of the people I heard at the meetings.

    As the time of the synod approached, the energy provided from the floor seemed to grow less. The sheer amount of data which had been collected required summaries and crystallization but the processes behind that seemed to become more and more centralized over time. I remember being disappointed that the extensive work with children which led to a discussion about love of and for pets seemed to disappear in its entirety which I thought was a shame. Equally, the large number of vocal and passionately enthusiastic women seemed to diminish in number as the months went by and I was very struck by the large size of a rather older cohort of both men and women who seemed to predominate in the hall during the days of the synod itself.

    The synod itself spent a lot of time again summarizing and reducing topics down to individual motions (a process which involved individuals chosen by the synod organizers making their own selections from papers and notes which groups of people sitting at tables had pinned on the wall arising out of table discussions). We then voted on those formulations after short general discussions involving comments from the floor. In the immediate aftermath we each got a large volume of motions that had been passed.

    Since receiving that volume, I have heard nothing more. I have no real sense of how the synod impacted on the diocese but it has not had a lasting impact on my own relationship with the Catholic church. My sense from talking to people, both delegates and non-delegates, is that many found the ultimate outcomes disappointing but that is my impression – it is something of a lost opportunity, I feel, that people who volunteered so much time and effort over so long a period were not subsequently canvassed for their opinions of the processes involved and that no discussion of the synod by all of those who took part ever took place. I represented a particular group within Limerick and not a parish so I do not know what happened with parish representatives and whether any subsequent discussion took place within their own parochial communities.

    I also feel very strongly, from the publicity which I have seen to date, that the model which Limerick originally set up has been adopted wholesale by the Irish bishops. Many of the themes mentioned in what I have read to date are very similar to those which figured during the initial years spent in preparation for the Limerick synod. I am getting no sense that the people promoting a national synod have learnt what worked well in Limerick, what didn’t work and what ideas and approaches, absolutely valid in themselves, left people feeling somewhat flat, disappointed and let down at the end of it all.

    Instead, my sense is that this is a grab for an idea, which from the perspective of people who only knew it from afar, was a complete 100% success. Very few human ideas are that, especially when they take place over so long a period and involve so very many people. As an exercise which cost a very considerable amount of money to run for a single diocese, I would be happier if the Irish bishops had conducted rather more research into what its longer term impact has been on the trust of ordinary Catholics in the institutions and decision-making of the church.

    As it is, the decisions about this national assembly taken to date seem to me to reflect internal politics and power structures amongst those with responsibility for running the church in Ireland. I see no evidence that the voices or experiences of the 400 odd who eventually took part in the Limerick synod (and the far greater number who contributed to it) has had anything to do with the planning for this new national assembly in so far as that is available to read in the newspapers. To me that seems antithetical to the whole concept of a modern synod, as its proponents explain their conception of it and it does raise questions in my mind about what the long term possibilities and hopes for this new national assembly are.

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