An article from Synodal Times by Brian Devlin: Amidst a New Season of Seeds

“Something was and is deeply rotten in the State of the Vatican. But what do we do? Where do we go? The answer, we are told is to pray and to trust. In these synodal times, we are told that the Church authorities are listening. That a new spirit has descended upon the waters. That the ‘Church’ is changing,” writes Brian Devlin.

Written by: Brian Devlin. Published on: August 31, 2023. Link to article:

The broadcast and print news in Ireland and the UK, and all over the world, have been reflecting on the life and untimely death of Sinead O’Connor. A singer beyond compare. Someone who reached into her troubled heart and brought forth a silencing beauty in her voice. Bel canto. Much has been said of her troubled soul. Well, I’m not going there. I’m not qualified to.

Much has been said about her, at the time, shockingly ripping up the picture of Pope John Paul II on prime-time television. It somehow doesn’t seem so shocking now though, does it? 


Now that we are steeped in the knowledge of the corruption that ‘santo subito’ allowed, permitted and facilitated to happen to the Church. Ripping up his image seems fairly benign now that we know what has happened in our Church. O’Connor knew. She had the insight that I think most of us didn’t.

Something was and is deeply rotten in the State of the Vatican. But what do we do? Where do we go? The answer, we are told is to pray and to trust. In these synodal times, we are told that the Church authorities are listening. That a new spirit has descended upon the waters. That the ‘Church’ is changing.

If you’re reading this then you will already have some knowledge or interest in the synodal process that is underway across the Church community. This great listening exercise that is going on which is allowing the quiet voices to be heard. It’s allowing the broken hearted amongst us to be respected and to be somehow healed. Catholic bishops from all over the world will be meeting in Rome in October to consider the distillation process that the Church has been conducting.

The document, Instrumentum Laboris, lays out in detail what this synodal process means for the Church. In part it is an exercise in expectation management, in part it is a road map towards a different type of Church than what has been grown by the hierarchy both of the present and of the past. It speaks of a change of behaviours and culture.


For example, paragraph 23 says “As a Church committed to listening, a synodal Church desires to be humble, and knows that it must ask forgiveness and has much to learn. Some reports noted that the synodal path is necessarily a penitential one, recognising that we have not always lived the constitutive synodal dimension of the ecclesial community. The face of the Church today bears the signs of serious crises of mistrust and lack of credibility. In many contexts, crises related to sexual abuse, and abuse of power, money and con science have pushed the Church to a demanding examination of conscience so that ‘moved by the Holy Spirit’ the Church “may never cease to renew herself” (LG 9), in a journey of repentance and conversion that opens paths of reconciliation, healing and justice”.

The phrase ‘we have not always lived the constitutive synodal dimension of the ecclesial community’ does make one squirm. You can imagine the paroxysms of the authors trying to get their fundamental point across about humility and penance, but at the same time trying so hard not to rock the boat too much. The fundamental message though is a positive one. We need to listen, to repent and to be a better Church than we have been.

But then we need to balance that up with the reality that those of us who are observers rather than participants in this new dynamic, feel. Because we’re not fools. We do know what many of our parish priests, bishops, archbishops and cardinals are like. We know more about them, their sex lives, their failures in governance, their failures in basic Christian values than they, perhaps, realise.

We have felt their tyranny. At confession, during their sermons, in conversations. We do know that many of them need, enjoy, languish, in having power in this misogynist-apartheid, self-loathing, hypocritically homophobic organisation that they have created. I was a young priest myself once, until my former abuser, my spiritual director at my seminary, became my archbishop and I had to find a way to leave as quickly as possible. It broke my heart. And my mum’s.

I know many good priests and nuns, but the majority of those are not in positions of power. Nor will they be voting at the Synod.


I had to laugh when I read the text of the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley’s sermon on 17th October 2021 announcing this new, dynamism of synodality. Here is a man who is typical of so many in the hierarchy. Distant, arrogant and closed. Here’s his big take on synodality.

“As the Holy Father rightly emphasises, the Catholic Church is constituted as a communion. It is gathered around the Successor of Peter in the See of Rome, and through the koinonia, or communion, shared between the College of Bishops and the Bishop of Rome, we here are all held in a communion which is effective and affective “That communion is something as essential to who we are as a Church, and it is as essential to our existence as it is delicate.

“St Ignatius of Antioch, a figure from the very earliest pages of the Church, and whose feast we celebrate today, leaves us a memory of the Church’s self-understanding from those times just after the Apostles, that has always remained central to how the Catholic Church sees herself”. He writes that “wherever the bishop is, there is the Church”.

“Wherever the bishop is, there is the Church”. Note those italics. And this is the trouble. If we are expecting a change of heart from these men then I think we are going to be disappointed. If we think that the hot button topics such as changes in Church ethical teaching on things that matter to us and to our families will radically change then we are delusional.


These men may make some marginal moves. But don’t expect a strike-through on the term ‘intrinsically evil’ in the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex. Don’t expect women to be ordained into the priesthood in the near future. Don’t be waking up in November thinking that Pope Francis will reform the appointment process of bishops. Don’t expect more transparency on financial matters or clerical abuse. So many of those bishops are silently waiting until Pope Francis dies and we can get a real pope back. One who applauds the re-erection of altar rails, real and symbolic, to distance the laity from their exalted leaders.

But do expect this. Because this is real. Expect a movement, a reaction across the world, by reform-minded Catholics who will not sit quietly and allow this haughty, out of touch, and utterly compromised patrimony to tell us what authentic Church is. There are already a great number of movements for change across the world.

One of the newest, and I’d say most prophetic is called Spirit Unbounded. It is holding a lay-led synodal assembly on Human Rights in the emerging Catholic Church, online and in Rome and England 13 & 14 October. Prior to that there will be a full week of at least 100 online speakers from the Congo, to Lebanon, to Rome, to the USA all sharing their stories and experiences and the complexities of their lives as Catholics.

There is a new vision of Church emerging. A place where the beatitudinal vision of Jesus belongs: a place of safety, of justice and inclusion.

Sinead O’Connor was a beautiful artist. She also spoke for so many of us (disappointed, fearful, appalled and collapsed Catholics) when she said, in a film about her life, “they tried to bury me …. they did not know I was a seed”.

* Spirit Unbounded will be hosting an online discussion on ‘Human Rights in the Catholic Church featuring keynote speakers Mary McAleese and Sr Joan Chittister. The event will coincide with the 2023 Synod of Bishops in Rome this October. This lay-led response to the Synod, entitled ‘Discipleship of Equals’ will take place between October 8-14 and it is anticipated, annually thereafter, in an agreed global setting.

Link to the Event page:

Purchase tickets at:

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