Please find below the responses to some frequently asked questions on the synodal pathway

What is a Synod?

The word “synod” evokes the image of “walking together on the way”. For the Church it is a time-honoured way of working out together the “navigation map” for the Church at particular times. Synodality is about the whole People of God helping each other listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. Pope Francis emphasises that this is not simply a matter of discussion as in a parliamentary debate. Rather it is primarily a prayerful spiritual time of communitarian discernment. It is about finding the best ways for every baptized person to fulfil the Church’s mission of proclaiming to the world, God’s love and salvation in Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis has emphasised that “it is precisely this path of synodality which God expects of the Church of the third millennium”. Synodality is at the heart of the pastoral conversion that Pope Francis emphasises in the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium).

Can Synodal Assemblies change Church teaching?

Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to Pastoral Leaders in 2009, said that “They must no longer be viewed as “collaborators” of the clergy but truly recognized as “co-responsible” for the Church’s being and action…” This model of “co-responsibility” has continued under the leadership of Pope Francis where he has encouraged the Church to be synodal in its approach.

Much has been said of the model of synodality being that of a “walking together” in a process of discernment, reflection and prayer trying to discover what God wants of the Church at this time. However, the question arises as to whether a Synodal Assembly can actually change Church teaching? Pope Francis has been clear that Synods are not instruments to change Church teaching but rather help to apply Church teaching more pastorally.

Have there been synods in Ireland in the past?

Although there were earlier synods held in Ireland, perhaps the most well-known of the medieval synods were those of Cashel (1101), Ráith Bressail (1111) and Kells-Mellifont (1152). These laid the foundations for both the reform of the Church in Ireland – asserting papal and episcopal authority and tackling issues such as simony, hereditary clerical dynasties and clerical concubinage – and the establishment of the diocesan system. There were, in fact, at least twelve national or provincial synods held between the years 1101 to 1179, many of which we know little about.

Have Synodal Assemblies taken place elsewhere in the world?

Yes. Synodal Assemblies form part of the contemporary experience of Church in many places of the world. In recent years, at a local level, a number of dioceses in Ireland and many dioceses throughout the world have held diocesan assemblies or synods.

Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), at a national level, formal Plenary Councils have taken place in the Philippines (1953, 1991), The Dominican Republic (1990-1993), Venezuela (1998-2000), Nicaragua (1992-1993), Poland (1991-1997), Panama (1993), Thailand (2015). At the moment, the Church in Australia is in the midst of a Plenary Council Process (2020-2022).

In many different regions of the world, less formal national assemblies have taken place in different forms. To name some: Burkina Fasso (2000), Burundi (2006-2014), Cuba (1981-1986), Ghana (1997), Indonesia (1984, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010), Japan (1987 and 1993), Madagascar (1998 and 2005-2007), Malaysia (1986, 1996 and 2006), Mozambique (1991),Rwanda (1998-1999), Sri-Lanka (1993-1995), Algeria (2014). Currently the Church in Germany is working through its own process called Der Synodaler Weg or Synodal Path (2019-2021). The possibility of some form of national Synodal Assembly is also being considered in countries such as Italy.

What does it mean for the Catholic Church in Ireland to embark on a synodal pathway?

It means walking together on our pilgrim way in faith towards God, conscious of our God-given gifts. Essentially, it is listening intently to each other. We are then called to engage in reflecting and praying together about what we are hearing. We journey in this way to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in our mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ireland and beyond.