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Synodality is a work in progress

  • 23 September 2021
Synodality, the new term which is sweeping the church, is an aspirational goal not a proven methodology. For this reason, it is a test case for the lasting impact on church reform of the papacy of Pope Francis. He has given us an aspiration but also set us a test. 

Church historians will look back at this decade as a test of the idea of synodality. Lay Catholics, handed the idea as a gift from on high, are waiting to see whether it works and takes root in unpromising soil. It will be judged by whether it gives lay Catholics an equal voice by enshrining the ideal of journeying together in the spirit of co-responsibility deep in the culture of the church. 

Within Australia the Plenary Council is, among other things, one test of this ideal. Pope Francis notes, with delight, in his recent book Let Us Dream (seen by many as a textbook on synodality), that the Australian Plenary Council is putting the synodal method into practice. We are on the radar, along with other synods, of the world Catholic community. 

Another Australian test will come with the local preparations for the 2023 Synod of Bishops' Synod on Synodality. How the Australian aspect of this massive world-wide consultation relates to the Plenary Council is still to be determined. 

Exactly what are we testing? Synodality has different levels and meanings. It is also a relatively new term, open to conflicting interpretations. It should be considered at various levels: principles, structures and decision-making. 

The first level is one of high principle. Synodality means co-responsibility between clergy and laity. It involves walking together and listening to one another. It is the approach which underpins the official church report, The Light from the Southern Cross. 

'Synodality is hard work. It is also a work in progress and far from a finished product, yet the future of the church in Australia depends upon its successful adoption.' 

The second level involves any associated mechanisms or structures which enable the synodality experience to take place. By definition, this means synods of bishops in the first instance and also diocesan synods and assemblies, plus assemblies at the local parish level. The enabling structures also include diocesan and parish pastoral councils. These are all recommended by The Light from the Southern Cross but have been met with some official resistance. 

The third level involves the practice of synodal decision-making. People are naturally interested in how a