Embrace Synodality or become an ecclesial museum

Tom O'Loughlin

A Synodal Church is not just another idea, it is ‘the’ idea, Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham told CathNews.

“If we fail to embrace this challenge we shall have little to offer and shall become an irrelevant religious sect with massive museums and a complex back story.”

Pope Francis has said ‘the church of the future must be a synodal church’, and so becoming a ministering community of sisters and brothers is ‘the’ challenge.

O’Loughlin’s comments to CathNews follow an online address to a lay group, the Association of Catholics in Ireland, where here he discussed what synodality means in a Catholic context today.

O’Loughlin said he recalled hearing brother presbyters and brother bishops saying that they are terrified by synodality.

“I often wonder are they terrified for the Gospel or are they terrified for the familiar structures of power?”, he asked.

Our ecclesial DNA has a built-in command-and-control structure, he said.

As recently as St Pius X, it had been said that the Church is made up of two unequal parts.

One part “which is to lead and one which is to be led; one which is to teach and one which is learn.”

He added: “So deep inside our structures and our vision is a vision of inequality.”

Asked if he thought synodality would take off, the theologian said that either it does “or the Church will collapse”.

O’Loughlin revealed some of the students he has taught are now running seminaries in South America that produce evangelicals.

“The reason evangelicals are mopping up is not that they are producing some fabulously different theology but because they are actually building it out of the structures of the people,” O’Loughlin said.

“They are not assuming that people are in a structure that was there 250 years ago.

“Remember every structure that we have in the Church today last got a makeover at the time of the reactions to the Reformation in the late sixteenth century; the Church stopped being able to speak to the urban population of Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries”, he said.

O’Loughlin told the Association that the minimal impact of Vatican II on the Church during the past 50 years represents a failure in thinking out basic assumptions around clergy and laity, the Eucharist, and priesthood.

“So, either we go down the synodal route and build the Church up as a community that has a different vision of how it will live – not individuals but a community made up of individuals – or we will become a historical sect.

“Will it work?

“I pray every day it will because otherwise, we are finished.”

  • Note: Listen to the address.
  • The audio commences with ‘housekeeping’. The actual address begins with an introduction at 2:57.

ACP · ACI Synodality – Tom O’Loughlin 22 July 2021


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