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Synodality Issues in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland

SYNODICAL GOVERNMENT is fundamental to the polity of each of the 39 autonomous provinces of the Anglican Communion. It is both an instinct and a legal requirement, but one which risks becoming tired. By contrast the Roman Catholic Church has embarked on a Synodal Way which is fresh and new. I have had the benefit of reading the masterful article by Gerry O’Hanlon SJ on Synodality and the Churches and will respond with my own musings on synodality issues facing both denominations.

Like most commentators, we both see the import of the Synod on Synodality not in the content of its deliberations, but in the fact that it is happening at all, and in what it might mean for the future of the Church. From an Anglican perspective this Synod raises issues of the nature of authority, the role of Primacy, the relationship between synodality and subsidiarity and the interface between synodality and conciliarity. Looking at the limits and locus of synodal authority offers rich ground for comparison and contrast, along with lessons for the Church of Ireland on the importance of discernment.

It is well known throughout the Anglican Communion, that its thirty-nine autonomous provinces are all “episcopally led and synodically governed”. This is a common starting point when considering the polity of churches of the Communion. But despite its popularity, the phrase is likely to mislead. Few bishops, if pressed on the point, would feel that they have given overall powers of governance to synods; and equally, members of diocesan or provincial synods may justifiably feel that they are exercising some leadership. And on account of the range of constitutions, canons and instruments that structure each autonomous province, it is hard to describe Anglican polity, including synodality, in general.

* Full article available in printed copies.

Stephen Farrell

Dean of Ossory and was formerly Diocesan Registrar for Dublin and Provincial Registrar of the southern province of the Church of Ireland.