Pope Francis wants to bring about a quiet revolution within the Catholic Church. He wants a reformed church in which the `sense of the faithful’, the instinct of baptised men and women, is given a role in the formation and reception of church teaching and governance. The model is one of Jesus conversing with his male and female disciples in Palestine – a walking together of the People of God, a `synodal’ church.
Irish Jesuit theologian Gerry O’Hanlon examines this ecclesiological project of Francis and the new roles within it of pope and bishops, theologians, and all the baptised. He considers the Pope’s strategy of a changed ecclesial structure that would out-live his own pontificate.
Francis advocates a critical openness to contemporary culture, a culture of consultation and open debate, and communal discernment practised at every level of `an entirely synodal church’. O’Hanlon argues that this project offers new hope of a better reading of the `signs of the times’ by the Catholic Church, not least in areas of sexuality of gender.
The author applies this analysis to our situation in Ireland and suggests that whatever about the desirable spiritual renewal which a papal visit may inspire, it is to be hoped that the more lasting long-term effects might be the realisation of a synodal Irish Catholic Church.