‘Synodality and Hierarchy in Communion’ – contribution by Archbishop Eamon Martin at the European Assembly of the Synod

07 Feb 2023

Contribution by Archbishop Martin

I would like to explore a little the creative tension between synodality and hierarchy in the communion of the Church.  In the Gospel passage (John chapter 15) about the vine and the branches, Jesus emphasises twelve times the importance of being in communion with Him: “Abide in me”; “remain in me”, He tells us, for just as a vine is attacked by disease or buffeted by storms and other threats, so also we in the Church need to draw life from Christ in order to face many tribulations from within and without.

One of the challenges facing a Synodal Church is learning how to foster that deeper communion – in Christ – between the people of God, the bishops and the pope.

Synodality should seek to affirm and enhance the teaching authority of the pope and the bishops, not diminish it.  This can happen if we walk together in communion: we bishops must always remember that whilst we are entrusted, in collegiality with the Holy Father, with the task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, we are called to do in humble service of the mission of Christ, a mission we share in communion with all the baptised.

I believe the Synodal process will yield a rich harvest if all of us together – as pastors and lay people – “are mutually respectful of one another’s charisms”.  And if we consider more precisely how canonically a Synodal process, such as this, acts as an authentic instrument in helping to determine the sensus fidei fidelium.  It can be done.

But to do so we must ‘remain’ in Christ; ‘abide’ in Him.  This is Christ’s Church – not ours to create at will to our specifications.  Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that Jesus did not say, ‘You are the vine’, but, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches’.

Jesus refers to His Father as “vinedresser” who sometimes must reach for the secateurs – to prune those branches that are bearing fruit and to remove and throw away the withered branches.

We all know that pruning is an art – done well the vine will flourish with new growth and abundant fruit; done badly, it can grievously wound or even kill the plant.  So I offer our Synodal process that beautiful prayer for serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and, the wisdom of the Spirit to know the difference.


Notes for Editors

  • Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland.  This week, from 5 to 12 February, Archbishop Martin along with thirteen other delegates from across Ireland, is attending the first ever European Assembly of a Synod within the Catholic Church, in Prague, Czechia,.  This is one of seven continental assemblies convening across five continents in a new stage of the universal Synodal Process.  The above contribution on ‘Synodality and Hierarchy in Communion’ was delivered this afternoon by Archbishop Martin during a free discussion session at the European Assembly.
  • Of the fourteen delegates, four have travelled from Ireland to attend the European Assembly in Prague, and these are:

Dr Nicola Brady, Chairperson of the Steering Committee

Father Éamonn Fitzgibbon, Convener of the Task Group for the Irish Synodal Pathway

Archbishop Eamon Martin, President of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Ms Julieann Moran, General Secretary of the Irish Synodal Pathway

A further ten delegates will attend the Assembly online. They are:

Dr Gary Carville, Executive Secretary for the Council for Justice and Peace and the Council for Ecumenism’, Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Ms Ciara Ferry, Senior Supervisor and Communications Leader of Net Ministries Ireland

Mrs Janet Forbes, ADYC Co-ordinator Archdiocese of Armagh and Member of the Synodal Pathway Task Group in Ireland

Ms Ursula Halligan, Joint Co-ordinator of We Are Church Ireland

Father Declan Hurley, Administrator of St Mary’s Parish, Navan and Co-Chair of the National Steering Committee

Sister Kathleen McGarvey, OLA, Provincial Leader of the OLA Sisters in Ireland

Deacon Frank McGuinness, Diocese of Elphin

Mrs Paula McKeown, Director of Living Church (Down and Connor) and Deputy Chair of the National Steering Committee

Miss Helena O’Shea, Director of Youth 2000 Ireland

Mr Stephen Sherry, Seminarian for Clogher Diocese

  • Organised by CCEE (the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences), in collaboration with the Czech Bishops’ Conference and the Archdiocese of Prague, the first part of the Assembly, from 5 to 9 February, will be attended by 200 participants, representing the entire People of God (laymen, laywomen, religious men and women, deacons, priests, and bishops). 156 of the delegates are from the 39 Bishops’ Conferences from across Europe. Each national delegation is composed of the President of the Bishops’ Conference and three other delegates. An additional 44 people will be present as invited guests representing various ecclesial realities from across Europe. A further 390 delegates will also participate in the Assembly online (ten from each Bishops’ Conference) who will be able to follow the work of the plenary sessions through an online platform and make their contributions during the group work stages of the assembly. On the last two days of the assembly (10 to 12 February), the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences will meet “to collegially re-read the lived synodal experience from their specific charism and role.”
  • Around the world there will be seven continental documents prepared from the continental assemblies, and these will be sent to the Secretariat of the Synod for the next stage of the synodal process, which will involve the production of a further working document for the Synod.  On 16 October last, Pope Francis announced that the Universal Synod, to take place in Rome, will consist of two stages over two years.  The first will run from 4 to 29 October 2023 and the second during October 2024.  In announcing the extension to the Universal Synod, Pope Francis said, “the fruits of the synodal process under way are many, so that they might come to full maturity, it is necessary not to be in a rush.  Therefore, in order to have a more relaxed period of discernment, I have established that this Synodal Assembly will take place in two sessions (16 October 2022, Saint Peter’s Square, Rome).”