Together on the journey, becoming the Church we are called to be: The Liverpool Synod

Peter McGrail describes the Liverpool Diocesan Synod, identifying the stages in its process and the key issues raised.

In 1962 there were 264,000 people at Mass each Sunday, last year that number had fallen to 47,000. In 1962 there were over 400 priests serving the Diocese and now there are just 120. This means that we have to be open to change. The work of the Gospel is no less urgent, the call to make disciples has not changed, but we have to find new ways to do this in the light of our changed circumstances. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) invited the Church to look at the signs of the times, to reflect on what they mean and to take appropriate action. This includes a re-discovering and a re-energising of the vocation of all the baptised.1

This is the background to the convocation of the first synod in the Archdiocese of Liverpool since 1955. Over recent decades, the size of the Mass-going Catholic population and the numbers of active priests have progressively shrunk while the average ages of both priests and practising Catholics have risen. To continue without significant intervention could only result in further decline. Yet, as in other complex organisations, an inbuilt tendency for stasis has mitigated against radical change; an earlier initiative to restructure the Archdiocese and reinvigorate its mission, entitled Leaving Safe Harbours, had only limited impact, leaving a legacy of disappointment, mistrust and cynicism. The Archdiocese faces a threefold logistical challenge in moving forward. First, it requires radical re-orientation: to survive (let alone thrive) the Archdiocese needs to shift from introspection to a missionary outlook. Second, that fundamental re-orientation can only be achieved if priests and people across the Archdiocese are confident that their voice is heard by decision-makers. Third, the entire process needs to be carried forward within a proper and authoritative canonical context. The ecclesial instrument of the Diocesan Synod offers exactly the framework within which these three challenges can be addressed. And so, even as Pope Francis was inviting the entire Church to set out on a synodal path, a decision was made in Liverpool to take those first steps.

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