Synodal “Church Reform” Truly Means Democratic Upheaval in the Church

Synodal “Church Reform” Truly Means Democratic Upheaval in the Church
Synodal “Church Reform” Truly Means Democratic Upheaval in the Church

Pope Francis has convoked a “Synod on Synodality,” which will convene in Rome this coming October. Many faithful Catholics have expressed concern as the Synod’s promoters have proposed severe and potentially destructive changes to the Church’s structure.

Synod leaders have repeatedly expressed their desire to discuss “church reform.” The following article, taken from the recently published book, The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box, explains what the word “reform” means for the Synod’s promoters.

Synod promoters often utilize the phrase “Church reform.” However, exactly what kind of reforms do they envision?

According to the Preparatory Document for the Synod, the structures of the Church should be changed on three levels:

  1. the level of the style with which the Church ordinarily lives and works;
  2. the level of ecclesial structures and processes;
  3. the level of synodal processes and events.1

These Proposed Changes Target Hierarchy

It affirms that the separation between priests and the rest of the People of God must be eliminated, overcoming a vision of the Church built around the ordained ministry and hierarchical structures that favor autocratic tendencies and fragment relations between priests and laity. It proposes a synodal institutional model that would deconstruct the pyramidal power that currently exists, and allow the life of the Church to truly practice the co-responsibility of all in response to the gifts that the Spirit bestows on the faithful, especially concerning institutions and structures of governance. It desires that the various councils (parish, presbyteral, and episcopal) not be merely consultative but places where decisions are made based on communal discernment processes.

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In this line, Synod promoters claim that the Church’s primary problem would be clericalism, that is, hierarchical structures that divide it between clergy and laity, between Ecclesia docens and Ecclesia discens.

The Preparatory Document complains of “the lack of communal processes of listening and discernment” and points out “the persistence of structural obstacles, including: hierarchical structures that foster autocratic tendencies; a clerical and individualistic culture that isolates individuals and fragments relationships between priests and laity.” It concludes by emphasizing “the importance of ridding the Church of clericalism…a culture that isolates clergy and harms the laity.”2

The Synod’s Solution: “Co-Responsibility”

For Synod promoters, the remedy to clericalism would be implementing “co-responsibility” by recognizing the equal dignity of all the baptized and the value of lay charisms and ministries because “the leadership of current pastoral structures, as well as the mentality of many priests, do not foster this co-responsibility.3 They see a need for “overcoming a vision of Church built around ordained ministry in order to move toward a Church that is ‘all ministerial,’ which is a communion of different charisms and ministries.”4

Synod promoters claim that the dynamics of co-responsibility should permeate “all levels of ecclesial life.

The Vatican Secretariat of State exemplifies: “While maintaining their collegiality and freedom of decision-making that is devoid of any kind of pressure, the Episcopal Conferences should include representatives of the clergy and laity of the various dioceses.”5

At the diocesan level, pastoral councils would be “called to be increasingly institutional places of inclusion, dialogue, transparency, discernment, evaluation, and empowerment of all.”6

Get the book now! The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box is now available for $10.95.
Click here to get your copy now.

At the parish level, “the Church also needs to give a synodal form and way of proceeding to its own institutions and structures, particularly with regard to governance.”7 It presents a suggestion from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands: “When we want to do anything in our parish, we meet together, take the suggestions of everyone in the community, decide together and carry out the decisions together.”8

Synod leaders do not deny that such a system will give rise to tensions and disagreements. Instead, the document affirms, “we should not be afraid of them, but articulate them in a process of constant communal discernment, so as to harness them as a source of energy without them becoming destructive.”9

A Greater Dilemma

However, an even greater question remains: if the opinion of the faithful and that of the pope diverge, which would prevail?

Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, proposes a synodal solution: “The pope could commit himself never to perform particularly important acts of magisterium or particularly important acts of government as an individual and, consequently, may commit himself to always call upon the college of bishops to perform such acts as a communal subject.”10

Get the book now! The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box is now available for $10.95.
Click here to get your copy now.

Thus, in case of divergence between the opinion of the faithful and that of the pope, the latter would commit himself not to use his infallibility but continue to dialogue with the community. That is what Pope Francis seems to insinuate when speaking about the Amazon Synod:

One of the richnesses and originalities of synodal pedagogy is precisely avoiding the use of parliamentary logic to teach how to listen in community to what the Spirit says to the Church…

I like to think that, in a certain sense, the Synod is not over. This time of acceptance of the whole process we have witnessed is a challenge for us to continue walking together and put this experience into practice.11

All of the above facts indicate that the Synod wishes to take the Church in a more democratic direction. This is a dangerous prospect that threatens the hierarchical structure of the Church as instituted by Our Lord Himself.

Photo Credit:  © lucky-photo –


1. Synod of Bishops, For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission—Preparatory Document, no. 27,, accessed Jun. 10, 2023,
2. General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, Introduction to Synodal Information (Compilation of Documents Related to the Synod of Bishops – Sept. 15, 2007),,, nos 33,58.
3. General Secretariat, no. 66.
4. General Secretariat, no. 67.
5. General Secretariat, no. 75.
6. General Secretariat, no. 78.
7. General Secretariat, no. 71.
8. General Secretariat, no. 66.
9. General Secretariat, no. 71.
10. Lorenzo Prezzi, “Coccopalmerio: nuovi esercizi di primato,” Settimana News, Jan. 7, 2020, (Our translation.)
11. Antonio Spadaro, “Il governo di Francesco: È ancora attiva la spinta propulsiva del pontificato?” La Civiltà Cattolica, Sept. 5, 2020, (Our translation.)