Shadow Synodalists call Synod of Bishops a Circus of Clowns

Joan Chittister: “I don’t buy the bishops’ shame”

An alternative synod meeting is taking place in Rome. This is called “Spirit Unbounded” and calls for change in the church. In an interview with, two opinionated women comment: the American nun Joan Chittister and the Irish politician Mary McAleese.

Double-heresy act

Why is a Synodal assembly of lay people outside the Vatican walls important?

Joan Chittister: A good friend of mine once described the Synods of Bishops as clown shows. She saw absolutely no value in it and was convinced that nothing useful would come of these conferences. But that is precisely why an alternative lay synod like ours is important. Maybe she won't change things overnight. But at least what counts is the presence and the willingness for everyone to meet in one place to support each other.

“We must continue to move the Church.” Joan Chittister

Conscious that we are the Church, we insist that we believers come together as believers. The entrenched Catholic structures must not ruin us. We must continue to move the church.

Even if some people sit here and think they've heard it all before - we have to keep talking about it. Only then does it become established in our heads, hearts and souls and we take these impressions back into our daily work.

Mary McAleese: In 2021, enormous efforts were made to restrict, if not stop, the Synodal Path in Germany. Progressive Catholics called for greater inclusion of women, blessings for LGBTQ+ people and heterosexual remarried people, and greater lay participation in episcopal elections.

“The German Synodalists have shown courage.” Mary McAleese

Some of these demands are now being implemented, others require the approval of the Vatican. Nevertheless, the German synods have shown courage and that is the message that should be taken away from them. We are all believers, so we begin to believe in change.

Will the conversations here in “Spirit Unbounded” also have an impact on the participants in the Synod of Bishops?

Chittister: Yes, they can't deny what's happening around them. I firmly believe that this is the beginning of a new church. It can only change from within, through the believers and thereby grow into something different.

This is the mission and soul of our church. There are good, open people in the Synod of Bishops and Machiavellian people who don't necessarily share our views. Nevertheless, they must listen to us and each other. Whether they like it or not, it does something to them.

“Official secrecy means that criticism is suppressed.”

Mary McAleese

Isn't the obligation of secrecy imposed by the Synod of Bishops towards the outside world rather counterproductive at a time when people urgently demand answers?

McAleese: Well, official secrecy leads to criticism being suppressed. The current crisis in the Catholic Church was caused by “management”. The reasons for this are lack of communication, fear of communication and too little determination.

When it comes to the issue of abuse, I also see a failure to open the doors and put what has been said online. So that we can all see the importance of the discussions and debates. This locking up also shows fear again. And worse than that – a distrust of change.

“They can’t bear to deal with it.”

Chittister: I'm not quite as polite as Mary. There is certainly a lot of fear, which is why those responsible are trying to protect themselves - from the big bad wolf. But in doing so they are only protecting the big bad wolf himself.

This is pure control. I would like to say that the bishops are embarrassed by what is now coming to light. But I don't buy the bishops' shame. They can't bear to deal with it.

That's why they spread the blanket of silence over everything and want to continue to maintain control. The fact that the bishops are unable to say what they know also means that we have to keep asking.

We cannot continue to give them the right to hide from us in this church. It is time we question both secrecy and silence, because neither are spiritually sound arguments for maintaining our oppressive church.


Vatican I speaks. Happy to worry about traditionalists rejecting Vatican II but Vatican I is now up for grabs.


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