Large Catholic Episcopal Conferences Stifling Bishops’ Voices, Togolese Theologian Says, Advocates for “small groups”

A poster announcing the series of online conversations bringing together African theologians, priests, and religious, as well as laity in Africa. Credit: PACTPAN

A Togolese Catholic Priest has proposed the splitting of Bishops’ Conferences, Dioceses, Parishes, and other groups that are seen as too large into units where “everyone’s voice is heard”.

According to Fr. Léonard Katchekpele, an expert in Canon Law and theological ethics, voices of some Catholic Bishops, for instance, are being lost in comparatively large Episcopal Conferences.

In his presentation during an online conversation that seeks to deepen the understanding of the Synthesis Report of the Synod on Synodality ahead of the 2-29 October 2024 session in Rome, Fr. Katchekpele said that splitting structures into smaller units “has something synodal at its core.”

“When a parish is seen as too large, it is split into two. A large diocese is also split into two. I think this canonical tradition has something synodal at its core because in small groups, people can listen to each other and walk together,” Fr. Katchekpele, who serves as Assistant Parish Priest at Holy Trinity Frankenthal Parish of Germany’s Catholic Diocese of Speyer, said at the June 14 event.

He added, “Today’s tendency to enlarge structures will only reinforce the marginalization of certain voices. I have the impression that Episcopal Conferences, for example, have become too large, and the voices of certain Bishops have been lost within them.”


Participants at the June 14 virtual conversation that the Pan-African Catholic Theology and Pastoral Network (PACTPAN) organized in collaboration with the Conference of Major Superiors of Africa and Madagascar (COMSAM) explored the topic, “The Synodal Missionary Face of the Church Family of God in Africa”.

Fr. Katchekpele said that strengthening smaller units when bigger ones are split fosters the growth of the smaller units.

“In the Church as a family of God, the value of a family is also in empowering its members to also found their own families. A family empowers its members to also found their own families,” he said, adding that social action structures at the grassroots such as small Catholic cooperatives of farmers, local savings banks, and such smaller communities of Christians are a level to be cared for. 

The member of the Clergy of Togo’s Catholic Diocese of Atakpamé went on to fault moves to build more church buildings while less attention is given to the people of God.

“From my experience in my home country, I would say we have invested too much in building churches rather than in the wellbeing of those who come into them. It has been said that it is not only the church that is the family of God, but the family is also the church of God,” he explained.

More in Africa

Meanwhile, Fr. Katchekpele has proposed that the issue of poverty be central to the ongoing Synod on Synodality, for the Church in Africa to have a voice in the Synodal process.

To participate meaningfully in the synodal conversations, he said, “one needs to have a voice and be sure that the voice will be heard.”

According to the Togolese Catholic Priest, the poor have no voice. “Whatever the poor have to say is ignored or stifled.”

“The question shouldn't be whether Africa is rich or poor, but why Africa is constantly described as poor,” he said, and added, “I believe that the one who describes Africa as poor feels empowered to help Africa; and those who are helped too much lose their voices.”

“In terms of the structure of a Synodal Church, I’d say one thing to do is strengthen the structures that help all voices to be heard, and free these invoices from being eternally assisted,” Fr. Katchekpele said in his June 14 presentation. 


He also underscored the need for continental synods. 

Giving the example of the ongoing palavers that Catholic Bishops in Africa have lauded, Fr. Katchekpele said, “We are gathering in some kind of continental synod, and I think it is important because we need to know what brings us together and what divides us as a Church in Africa, if we are to have a clear voice in the universal Church.”

“There is no universal Church when there is no local Church,” he said, and added, “It is important to go into smaller structures where people can be together, where they can feel heard and where they walk together.”

Participants at the palaver spoke of how the Church in Africa as a family of God is “coming of age”, and singled out African values that are enriching the synodal conversations.

In her presentation, Dr. Sylvia Ruambo, who is at the helm of Research at PACTPAN’s unit on ‘The Church as the Family of God’ said that Africa’s value of communal solidarity, and the continent’s values of participation and inclusivity are at the core of the Synod on Synodality. 

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Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.