Clergy in Africa Hesitant “to embrace change” in Synodal Process: African Scholars

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Members of the Clergy are hesitant to embrace a Church where dialogue is fostered among her variety of members, participants in a Synod on Synodality encounter organized by the African Synodality Initiative (ASI) have said.

Established to generate creative ideas and resources that aim to support local churches in Africa and enable them to engage fruitfully and constructively in the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality, ASI is a partnership between the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar (JCAM), the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), and the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA).

ASI representatives comprising theologians, professionals and academics prepared and have circulated a collective statement following their three-day colloquium in March.

In the statement shared with ACI Africa on Friday, May 6, the African scholars said that Priests are especially shying away from the change that comes with the Synodal process that Pope Francis announced in view creating a Church where people journey together.

They said that efforts have already been put in place to gather views of various groups in Catholic Parishes and Dioceses in structured Synodal conversations. 


It is from these interactions that various challenges had emerged, including the unwillingness of members of the Clergy to embrace change and the Laity’s fear of not being heard in the existing “rigid” Church structures, ASI representatives said.

“In listening, we have come to recognize some challenges. Some, including clergy, hesitate to embrace change for fear of the unknown and how that will affect the position of the Church and its leaders,” the professionals said in the statement signed by their representatives, including JCAM President, Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator.

In the statement signed by 17 other Theologians and professionals from around Africa, including Sr. Wilhelmina Uhai Tunu, a member of the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church Organization, Sr. Dr. Josée Ngalula, a member of the International Theological Commission, Sr. Leonida Katunge, an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, and Fr. Anthony Makunde, the Secretary General of AMECEA, ASI representatives highlighted the “fear and reluctance” on the part of the Laity.

“Some Laity have expressed fear and reluctance questioning whether their opinions will be taken seriously. In some places, the insufficient creation of awareness of Synodality and what it stands for affects participation as does a distorted conception of Synodal engagement and its overarching depths,” the professionals, who constitute a working group established by JCAM, AMECEA and SECAM said.  

The team added that the Synodal process on which the Church embarked had already generated fear “and even perhaps resistance in some circles.”

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“The fear is often rooted in the view that change may destroy the Church,” they said, noting that fear of change may be counterproductive to the mission of the Church.

ASI representatives further said that from the beginning of the Synodal process, different efforts and initiatives have occurred in various churches in Africa.

The efforts include working groups from the Parish to the Diocesan level, discussions, colloquia, webinars, and numerous questionnaires being circulated.

Bishops, Clergy, women and men Religious, and Laity have been part of the process, the team of African scholars indicated in the report, and added, “Many voices, male and female, young and old, have been and continue to be heard; many views have been expressed.”

“We see the entire Synodality process as a journey of reform rooted in reading the signs of the times, the Word of God, the Word in Church and in the world, a word that springs forth in the African church from creation, from our lives and culture, from the idea of Church as family of God,” they said. 


The African scholars added, “This word is best understood by open and honest conversation, by genuinely valuing in word and deed the different charisms of all the people of God. This especially applies to the Laity marginalized and patronized by excessive clericalism.”

In their statement shared with ACI Africa May 6, ASI representatives have described clericalism as “a symptom of a deeper malaise, a class system in the Church and a lack of trust that needs to be overcome at every level.”

They have made reference to Pope Francis who they say has maintained that “clericalism and the indifference, even refusal, to listen to the ‘sensus fidei’ of the people of God is a sin,” and underline the need for dialogue among various groups of the Church.

“Synodality, which springs from life and recognizes and celebrates the charisms of all Christians, is not simply a corrective to clericalism; it is the way in which we can truly be Church,” the team of scholars said in their report, adding that synodality “breaks down rigidity and creates a culture of listening to the voice of the Spirit that forms us all for the mission of the Church.” 

Evangelization, according to the African scholars, is the work of Clergy and Laity, theologians and Bishops working and walking together as members of the family of God. 

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They said, “We are all learners and teachers; laity and clergy evangelize one another as we evangelize the world.”

“Integral to this evangelization is living in solidarity with all creation, which includes our common home (mother earth), engaging in interreligious and ecumenical encounters, and the promotion, as previous synods and Church tradition have proclaimed, of family, justice, reconciliation, and peace,” they said. 

Meanwhile, ASI representatives have underscored the need to include African cultural values, those they say are expressed in terms like Ubuntu, Ujamaa, Baraza, and Palaver, in the ongoing preparations for the Synod on Synodality.

The scholars propose participation in “reverential dialogue” that is inspired by the family spirit and related to nature, our ancestors, and the desired future for Africa.

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.