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Controversial Dominican priest to lead October retreat for bishops at start of synod

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe will lead the bishops and participants in the Synod of Bishops in a retreat near Rome from October 1–3

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich announced Monday that the October 2023 session of the Synod of Bishops on synodality will begin with a three-day retreat led by a Dominican preacher whose statements on homosexuality have previously sparked controversy.

Dominican Father Timothy Radcliffe will lead the Catholic bishops and participants in the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in a retreat near Rome from Oct. 1–3 at the invitation of Pope Francis, according to the cardinal. 

Father Radcliffe, 77, served as head of the Dominican Order from 1992 to 2001. His heterodox statements, particularly those on homosexuality, have previously caused controversy in the Church.



In the Anglican Pilling Report in 2013, Radcliffe wrote that when considering same-sex relationships, “we cannot begin with the question of whether it is permitted or forbidden! We must ask what it means and how far it is eucharistic. Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual, and nonviolent. So in many ways, I think it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.”

Cardinal Hollerich announced the synod retreat at a Vatican press conference on Jan. 23 promoting an ecumenical prayer vigil that will be held in St. Peter’s Square to entrust the work of the Synod of Bishops to God.

“The synod is not about Church politics. It’s about listening to the Spirit of God and advancing together and praying. So there will be one different point compared to the other synods. After the prayer vigil, the bishops and the participants of the synod will leave for a three-day retreat. So we start with prayer, with listening to the Spirit,” Cardinal Hollerich said.

The bishops’ retreat and ecumenical prayer vigil will both take place in the days immediately preceding the 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, commonly referred to as the synod on synodality.  

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The 16th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops will take place in two sessions. The first session will take place from Oct. 4–29, 2023, and the second in October 2024.

At the press conference, Cardinal Hollerich underlined that he is “not preoccupied … that there are different opinions in the Catholic Church,” but that he sees “tensions … as something positive” for the synod on synodality.

“We do not need the synod in the Catholic Church in order to experience tensions. There are already tensions without the synod and these tensions come from the fact that each one honestly wants to see or share how we can follow Christ and proclaim Christ in the world of today. That is the source of tension,” he said.

“Now in the document for the continental phase of the synod, we saw tension also as something positive. Because in order to have a tent, you need some tension. Otherwise, the tent is falling down. And I think that the synod, the listening to the Word of God, the listening to the spirit, praying together, being together on the way, will ease bad tensions. So we do not want bad tensions destroying the Church, but good tensions sometimes are necessary for harmony.”

Cardinal Hollerich, who serves as the relator general of the four-year global synodal process, said in an interview with Vatican Media last October that he believes Church blessings for same-sex unions, which the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith has ruled against, is not a settled matter.

The cardinal’s statement came in response to an interview question about the decision by Belgium’s Catholic bishops to support the possibility of blessings for unions of same-sex couples — in defiance of the Vatican.

“Frankly, the question does not seem decisive to me,” Hollerich told L’Osservatore Romano in an interview also published Oct. 24, 2022, by Vatican Media.

In the press briefing, Cardinal Hollerich said that he hopes that the synod will lead to “a new springtime of ecumenism.”

The ecumenical prayer vigil, called “Together: Gathering of the People of God,” will be led by the Taizé Community in the presence of the pope on Sept. 30. 

Young people aged 18 to 35 from all Christian traditions are invited to attend what the Vatican described in a press release as “a follow-up to World Youth Day” with praise and worship with Taizé music and prayer.

According to its website, more than 50 Christian groups representing many denominations have already partnered with the prayer vigil project, including the World Council of Churches, World Lutheran Federation, and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Exarchate Europe.

The Vatican invited ecumenical representatives to speak at the press conference about the vigil, including Anglican Archbishop Ian Ernest, Armenian Apostolic Church archbishop Khajag Barsamian, and Brother Alois, the prior from the ecumenical Taizé Community. Pastor Christian Krieger, the president of the French Protestant Federation, also participated remotely.

Last year, the Vatican issued a letter asking Catholic bishops to invite local Orthodox and Protestant leaders to participate in the local stage of the synod on synodality.

Archbishop Ernest, who serves as the personal representative of the archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See and leads the Anglican Centre in Rome, reflected that he “felt more as a participant than an observer” at the inaugural session of the synod in October 2021 because his “voice was listened to in the group discussions.”

“This synodal process initiated by Pope Francis will be giving wings to our ecumenical togetherness, to our quest to work to walk together, and to see how best we could help in the suffering of those who live in distressed situations of this broken world,” Archbishop Ernest said.

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