Clergy, Power and Hierarchy

Featured Image: Michael T Balonek, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


“Parishioners from across the diocese were appreciative of the charisms, pastoral work, commitment,
and hard work of their parish priest. Some parishes with deacons seemed to be more aware of the role
of the deacon. Some expressed concern at the well-being of isolated, elderly and overworked priests,
and concern about the decline in numbers of priests and what this means for their future access to
sacraments. All were very grateful for the efforts made by priests to ensure mass was available online
although one felt the priests should have fought for churches to remain open as essential services and
was angry with the church’s compliance to government on church closure.
There were some (many fewer) critical comments about relationships with clergy. These seemed to be
related to questions of authority; clericalism, who makes decisions about what happens in the parish
and ‘infantalising the laity’ were mentioned. Some responses were from the point of view that the
priest held authority by virtue of ordination, others saw the role more as servant leader needing to work
in collaboration with laity. The excessive workload of priests was suggested as an explanation for
some of the tensions. Examples of disrespectful behavior between priest and laity were given, perhaps
expressing something about expectations, perceptions and understanding of each other’s role as well
as reactions to difficult Diocesan decisions about parish closures.
Some laity felt unable to fully express their own ‘baptised prophet, priest and king’ role and one
expressed this by quoting Canon Law 212.3 “the Christian faithful have the right and even at times
the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters that obtain to the good of the
Church and to make their opinion known.”
There was a concern that newly ordained priests often seemed to adhere to a model of clerical
dominance. Clergy selection, formation and ongoing training was mentioned as in need of
improvement such as involving laity in recruitment, updating what is taught and spending less time in
People suggested that married men and optional celibacy would enable the priesthood to be enriched
in many ways as well as address the shortage of priests.
Allowing women to be ordained into the priesthood, was mentioned by very many, in all 4 engagement
Where it was mentioned, the contribution of Deacons was mentioned warmly, as providing an
enormous service to the parish. It was suggested that the wife of one Deacon provided the sort of
service to the parish which could be seen in the women deacons of the early Christian communities,
and there was a request for women deacons to be introduced.

from The Synthesis Report on Hallam Diocese Synodal Journey by the Diocese of Hallam: April 2022
This retreat material uses the diocesan synod report as the basis of a prayer journey. The themes raised in synod meetings by the people of God in the diocese of Hallam were gathered into a synthesis report which Bishop Ralph conveyed to the Bishops  Conference of England and Wales. This was incorporated into the Continental report sent to Rome in 2022. While these are not necessarily his views, Bishop Ralph is fully supportive of the synodal process and encourages the synodal method of Conversations in the Spirit, prayerful reflection and further discernment with these themes.

Opening prayer

If you are using this prayer by yourself at home, then remember that you are not alone. You are a valued member of this group, you are sharing this retreat together. Each person will pray and ponder in their own time and place, but the Spirit is with each and every one and all of you. You are together in God.

A: God, you have gathered all your people in Synod, We give you thanks for the joy experienced by those who decided to set out to listen to God and to their brothers and sisters, with an attitude of welcome, humility and siblinghood. Help us to enter these pages as on “holy ground”.

A: Creator of the world, eternal God,
B: we come together from our own places for a little while.

A: Redeemer of humanity, God with us,
B: we have come with all our differences seeking common respect

A: Spirit of unity, go-between God,
B: we have come with stories of our own to a place where stories meet.

A: So here, in this space, let us take time together. for when your people gather and stories are shared, there is much to celebrate and honour.
B: In your name, three in one God, pattern of community. Amen.

Adapted from “Iona Abbey Worship Book”, 2001. copyright © WGRG, Iona Community, Glasgow, Scotland. Reproduced by permission.

Summary of the Diocesan Report

  • Appreciation for charisms, pastoral work, commitment and hard work of the parish priest. Concern about the well-being of elderly, overworked, isolated priests.
  • Tensions between laity and priests with differing expectations of the priest as ‘servant leader’ not always shared and damage caused by this.
  • Married clergy, optional celibacy, women priests and deacons, widely supported .
  • Regular reviews of clergy training, good practice, accountability and development needs.

A. First impressions

  • What I like about this summary is ………
  • What I do not like about this summary is ……..
  • This summary makes me feel ……..


Matthew 24:45-51

Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the others their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

Points to Ponder

  • Jesus is setting out his teaching as to how the leaders of the Christian community should behave.
  • Clergy and Laity both have a responsibility to promote healthy relationships in the Church.
  • How can we welcome/encourage our leaders so they are able to be vulnerable?

Reflect, Respond. Share

B. Reflect

  • In this passage Jesus is saying to me …
  • My response to this is …
  • This makes me feel …

C. Respond

  • If I was to review my responses to parts A and B I would say …
  • Something I have discovered is …

D. Share

  • A few days later, read what you have written for C. Is there something that you are comfortable to share with the group? It could be what you have written, or maybe a poem, painting or photo could better express what you want to say.

Closing prayer

A: As we continue in our retreat together, in this day and in our lives
B: May we be grateful for the blessings of this day, today and each day.
B: May we be grateful for the new stories and new ways of thinking we have explored, today and each day.
B: May we be grateful for kind company, heedful to God, heedful to ourselves and heedful to each other, today and each day
A. We pray for God’s compassionate guidance
B. for all who hold authority in our Church.
A. We pray for God’s generosity
B. In recognising the gifts and ministries that each of us has to offer
A. We pray for God’s mercy
B. On those who have misused their authority, and on the structures and frameworks which have  held those misuses in place
A. We pray for God’s courage
B. As we work for reform
A. We pray for God’s Wisdom
B. As we discern together the way forward towards the fullness of ministry which God offers to all God’s people

A: God from whom all gifts come, who shares our adventure, and delights in our friendship
B: We thank you for your presence with us as we continue in our retreat this day, and each day of our lives. Amen