Catholics want greater transparency, participation in decision-making and accountability within parish and diocesan structures, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh has said.
Publishing the synodal synthesis document this afternoon (Thursday) – which was this week forwarded to the Holy See – the Primate of All-Ireland acknowledged that the report reflects the challenges of “a major decline in the practice of the faith, and in vocations to priesthood and religious life”.
“This problem can only be addressed with the deployment of significant resources into programmes for those who wish to deepen their own faith, spirituality and understanding of scripture at a personal or academic level,” the report says.
The synthesis, which is the fruit of the participation of tens of thousands of Catholics across all 26 dioceses, says that: “many young people cannot understand the Church’s position on women”.
“Because of the disconnect between the Church’s view of women and the role of women in wider society today, the Church is perceived as patriarchal and by some, as misogynistic,” it says.
“There was a clear, overwhelming call for the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Church, expressed by all ages and particularly by the young and by members of the LGBTQI+ community themselves.
“Some called for a change in Church teaching, asking if the Church is sufficiently mindful of developments with regard to human sexuality and the lived reality of LGBTQI+ couples,” the document notes.
A focus group of LGBTQI+ Catholics who participated in the synodal pathway said that the Church should apologise to that group. “This submission suggested that even though the Church rarely condemns gay people these days, it indirectly creates an atmosphere where physical, psychological and emotional abuse of gay people is tolerated and even encouraged”.
Many people who participated in the synod said they felt ill-equipped to articulate their faith in a secular environment.
“Our spiritual growth is stunted. As adult members of the Church, we are not sufficiently grounded in our faith, and do not have the confidence in speaking about our love of God,” one participant was quoted as saying.
“The synodal process highlighted the serious weaknesses in adult faith development in Ireland. Many of the submissions reported that people found it hard to engage with the questions, the concepts and the language relating to communion and mission,” the report said.
It says: “there is a felt need among many respondents for safe and dynamic spaces where people can come together to talk deeply about their faith and increase their knowledge of it.
“This problem can only be addressed with the deployment of significant resources into programmes for those who wish to deepen their own faith, spirituality and understanding of scripture at a personal or academic level.
“Some felt that if we invested half as many resources into the training and formation of people as we do into buildings, we could dramatically improve the life of the Church in Ireland today,” the synthesis asserts.
“The question also emerges whether many Irish Catholics are ‘sacramentalised but not evangelised’,” the report asks.
The role of women was a persistent theme in the discussions at parish and diocesan level. “Several of the submissions called for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and the priesthood. Their exclusion from the diaconate is regarded as particularly hurtful,” according to the synthesis.
But, some parishioners sounded a note of caution. “Others expressed a concern that a change in the Church’s teaching would be simply conforming to secular standards and contemporary culture.
“There are other minority, yet strong, voices that believe the Church, rooted in the Catholic Tradition, should not conform to secular standards when it comes to questions regarding gender, sexuality, and relationships. For others, the Church has no credibility in modern society as long as discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality exists,” the document says.
The issue of youth and the question of how the Church might engage with them, emerged universally across the synodal process.
“Multiple dioceses and organisations noted the absence of young people in parish communities and many submissions articulated a view that other youth organisations provide a home for young people that is more welcoming than that in parishes.
“There was an openness and honesty in responses from young people. They identified with faith and with the Gospel message and what we are called to as Church. One response clearly conveyed the sentiments expressed by so many: the one thing we, as young people, look for is sincerity. In many instances it was felt that the Church lacked this, or indeed pastoral awareness of the significant challenges faced by young people today. One notable example given was the mental health crisis faced by many young people,” it says.
However, amongst younger Catholics there were also divergent views on the approach the Church should take. “Many young people were critical of the Church regarding the role of women, clerical celibacy and its handling of the abuse crisis. A significant number disagreed with the Church’s teaching on sexuality and the Church’s position on sex was considered as a barrier to participation by some young people.
“On the other hand, some young people said that, for them, the Church’s teaching on sexuality is a welcome challenge,” it says articulating the opposing view.
Most participants appeared to have enjoyed the opportunity to be heard. “Those engaged in the synodal process called for unity in diversity, which does not entail a bland uniformity or avoidance of conflict but an ability to ‘endure conflict’
“Let us keep talking and the Holy Spirit will reveal the path,” one participant quoted in the report said.
Organisers noted that “There is a challenge to sustain the encounter and the participative nature of synodality, grounded in respectful listening, for long enough to arrive at the point where specific decisions are discerned to be necessary, given the risk that such decision points are inevitably difficult for those of a contrary disposition,” according to the document.
Dr Nicola Brady, chair of the synod steering committee insisted that: “Important questions have been set out for deeper reflection and pastoral action at every level of Church life and there will be many more opportunities for people to get involved and help shape this process”.
In a letter accompanying the 27-page report to Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops General Secretariat, Archbishop Martin noted that “since October 2021, tens of thousands of Catholics across Ireland have been engaging in prayerful listening and reflection on the theme chosen by Pope Francis: ‘For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, Mission.’
“In a prayerful atmosphere, we heard feedback from the hundreds of conversations that had taken place across Ireland, and from the many submissions that had been collected. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus listening to Jesus, we too experienced our hearts burning within us as we gathered in his name,” he said.
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