Irish delegates call for radical change at European assembly of Catholic churches

— Representatives push for women to be admitted to priesthood after island-wide consultations

The assembly in Prague has been attended in person by four Irish delegates with 10 attending online.

By Patsy McGarry

An assembly of the Catholic Church in Europe has been told that members in Ireland want women to be admitted to the diaconate and priesthood. In island-wide consultations “many women communicated their pain at being denied their agency in the life of the church and spoke of feelings of exclusion and discrimination. Women play a critical role in the life of the church but so many men and women have spoken of the church ‘excluding’ the fullness of the gifts of women,” representatives of the Irish church said.

In Ireland there was “a deep longing for a more inclusive and welcoming church. People wish for this enlarged tent to be experienced in liturgy, language, structures, practices and decision-making. The co-responsibility of all the baptised must therefore be recognised and practised, to overcome clericalism and to ensure full and equal participation of women in all aspects of church life and ministry and decision-making,” they said.

The European assembly in Prague, which is ongoing, has been attended in person by four Irish delegates with a further 10 attending online. Those in Prague include Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, Dr Nicola Brady, Julieann Moran and Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon. The 10 online delegates involve six woman, including Ursula Halligan of the We Are Church Ireland group. Representatives of 39 Catholic churches across Europe are in attendance.

Speaking to the assembly on behalf of the Irish church, Ms Moran and Fr Fitzgibbon said that in the consultations with practicing Catholics around Ireland “those who are in loving relationships that don’t accord with church teaching, including people identifying as LGBTQI+, and those in second unions, also spoke of their hurt, particularly around harmful and offensive language used in church circles and documents”.

There was also “a call for greater inclusion of migrants and refugees; of people living with disabilities; of young people; of single parents. Some of those who love the pre-Vatican II liturgy also spoke of their sense of exclusion.”

Overwhelmingly, however, they spoke of the destruction caused to the Catholic Church in Ireland by clerical child sexual abuse. It had “a profound effect on the church in Ireland”, they said. Having listened to abuse survivors during the consultation process “we recognise that abuse is an open wound and will remain a barrier to communion, participation and mission until it is comprehensively addressed”, they said.

There was “an anger, a sadness, a sense of loss, including in some cases a loss of faith, which is felt most acutely by those who were abused, but it is also felt by the lay faithful, by priests, bishops, religious men and women, by those who have remained, and by those who left because they no longer hear the good news in a church that failed so many”, they said.

“Carefully chosen words spoken with humility and sincerity help, but they are not enough. We need to continue our efforts to provide times and spaces for lamentation, to grieve this shared pain and loss.”

They also spoke of how “across both political jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the last number of decades have seen divisive conflict including suspicion and sectarianism within the Christian family, together with a radical demographic, economic and social transformation”.

This European assembly is one of seven continental assemblies taking place across five continents in the latest stage of an ongoing “synodal process” in the Catholic Church worldwide, leading to two planned Synods of Bishops in Rome, one next October and a second in October 2024.

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