‘A long way to go’

— Catholic women call for wide-ranging church reforms in new international survey

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Catholic women across the world are calling for a wide range of reforms to the church, according to the results of our survey of more than 17,000 Catholic women from over 100 countries published this month.

A substantial majority were concerned about the prevalence of abuse, racism, and sexism in church contexts, and many raised issues relating to transparency and accountability in church leadership and governance.

The International Survey of Catholic Women is one of the most extensive surveys of Catholic women ever undertaken, and its findings should inform lasting and genuine change in the Catholic Church.

Why we did this survey

The survey was initiated by Catholic Women Speak in response to the invitation of Pope Francis for the Catholic Church to engage in a process of “synodality” for the 2021-2023 Synod of Bishops. The Synod will examine how the church comes together and is considered to be of great importance to major issues facing the church.

The aim of the survey was to gather feedback on the experiences of Catholic women. It provides insights into the complex realities of Catholic women’s lives, the ways in which they express their faith, and their relationships with the institutional church. We devised and managed the survey along with Professor Tina Beattie from the University of Roehampton, London.

The large number of responses clearly indicates a desire by Catholic women to share their aspirations and frustrations, and to make their views on the situation of women in the Catholic Church known to the Synod.

Respondents identified themselves as women from all walks of life – single, married, divorced, LGBTIQ, and religious. While the findings cannot claim to be representative of all Catholic women, they articulate the diverse hopes and struggles of women in the worldwide church.

The views of Catholic women reflect the cultural and communal contexts within which their faith is experienced and practised. This diversity is rarely represented in church documents or theology, and many women struggle to see the relevance of church teachings to the complex realities of their lives.

Many women ‘conflicted’ with the Catholic Church

The survey found that even when women have considerable struggles with Catholic institutions, nearly 90% said their Catholic identity is important to them. Many continue to practise their faith despite ongoing difficulties with the institutional church.

Several respondents used words like “frustrated”, “hurt”, “angry”, and “conflicted” when describing their relationship with the church.

Most respondents said they would welcome reform in the Catholic Church, especially – but not exclusively – regarding the role and representation of women.

One woman from Australia observed “we walk the line of being valuable members of society but voiceless in many elements of the church”. Another, from Nicaragua said, “stop making women invisible”.

Respondents raised issues related to:

A minority of respondents expressed a preference for church reform based on a pre-Vatican II model of authority, priesthood, and liturgy. Vatican II was an important meeting of all Catholic bishops held in Rome between 1962-1965 who made progressive decisions about the future of the worldwide church.

Abuse remains a central problem

Respondents consistently identified the sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of women, children, and other vulnerable people as a central problem for the church.

Some respondents disclosed experiences of abuse and harassment, while others expressed disappointment at the lack of effective action to address the crisis of sexual abuse.

One woman from Canada wrote:

they have a long way to go in dealing with the scandal and cover up. I know this firsthand. I feel as betrayed by the institutional betrayal as I do by my abuser […] This is coming from a committed lifelong Catholic who has never left the church.

Many respondents were deeply concerned about transparency and accountability in church leadership and governance. There was agreement that a less hierarchical and authoritarian model of the church was urgently needed, with greater collaboration and sharing of authority between clergy and laity (lay people).

A substantial majority of respondents identified clericalism as having a negative impact on church life. Clericalism is the idealisation of male clerics and subsequent abuses of power.

A respondent from Panama remarked, “I wish that women had more voice and that we were not abused by clericalism that excludes us and takes away our dignity”.

Most respondents linked their Catholic identity with social justice, and wanted church leaders to address poverty and marginalisation. Several raised the issue of economic justice in church affairs, including the lack of adequate pay for female church workers, both lay and religious.

The challenge for the Synod is to demonstrate that the many concerns raised by respondents in the survey are carefully listened to and addressed.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church is increasingly diverse – and so are its controversies

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There is a lot of talk about “synodality” in the Catholic church these days. Synodality refers to a process in which bishops and priests consult with lay Catholics about issues in the church.

In 2021, Pope Francis called for the “Synod on Synodality,” a worldwide discussion of issues that impact the church, which will culminate with a bishops’ meeting in Rome. A final report is scheduled for October 2023.

The Catholic Church in Germany has also moved forward with a national “synodal path” to restore trust after its own sexual abuse scandal.

The German synodal path has been controversial. On Sept. 8, 2022, a minority of German bishops blocked a motion to redefine Catholic teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity and masturbation. In response, some proponents of these liberalizations warned they would “take it to Rome.”

Church leaders around the world and in the Vatican have closely watched the German meetings. There has been sharp debate over calls by German Catholics for priests to ordain women and bless same-sex unions. These proposals have been embraced by some German church bishops, but criticized by the Vatican as well as by an international group of 74 bishops.

As a scholar of global Catholicism, I believe this controversy reflects much wider tensions within Catholicism. In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Today, just one in four do. The church’s numbers have grown most quickly in Africa and Asia. As more power shifts to the global south, the church sometimes struggles to chart a path forward for all regions, each of which has its own distinct perspectives.

The German meeting spotlights particularly difficult topics about sexuality and women’s roles, where some Catholics in Europe, North America and Australia clash with Catholics elsewhere.

Continental divides

The Catholic Church is often assumed to look and feel the same everywhere. But Catholicism is culturally quite diverse.

The most public disagreement involves African Catholics and those in the United States and Europe. For example, Ghanaian Catholic bishops have criticized advocates for LGBTQ rights for imposing “their so-called values and beliefs.” Other African bishops have said they feel betrayed by liberal sentiments in European Catholicism, such as the push to allow Holy Communion for divorced church members.

People in white robes kneel near the altar in a brightly colored church with a teal and orange wall.
A bishop blesses worshippers during an early morning mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Yamumbi, Kenya.

Polygamy continues to be a pressing issue in some regions of Africa. While Catholic doctrine prohibits polygamy, polygamous unions are still common in many countries with significant Catholic communities.

A crucial question is how to welcome polygamous families into the church. Some African bishops have suggested that the church’s most important rites, called sacraments, should be available for at least some polygamous Catholics.

Tribalism also remains a challenge. For example, a Nigerian priest published a social media video asserting the superiority of the Igbo tribe. In rejecting such attitudes, other African priests have emphasized that African Catholics should draw on the philosophy of “ubuntu” that affirms collective belonging to humanity.

Looking East

Issues in Asia, home to 12% of Catholics, are diverse.

In Japan, for example, where Catholics make up less than 1% of the population, the main dilemma is how Catholics can maintain their community identity. In the Catholic-majority Philippines, recent meetings for the Synod on Synodality have focused on how poverty and corruption impact the Catholic community and the nation as a whole.

In India, where 20 million Catholics live, the Dalit Catholic community is especially important. Dalit means “oppressed” or “crushed” and refers to the marginalized groups once known as India’s “untouchables.” It was only recently that a Dalit, Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, was named a cardinal, even though Dalits have long made up a majority of India’s Catholics. Caste discrimination in the church is a reality that Dalit Catholics have joined together to protest.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in East Timor, where Catholics are 95% of the population, has experienced its own divisive sex abuse crisis connected with a highly regarded American priest.

A woman in a pink shirt and green sari touches a statue of the Virgin Mary covered with garlands of flowers.
Catholics offer prayers in front of a statue of Virgin Mary in Hyderabad, India.

Catholic churches in China face unresolved disputes over who has final say in the appointment of bishops – the Vatican, or the Chinese government. Also, there are continuing issues about the status of the underground Catholic churches, which worship outside the purview of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

In parts of Oceania, climate change is an existential concern. The spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea remains an important issue as well.

Stronghold no longer?

Latin America is home to almost 40% of the world’s Catholics. But the rise of Protestantism has concerned many priests and laity. Many new Protestants in Latin America believe that evangelical and Pentecostal communities are more sensitive to their needs, prompting soul-searching for Catholics.

Another crucial question in Latin America is whether to ordain married men in regions where priests are scarce, like the Amazon. The Catholic church in Latin America still struggles with its colonial past and calls to apologize for that violent history. This legacy makes it particularly important to hear the voices of Indigenous peoples.

A global conversation

The worldwide Synod on Synodality is focused, in Pope Francis’ words, on creating a church that “walks together on the same road.”

It would be a mistake to see this “walking together” from an exclusively Western perspective. The debate in Germany reflects how ideologically divided Catholicism has become in the Western world alone. And it is not as though churches elsewhere are simply areas of potential problems or disagreements; their faith and rich theological traditions are an important resource for Catholics worldwide.

Still, given the cultural diversity of Catholicism, there are many potential flash points as the Synod on Synodality moves forward: poverty, adapting to local culture, sexuality and gender, church governance and the continuing sexual abuse crisis – just to name a few.

This has left some commentators wondering if anything meaningful can be discussed or achieved. In my view, whether Synod conversations turn into controversies will ultimately depend on how Catholics see themselves as part of a church that is truly global.

Complete Article HERE!

Surprises in the Irish Synod Report

Archbishop Eamon Martin

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About five years ago, I attended a lecture in Manhattan by an Irish Redemptorist priest, Fr. Tony Flannery. The event was sponsored by Call to Action, an organization that is critical of the Catholic Church because of its ineptitude in applying the gospel message to the realities of our time. Fr. Flannery was and still is banned from speaking publicly in any church-owned facility.

In his speech he explained why he is considered a persona non grata, an outcast, by the powers in Rome. He named three areas of disagreement, pointing out that he does not question any of the traditional Catholic dogmas.

He objects especially to the second-class status accorded to women in all areas of ecclesiastical life. He cautioned that while he favors full ordination rights for females the focus for now should be on achieving deaconate status, a step below the priesthood.

He favors ending mandatory celibacy and welcoming married priests, and he was adamant that his church’s attitude to the homosexual community could only be described as pathetic. He spoke with conviction and left no doubt about his continuing commitment to radical changes in his church.

Amazingly and ironically, in response to Pope Francis’ Synodal Way, the Irish church recently submitted what they call the National Synthesis of its recommendations to Rome, and they have come out in favor of the positions which led to Flannery’s exclusion from practicing as a priest.

The big boys in Rome silenced him, but what will they do now with the whole Irish church?

The National Synthesis document was based on reports prepared by all 26 Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland following widespread consultations with the people over many months, culminating in a countrywide national symposium in Athlone in June.

Over 19,000 people participated in Dublin with about 5000 in Limerick and a few hundred in the mini-diocese of Achonry in the west of Ireland. Reports from all sides suggested enthusiastic involvement throughout the country with members over the age of 60 showing the highest level of interest.

Cynics warned that the submission to Rome would be a watered-down version of the ideas for change that emerged from the consultations. The bishops would wrap the radical concepts in language acceptable to the Vatican hierarchy.

Not this time! The National Synthesis document pulls no punches and fairly represents the thoughts and feelings expressed up and down the country, as well as during the big weekend in Athlone.

In a cover letter sent with the report, Archbishop Eamon Martin explained to Cardinal Mario Gresch, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, that that there is a crying need in Ireland for healing, especially “among those who have suffered abuse by church personnel and in church institutions.”

He stressed that clear calls were heard in every diocese for “fresh models of responsibility and leadership which will especially recognize and facilitate the role of women. Our listening process has identified the need to be more inclusive in outreach, touching those who have left the church behind and, in some cases, feel excluded, forgotten or ignored.”

Pope Francis’ words are genuine. We believe him when he says he wants to hear from ordinary parishioners. Will he lead the response when the cry for change arrives in Rome from people all over the world?

In order to dampen expectations, he insists that the church is not a democratic institution. So, despite the strong support for radical changes, backed by a clear majority of the faithful, their ideas may well be set aside as traditionalists assert the pre-eminence of the church’s historical beliefs and practices.

During the struggle for democracy in Europe in the 19th and early 20th century, successive popes favored the old European autocracies with single strong leaders, which, of course, defines the Vatican. They still diminish the democratic process which claims that, despite its limitations, the people’s wisdom is the nearest we can get to an optimal system for selecting leaders and determining policy. Why is the church so dismissive of this approach? What are they afraid of in Rome? Is it just a power game?

Take the widespread belief that women should be ordained at a time when their services as pastors are clearly needed in many parishes. Most people in the United States and in Europe strongly support this needed alteration of church discipline. The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), a very credible Catholic organization, affirms the many women who feel called to priestly service.

A tribute to Francis, information about WOC is included in the Vatican website as part of the synodal discussions. However, it is very unlikely that he will overrule John Paul II’s arrogant and dogmatic statement that women should never be permitted to say Mass.

Back to the real world of male hierarchies who preach their openness to the Spirit of Wisdom, but always seem to revert back to glorifying tradition. In October 2019 the Amazon Synod of Bishops met in Rome to consider the church crisis in that region of South America. The people in large parts of a few countries there have very irregular access to the sacraments.

The Synod passed, with a big majority, two recommendations to help ameliorate the situation. First, open the deaconate to permit nuns and other dedicated women who are serving there to provide communion for the people. Second, allow viri probati, married men of sterling character from the local communities, to be ordained to the priesthood. Pope Francis took their recommendations under advisement. No action. That was almost three years ago. Tough luck on the people pleading for communion in the Amazon region.

Mary McAleese. RollingNews.ie photo.
Mary McAleese.

Former Irish president Mary McAleese, who has had a conflicted relationship with the church, especially with John Paul II, was elated by the document and congratulated the hierarchy for not doctoring the recommendations to placate Rome. The adjectives she used to commend it left no doubt about her satisfaction: “explosive, life-altering, dogma-altering, church-altering.”

Mrs. McAleese has a particular peeve with the church’s puerile insistence that the gay lifestyle is unnatural and sinful. Her son is a homosexual. This demeaning thinking has been repudiated by science for more than half a century. Rome, however, keeps beating the old drum based on an outmoded belief in their version of natural law.

Fr. Tim Hazelwood, one of the leaders of the Irish Association of Priests, described the document as “stunning” because “it is not trying to uphold any of the old negatives from the past.” Those “old negatives” did immense harm to the preaching of the gospel message.

Pope Francis will meet with a full synod of bishops in October of next year to decide what changes they will institute, based, supposedly, on the recommendations from Catholics all over the world. We live and hope!

Complete Article HERE!

Irish protester among seven held after demonstration at Vatican calling for women’s inclusion in Church

Pope Francis convened a closed-door gathering of the Catholic Church’s cardinals.

By Sarah Mac Donald

Seven protesters, including one Irish woman, were detained by police in Rome over their protest at the Vatican calling for women’s inclusion at all levels of the Catholic Church.

iriam Duignan joined six other women in St Peter’s Square yesterday to draw attention to the lack of any female presence at a consistory – a closed-door gathering of the church’s cardinals – convened by Pope Francis.

The seven held up parasols with messages such as “ordain women” and “sexism is a cardinal sin” as the world’s cardinals filed in for the first of their two-day extraordinary meeting.

Ms Duignan, a spokesperson for the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research in the UK, said she hoped the protest would stir the collective conscience of church leadership to open its doors to women who long to be heard and to serve their church as equals in Christ.

“I chose to be present at the consistory as a member of Women’s Ordination Worldwide to help shine a light on the Vatican’s cover-up of the history of women’s founding role and leadership in the early centuries of the church,” said Ms Duignan.

The London-based advocate for women’s ordination told the Irish Independent that expert theologians, including some in the Vatican, have concluded “there is no scriptural justification for the banishing of women; it is a choice and it can and must be changed”.

She added: “The Roman police were encouraged to remove us from view and to hide our words and witness from the world.”

Though they greeted numerous cardinals as the prelates passed inside the Vatican’s gates, most of the high ranking clerics “clearly did not want to engage or dwell on the messages on our red parasols”.

“The Vatican is desperately afraid of campaigners drawing attention to their discrimination against women and so choose to intimidate anyone who dares to publicly challenge them,” Ms Duignan said.

According to Ms Duignan, the small group of protesters was quickly moved out of sight by a “huge police presence” of 20 officers.

However, one Italian prelate congratulated Ms Duignan when he learned the protest was for women’s inclusion and ordination.

Referring to the call in many recent synod reports for women’s equal participation at all levels in the church, including ordination, Ms Duignan said: “People see that such an influential institution cannot be allowed to function with an all-male leadership that bans women from having a say in any of its policies or teachings.”

Asked about the collapse in priest numbers in the Irish Church, she said: “It is glaringly obvious that to deny women the opportunity to fill this role, despite a desperate shortage of priests, is an injustice to all Catholics.”

The seven women were released from police custody after four hours. They may face charges and a court hearing.

Their parasols were confiscated as evidence.

The Vatican and police in Rome have been contacted for comment.

Complete Article HERE!

Synod report sees disconnect between many Catholics and Church teaching, calls for more accountability

Auxiliary Bishop Michael Router of Armagh poses with the steering committee during the launch of the national synthesis at Knock on Tuesday. Pictured with the bishop are Janet Forbes, and Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon, both with the task group, Nicola Brady, chairwoman of the Irish synodal pathway steering committee, and Julieann Moran.

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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.

Complete Article HERE!