How to make the church synodal? Inclusion, say respondents in 3 countries

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Catholics on two different continents want more inclusion — including of women and LGBTQ Catholics — more adult faith formation and help with engaging young adults.

The Vatican set a deadline of Aug. 15 for the diocesan phase of the synod listening process set up as part of the preparation for the 2023 Synod of Bishops on synodality. In the listening phase, members of parishes, dioceses, religious orders and Catholic movements were asked to consider the ways in which they currently experience the church as “synodal,” that is, as a community that walks together, and to suggest ways to strengthen that in practice.

In responses from Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, several common themes emerged.

Among other points mentioned in the Irish synthesis, “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.”

A report from the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference said: “It hurts to see family members and friends leaving the church because they feel they are unacceptable because of gender issues, being divorced and remarried, or in a same-sex relationship. Some participants, including young people, expressed deep personal hurt caused by their perception of being excluded because of their sexual identity or that of a friend or family member.”

“The Maori concept of turangawaewae” is “often translated as ‘a place to stand,’ a sacred or special place where people can be themselves and are most connected. Participants want the church to be turangawaewae — home, a place of welcome — for them personally and for others,” said the New Zealand synthesis of diocesan responses.

Australians, too commented on the need for inclusion, although the national report noted that “the nature of consultations through surveys and group discussions generally favors respondents who are well-educated, more affluent members of the church and those who are keen to make their opinions known.”

Auxiliary Bishop Michael Router of Armagh, Northern Ireland, poses with the steering committee during the launching of the national synthesis of the Catholic Church in Ireland from Knock shrine Aug. 16, 2022. Pictured with the bishop are Janet Forbes, and Father Eamonn Fitzgibbon, both with the Task Group, Nicola Brady, chairwoman of the Irish Synodal Pathway steering committee, and Julieann Moran. (CNS photo/John McElroy, Archdiocese of Armagh)

The synthesis said: “There was a particular sense that synodality is about welcoming and including all, particularly those on the fringes of the church and on the margins of society. Such groups include Indigenous Australians, migrants and refugees, women, those of different sexual orientations, and the poor and vulnerable. In some instances, the church was seen as placing barriers of exclusion by its teachings and the application of those teachings. On the other hand, some called for the church to be more compassionate while remaining authentic to its teachings.”

The Australians said many Catholics want to “welcome back to the eucharistic community those who had left the church, those who felt discriminated against and those who felt unwelcome because of seemingly restrictive church teachings. Instead of ‘talking at’ those who no longer feel welcome, there was a desire for the church to be ‘walking with’ them, expressing inclusiveness through respectful listening and dialogue.”

In Ireland, 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.

“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,” the Irish document said. “For others, the church has no credibility in modern society as long as discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality exists.”

Australians also acknowledged that “there was a great divergence of views expressed in the submissions across and within the dioceses. Some participants preferred a more traditional approach to the church and others, a more modern approach. There was great optimism and hope shared, while at the same time, in other areas, frustration and sadness.”

Some Australians and New Zealanders called for the language used at Mass and other church ceremonies to be revised.

The New Zealand synthesis cited a desire for “liturgical language that is welcoming, inclusive, less misogynistic, and hierarchical, and more consonant with contemporary theology … language that includes, builds up, heals wounds, and affirms.”

Many Irish said they felt ill-equipped to articulate their faith in a secular environment. Some who participated questioned whether many Irish Catholics are “sacramentalized but not evangelized.”

“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 Vatican Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops will use the synthesized reports from bishops’ conferences around the world to develop the “instrumentum laboris,” or working document, to guide continental or regional ecclesial assemblies that will take place by March 2023.

Those assemblies will produce another set of documents that will help in the drafting of a second working document for the Synod of Bishops in October 2023. The synod is expected to produce a final document on synodality throughout the church.

Author: Catholic News Service

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ news and information service.

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