The Diocese of Killaloe covers parts of counties Clare, Laois, Limerick, Offaly, and Tipperary. It accommodates 119,313 Catholics and has been overseen by Bishop Fintan Monahan since 2016.
Over 500 pages of data were submitted from pastoral area and parish groups and from individual respondents. The emerging themes were focused around:
Broken trust in the Church
The impact of revelations of abuse by people in positions of trust and leadership in the Church and in Church institutions and the failure of Church leadership to address these issues adequately is an ever-present reality in the Irish Church. The feedback from the synodal process in the Killaloe Diocese suggests that there is greatly diminished confidence in the Church as an institution and that the legacy of abuse is one of broken trust. Deep hurt and anger are reflected in some submissions and calls for change that needs to go deeper than repeated apologies.
Addressing the exclusion of women
It is the view of those who responded that women are excluded from leadership and decision-making bodies in the church. These submissions call for greater empowerment of women at all levels of church life and openness for them to participate in all ministries.
There’s a strong view that the inclusion and empowerment of women in the church cannot be sidestepped any longer. The majority of those who responded, of all ages and gender, call for and would welcome the ordination of women. The submissions also acknowledged the vital contribution that women make at Parish and Diocesan levels.
They are seen as the backbone of the local church and the glue that keeps the church community together. They are seen also as a vital link between the church and community organisations.
Groups who are marginalised
Voices that were heard both in group and individual submissions were those of the LGBTQI+ community, divorced, those in second unions and separated couples. The hurt experienced by this community was felt throughout the gathering.
“I feel I am not very welcome because I’m gay. It is not something I chose; it is the way it is. I finally got to a stage where I am accepting it… however, I am still struggling… for years I thought being dead would be easier. People should not have to feel like that …. in my heart God loves me”.
The fear of being judged by the Church is palpable in the feedback. This voice was echoed throughout by a very significant number of submissions from others who call for change in Church teaching, Church language and for the Church to reach out to include all these groups who are marginalised. There was a call for the Church to be more accepting of people who, because of their circumstances, find themselves in ‘grey areas’. A number of people pointed out that Jesus himself was marginalised and if we are to follow him, we must reach out to those who are on the margins. Moving outside our comfort zones to embrace those who are different was identified as a challenge for both priests and laity.
One submission expressed a wish for a member of the travelling community to one day hold a leadership role in the church. More involvement of people from different countries in the life of the Church was welcomed by many and a call for more inclusion of refugees and migrants. A minority of submissions stated that the Church should not ‘pander to the minority’ and that core principles of the Church should not be changed.
Many people expressed a view that they find the language used difficult to comprehend and that there is a need to use more contemporary language. It was commented in some submissions that the language used in some official church documents is harsh and shows a lack of understanding; this is experienced by many as being non-respectful and dismissive of them and is judgemental of their reality.
The challenge for the church is to remain true to its message while finding a language that is easily understood and inclusive. It was acknowledged in submissions that the inclusive pastoral outreach of the local Church, expressed as empathy, kindness, compassion and care for the individual, contrasts with the coldness of the official Church language and teaching. The language of the liturgy was named as an obstacle to meaningful participation.
Outreach to young people
The submissions from young people though small in number, allow us insight into their world. Their memories of First Communion/Confirmation are important to them as positive experiences of Church as well as significant family moments. However, few now participate in Church and with exceptions, most belong to families who no longer participate.
The young people view the Church as out of touch with their reality. They point to Church attitudes towards the LGBTI people and women as outdated. They see the Church as “judgemental”, and fear being judged themselves by people of faith.
Submissions indicated that language of the liturgy/Mass was seen as dated and boring; they ask for other forms of prayer experiences. They are attracted by positive role models e.g. school chaplains/teachers/interested adults. Young people see social media as a medium for connecting with them, specifically mentioning platforms such as Instagram, Tik-Tok and Facebook, as their medium of choice.
The desire to reach out to young people, and to involve them at all levels of Church was a very strong theme among other cohorts. Indeed, engaging with young people was emphasised as a priority by a majority of participants. Many expressed sadness about the absence of young people from parish liturgies. An evident tension point was that older generations hope that young people will return to Mass. The young people ask the Church to move towards them, and their world, developing with them other ways of praying in non-formal settings which speak to them.
Several suggestions submitted were Parish social gatherings such as meet and greet, parish tea party and a cup of tea after the weekly Mass. Also advocated were welcome letters to new families in the area, personal invitations to events and the establishment of formal welcome groups. Increased lay participation in all aspects of the Church community and beyond, from the Parish to the Diocese was advocated by many and the empowerment of lay people to become active participants within the church community.
Suggestions made include the creation of focus groups for young people, outreach ministry to other parish groups, facilitated discussion groups on faith and church matters, training courses, regular parish surveys, and awareness groups for those experiencing addiction. The need for personal invitations to participate was seen as essential if people are to be encouraged to get involved. Some participants see priests as disconnected from the realities of people’s lives; these would like to see the clergy outside the church, meeting people where they are at.
The creation of some form of regular listening process was suggested where priests and lay people come together to talk about faith and life. ‘We can’t think we have all the answers. A minority mentioned the need for a transparent and properly constituted Pastoral Councils as well as time limits on membership. Rotas for existing ministries would encourage others to see that Church is not closed to new participants.
Connecting and reconnecting with faith
Calls for people to connect and re-connect with faith was a theme in many submissions. For some, there was a desire to keep traditional liturgies and return to faith practices such as parish missions, adoration, house Masses and confession.
Faith renewal programmes were proposed and new ways of connecting with faith including contemporary ways of praying, mindfulness, parish retreats, faith sharing, bible study and intergenerational prayer groups. Others wished the Church to reach out, bringing the Mass church services to unfamiliar settings to broaden the understanding of the Church community.
Re-creating and creating liturgies relating to life events and renewal of liturgies such as harvest liturgical celebration. Reconnecting with faith meant a return to the core teaching of Jesus Christ for some. Others conveyed the desire to hear faith stories from those living out Christian values every day.
Many submissions emphasised the involvement of lay people in the organising and facilitating faith groups, with particular mention of involving parents in sacramental preparation. Use of technology and social media platforms such as webcams and Facebook to connect and create opportunities for faith formation.
Catechetical and liturgy training (online) for lay people to facilitate such groups was seen as needed. The comments in these submissions, especially around the scriptures, would seem to indicate the value of developing opportunities for scripture education at a wide level and encouraging people to participate.
Obstacles to connecting with faith include the use of ‘outdated’ language, lack of joy in our liturgies, lack of personal invitation to parishioners, and lack of religious education in post-primary schools.
Staying where we are vs venturing forward
A clear tension of views was identified in the material gathered during the listening process. This was presented as: those who see an urgent need for change, directly opposed by participants who wanted the Church to remain as it is today. In many submissions there was a call for optional celibacy and married priests.
From those who advocated change, many new types of ministries were called for with the specific issue of current celibacy and gender regulations being seen as barriers to developing a more diverse and vibrant ministry within the Church. A minority view noted a concern that it may already be too late to change and that we may have passed the point at which change would be effective. There is a tension between those who want to see a broader development of ministry and those who want to retain the existing model of priesthood.
What might the Holy Spirit be saying?
The feedback outlined in this document is reflective, honest and comes from a desire for an inclusive and welcoming Church. The majority of participants in the Synodal Process are people for whom faith in Christ and belonging to the Christian Community gives meaning and hope to their lives.
They are also acutely aware of those who no longer walk with us in the Christian community and of those who feel the pain of exclusion. Many of the issues concern systemic issues in the institutional Church about which there are strong calls for a change of attitudes, culture, structures and pastoral practices, issues which impact negatively on the Church at a local level and lead to withdrawal from Church participation.
Re-energizing our outreach to young people, taking initiatives to help people connect and reconnect with faith, opening up possibilities for more participation, and making our Church communities more welcoming to those who feel excluded or no longer participate are but some of the areas that require our response at a local level. It is encouraging that there is energy for engagement and involvement among the respondents. The Diocese believes that this needs to be harnessed.
The full report from the Diocese of Killaloe is available here.