The full text of the Irish delegation’s Continental submission to the second working session of the European Assembly, Prague, February 7, 2023.
Our synodal pathway began in 2021, when the diocesan phase of the universal Synod was announced. This Synod on Synodality places a renewed emphasis on the sensus fidelium and as such it’s a cause of great joy, encouragement and hope for all who love the Church as the people of God.
The working document resonates with universal enthusiasm for the renewal of the Church, despite the diversity of challenges. This is surely the voice and the work of the Holy Spirit. There was clearly a need to enlarge the space of our tent. Can we truly be an evangelising Church if we do not heed Isaiah’s prophetic image to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters who have become disaffected and discouraged?
Irish delegates have been aware of the trust that has been placed in them to carry the voices of those who have spoken in truth and love. Across both political jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the last number of decades have seen divisive conflict; together with a radical demographic, economic and social transformation. This new social reality together with the painful legacy of clerical and institutional abuse and involvement of Church bodies in the harsh institutionalisation of women and children have had a profound effect on the Church in Ireland. The pobal Dé, the people of God in Ireland, listened deeply and heard many testimonies from those who have been sadly wounded in the Church.
Women and men courageously came forward to speak about the sexual, institutional, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse by members of the Church in Ireland. Their voice went to the very heart of what is needed for our Church – conversion.
In hearing their prophetic voice, we recognise that abuse is an open wound and will remain a barrier to communion, participation and mission until it is comprehensively addressed. However, if there is clear action, with the courage to go deeper and to fully understand the causes, the Church in Ireland and universally, can become the field hospital that Pope Francis desires us to be.
There is 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 have left because they no longer hear the good news in a Church that failed so many.
Many women communicated their pain of being denied their agency in the life and mission of the Church and spoke of feelings of exclusion and discrimination in the Church. 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. Many submissions called for women to be admitted to the diaconate and priesthood.
Those who are in loving relationships that do not 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 is 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 loved the pre-Vatican II liturgy also spoke of their exclusion.
Indeed, the earth itself, which Pope Francis reminds us as among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor has also been wounded. The prophetic image of the tent is truly asking us if our tent is a symbol of inclusion or exclusion, a symbol of hope or exile, a symbol of woundedness or healing.
Fr Eamonn Fitzgibbon
Pope Francis has said, I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. The mission of the Church is to heal wounds. This resonates very much with what God is saying to the Church in Ireland at this time.
Fr Richard Rohr has commented, “if we do not transform our pain we will most assuredly transmit it”. Exporting our hurt is the common storyline of human wisdom. Let us not export our unresolved hurt any longer but rather own the pain that is part of our story. Our God of love is calling us to justice, reconciliation and healing. God is calling us to be humble and prophetic on behalf of those we have hurt.
Reform and renewal is difficult because sometimes we have to unbind our wounds, delicately reopening them in order to establish the truth of what happened, why it happened and learn from it. Only in this way can we fully heal. 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.
We recognise all of these wounds in Christ crucified. A synodal Church can help to redress and bind these wounds – it can help us to be reconciled. The joy expressed by so many who took part in the synodal process and their hope that it will continue is real. We affirm Pope Francis’ commitment to the path of synodality.
We believe much abuse could have been prevented had we been truly synodal. There is 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 baptised must be recognised and practised. To overcome clericalism, to ensure full and deeper participation of all aspects of Church life.
The Church is called to discern with the all-embracing compassion of the body of Christ. This will demand the courage and wisdom of the Spirit to review and inspire any necessary doctrinal, structural, canonical and pastoral changes without destroying communion or losing sight of the person and teaching of Jesus.
Communion requires a proclamation of the Church’s teaching, particularly Laudato Si. This calls for the life of the Church to be a face of compassion and inclusion. For an enlarged appreciation and equal valuing of a richness of ministries – not only the ordained ministry.
The Church in Ireland is associated with great missionary movements. The mission of evangelisation must be as important to the synodal Church and communion and participation. Synodality is emerging as the style for this hope. The Church in Ireland rejoices in this moment of universal synodality as we journey together in faith, hope and love.