In a statement that seems designed to reduce expectation of major change in church disciplines such as priestly celibacy and the male-only priesthood, the Chairwoman of Ireland’s Synodal Pathway Steering Committee has made clear that what will not happen over the next five years is ‘a parliamentary-style debate where the objective is to win votes for particular decisions’.
Dr Nicola Brady, in an article for the Irish Times on Monday 4th October, writes that ‘synodal processes create space for different views, and different visions for the future, but in a spirit of sharing, respectful listening and discernment, rather than argument’.
“At the heart of our work is this question: “What is God saying to the Irish church at this time?” We will be exploring this through a process of discernment which, in a Christian context, is understood as a decision-making process in which discovery leads to action, guided by the Holy Spirit.”
Notably missing from Dr Brady’s statement is any reference to any crisis in the Irish Catholic church – even though the current context includes rising concern for the growing lack of interest shown in sacramental observance and church matters by younger generations and the apparent ineffectuality of the church’s historic reliance on Catholic schools for faith formation. (In August 2021 the Irish Association of Catholic Priests argued that school-centred preparation for early sacraments is no longer fit for purpose.)
There is also a looming crisis of priestly manpower and a likely inability to keep many small rural churches in continued use – but this gets no mention in Dr Brady’s statement either – unless that is what is referred to by ‘challenges that discourage people from taking a more active leadership role in the life of the church‘.
Instead her statement speaks of likely ‘tension’ between those concerned that major change may ‘secularise’ the church and others concerned that the scale of recent social change may not impact sufficiently upon the process.
That many of those who do currently practise their faith may be well aware of the need for change – especially to reveal the relevance of faith to younger generations – is not adverted to.
In sum, while Dr Brady’s initial statement may allay elder fears that what is central to their Catholic faith is in danger, it also fails to explain why ‘walking together’ is not just another option for the Irish church but probably essential to its survival and recovery. She writes of an intent to heal wounds, but there is no hint that any or all of these could be fatal to the clericalist model of church that enabled them.
Neither ‘crisis’ nor ‘recovery’ can even be mentioned, it seems, because the obviously ailing patient – the Irish Catholic Church – cannot even yet be frankly told that it is seriously ill.
For those with access, Dr Brady’s complete statement may be read by clicking here.
6th October, 2021