These are the speaking notes of Julieann Moran and Fr Eamonn Fitsgibbon – Irish synodal delegates in Prague.
In Ireland preparations were already underway for a national synodal pathway when the diocesan phase of the Universal Synod was announced.
This Synod on Synodality places a renewed emphasis on the sensus fidei fidelium and as such, is a cause of great joy, encouragement, and hope for all who love the Church as the People of God. The Working Document resonates with a universal enthusiasm for the renewal of the Church, despite the diversity of challenges. This is surely the voice and work of the Holy Spirit.
There is 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? The Irish delegates are aware of the trust that has been placed in them to carry the voices of those who have spoken in truth and in love.
Across both political jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the last number of decades have seen divisive conflict including suspicion and sectarianism within the Christian family, 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 Church and Conversion
During the Diocesan phase of the Synod, the Pobal Dé – the People of God in Ireland – listened deeply and heard many testimonies from those who, sadly, have been wounded within 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 left because they no longer hear the Good News in a Church that failed so many.
Isaiah’s image of ‘enlarging the tent’ speaks to the heart of what we have identified in our synodal listening: the theme of inclusion and exclusion.
Many women communicated their pain at being denied their agency in the life of the Church and spoke of feelings of exclusion and discrimination. 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 during the Diocesan phase called for women to be admitted to the diaconate and priesthood.
Those who are in loving relationships that don’t 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 love the pre-Vatican II liturgy also spoke of their sense of exclusion. Indeed, the earth itself, which Pope Francis reminds us is “among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” has also been wounded by exploitation and a lack of due care.
The prophetic image of the tent is truly asking us if our tent is a symbol of inclusion or exclusion, a symbol of home or exile, a symbol of woundedness or healing.
Healing Calls to Action
Pope Francis has said: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle … The mission of the church is to heal wounds of the heart, to open doors, to free people, to say that God is good.” 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…Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history.” 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 re-opening them in order to establish the truth of what happened, and why it happened, and learn from it. Only in this way can we fully heal, be reconciled and find renewal.
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 and loss. We recognise all these wounds in Christ crucified. A synodal Church can help to redress and bind these wounds. It can help us to be reconciled with ourselves, with God, with one another, and with creation.
The joy expressed by so many who took part in the synodal process, and their hope that it will continue and become embedded in Church structures, is real. We affirm Pope Francis’ commitment to the path of synodality and believe that much abuse could have been prevented had we been truly synodal, open and listening to the voices and gifts of all our family.
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 the baptised must therefore be recognised and practised, to overcome clericalism and to ensure full and equal participation of women in all aspects of Church life and ministry and decision-making.
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 Christ.
Participation emerges as the first step towards communion and mission. Enlarging the tent requires the charisms of all, especially the laity, who can reach people in all areas of life.
Communion requires the proclamation of the Church’s social teaching, particularly Laudato si, which emphasises the gospel call to care for the earth and for one another. This calls for the life of the Church to be a place of genuine compassion and inclusion. It also calls 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 down the centuries. The mission of evangelisation must be as important to the synodal Church as communion and participation. The call to mission is a call to hope. Synodality is emerging as the style for this hope – the style of a Church united around the synodal process, and anchored in an ecclesiology that can build and maintain communion.