Women’s Empowerment Needs Courage & Conscience: Rose O’Connor

Oct 8, 2021 | 7 comments

Rose O’Connor, Limerick Leader

“The spiritual leadership of women depends on the witness, verity of courageous women. It depends as well on the honesty of conscientious men who will call on their own systems of Gospel truth”.

This was a keynote contribution to the synodal process in the diocese of Limerick in 2016 – relayed by Rose O’Connor in a Zoom event for ACI on September 30th, 2021.

In a detailed and positive account of the 2016 Limerick process Rose set an encouraging tone for the wider Irish synodal processes set to begin in October 2021.

The Limerick preparatory process had broken ground in gathering ‘vox pops’ from supermarket customers and university students. 60 Limerick parishes and 25 other groups had participated, and 4,000 questionnaires had been filled in. In all 1500 members of the diocese had engaged in discussion of the wide range of concerns raised.

Topmost came the need to foster community and a sense of belonging; the issue of faith formation; pastoral care of the family – and the need for new models of pastoral leadership.  These and other priorities, including youth involvement, are ‘work in progress’.

When it came to developing the role of women in the church Rose had chaired the Limerick working group on this issue.

A key conclusion from one contributor was that the advancement of women’s roles “depended on the parish priest and his willingness to engage in collaborative style ministry”.

This theme of the dependency of ‘synodality’ on collaborative clergy – given the limitations of canon law – was raised more than once in the ensuing discussion. Rose was at pains to stress the importance of trusting in the process as a means of overcoming the barriers to confidence that yet remain. The openness and frankness of the Limerick discussions had surprised those who participated, and enabled outcomes that had not been foreseen.

As the Limerick process took place years before the coronavirus pandemic, the problems and concerns identified in Limerick will have become more acute elsewhere by the time the 2021-26 process gets into gear. The success and experience already achieved in Limerick – and Killala – can surely be replicated and expanded elsewhere – when no alternative to ‘journeying together’ is on the horizon.

Rose was in agreement that the synodal process beginning in 2021 will need to push beyond the frontiers of what was seen as possible in 2016 – in advancing the role of lay people – and of women especially – in the church.


  1. Soline Humbert

    There were issues concerning women ( no prize for guessing) which were barred from discussion during the Limerick Synod. These were dealt with by the members immediately after the formal close of the synod and a report sent to the Vatican.I believe that an acknowledgment was eventually received,but no response.

    • soconaill

      Rose clarifies as follows:

      “The discussion on the role of women in leadership took place in the Synod itself, the working group was established as a result of that.

      “Discussions on topics such as the ordination of women that are currently outside of the framework of Canon Law took place in a separate session on the Sunday, this discussion was at the invitation of Bishop Brendan Leahy. As you state a report was sent to the Vatican. The Vatican did respond and provided us with guidelines on how lay people can be involved in a range of capacities. We used this information to guide us as a working group.”

  2. Soline Humbert

    All this begs the question :Can all these topics,like the ordination of women and others, currently deemed ‘outside of the framework of Canon Law’ be discussed during the present diocesan phase of the Synod of Bishops 2023, or are they still excluded?
    If they are discussed, will they be filtered out?
    Who knows ?…

    • soconaill

      Bishop Leahy’s reported handling of those issues in Limerick back in 2016 may give us a clue as to what could happen?

      It used to be called ‘kicking to touch’ in Rugby – the booting of the ball out of play to be thrown back in further up the touchline – saying in this case e.g. ‘As these issues affect the universal church and need the decision of the magisterium to be dealt with for the whole church, we will record carefully what is said here and send that record to Rome. We will keep you informed of the progress of that discussion.’

      To err on the side of optimism, the ‘patriarchy’ issue is indeed a global one, so dodging will scarcely be an option for the central ‘synod on synodality’ in 2023. The closely related issue of paternalism – which patronises and diminishes all lay people irrespective of gender – cannot be dodged either, if transparency, accountability and co-responsibility are truly to become real at parish and diocesan level. How can synodality be seriously offered if no revision of canon law is in prospect?

      • Soline Humbert

        Seán, what you describe and call ‘paternalism’, I would call ‘clericalism’,in the context of a patriarchal church. I agree with your question as to how can synodality be seriously offered …?

    • soconaill

      A vivid and compelling account of your own efforts at ‘walking together’ over many years, Soline. That reference by the Irish bishops to the unchangeability of ‘church teaching’ – without qualifying words such as ‘creedal’ or ‘essential’ or ‘central’ or ‘core’ or ‘foundational’ – was indeed a turn-off, and not just for those hoping for movement on that one issue.

      What can we now talk about together other than the weather and football – the usual inconsequentialities?

      The argument that any change on that particular ‘hot button’ issue could cause schism ignores the silent schism ongoing, of people who in conscience simply ‘steal away’. Increasingly I am reminded that Jesus declared that he had been sent to reclaim the lost sheep, while the Holy Spirit is obviously far from inactive OUTSIDE the structures and spaces claimed by our RC male clerical system. Are we being taught to identify ‘the church’ with the ‘scattered’ rather than with the shrinking male clerical redoubt?


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ACI’s Campaign for Lumen Gentium 37

The Promise of Synodality

What we have experienced of synodality so far gives ACI real hope that a longstanding structural injustice in the church may at last be acknowledged and overcome.

As all Irish bishops well know, the 'co-responsibility' they urge lay people to share - as numbers and energies of clergy decline - has been sabotaged time and again by canonical rules that deny representational authority and continuity to parish pastoral councils.  ACI's 2019 call for the immediate honouring of Lumen Gentium Article 37 becomes more urgent by the day and is supported by the following documents - also presented to the ICBC in October 2019.

The Common Priesthood of the People of God and the Renewal of the Church
It was Catholic parents and victims of clerical abuse who taught Catholic Bishops to prioritise the safeguarding of children in the church

Jesus as Model for the Common Priesthood of the People of God
It was for challenging religious hypocrisy and injustice that Jesus was accused and crucified. He is therefore a model for the common priesthood of the laity and for the challenging of injustice - in society and within the church.

A Suggested Strategy for the Recovery of the Irish and Western Catholic Church
Recovery of the church depends upon acknowledgment of the indispensable role of the common priesthood of the lay people of God and the explicit abandonment by bishops and clergy of paternalism and clericalism - the expectation of deference from lay people rather than honesty and integrity.

For the full story of ACI's campaign for the honouring of Article 37 of Lumen Gentium, click here.


"Come Holy Spirit, Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost. Grant to Your Church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of our Divine Saviour, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen."

Saint Pope John XXIII, 1962 - In preparation for Vatican Council II, 1962-65.

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