Irish Catholics call for Rome to make radical change in church

Document shows desire for change in attitude to LGBTI+ people and removal of mandatory rule for priests

Irish Catholics have called for major change in the Church’s attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, the divorced, remarried and other marginalised groups, as well as removal of the mandatory celibacy rule for priests in a report sent to Rome on Monday.

Published on Tuesday afternoon, the National Synthesis Document followed extensive consultation with thousands of Irish Catholics across the island since last October and culminating in reports published last June from each of the 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland as well as 29 separate submissions from interested parties.

It is part of a worldwide consultation process in the Church initiated by Pope Francis in preparation for a synod of bishops at the Vatican planned for October 2023.

Ireland’s National Synthesis Document said that on this island and “across the various submissions and syntheses many issues emerge consistently, including a strong desire for women’s involvement in leadership and ministries — ordained and non-ordained — and additionally, a concern around the Church’s approach to the LGBTQI+ community and to the hurt experienced by its members.”


It continued that “there is also a call for greater lay involvement and participation” and that “co-responsible leadership needs to be embedded at every level through Parish Pastoral Councils, Diocesan Pastoral Councils and other structures that enable this. At local level we need to ensure the voice of women will be truly integral in our decision-making. We must secure effective participation by the poor and excluded, and other marginalised groups.

“The role of women in the Church was mentioned in almost every submission received. In those responses there was a call for women to be given equal treatment within the Church structures in terms of leadership and decision making.”

Many women, it said “remarked that they are not prepared to be considered second class citizens any more and many are leaving the Church” while “several of the submissions called for the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate and the priesthood. Their exclusion from the diaconate is regarded as particularly hurtful.”

Urgent question

The document continued that “many young people cannot understand the Church’s position on women. Because of the disconnect between the Church’s view of women and the role of women in wider society today, the Church is perceived as patriarchal and by some, as misogynistic.”

Many young people, it said, “do wish to engage with Church, yet deficiencies in current pastoral practice have resulted in a marked disconnect between them and the Church. The question of how the Church might accompany them has emerged as an urgent one.”

There was also “a wide awareness that the traditional co-operative faith-transmission model of the parish-home-school is no longer working. Many submissions suggest that the Spirit is prompting the Church in Ireland to remove sacramental preparation from schools in favour of parish-based formation programmes.”

There was “a clear, overwhelming call for the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the Church, expressed by all ages and particularly by the young and by members of the LGBTQI+ community themselves. This inclusion would in the first instance involve less judgemental language in Church teaching, following the compassionate approach of Pope Francis which has been transformative and is appreciated, again, by young people in particular.”

It said “there were calls from a LGBTQI+ focus group for an apology from the Church” and how “the visceral clarity of this particular focus group gave life to the rather more tentative and generalised positions on inclusion offered elsewhere, pointing to the value of hearing directly the voices of the excluded or disaffected.”

It noted how, more generally, “there were requests for re-examinations of Church teaching and a revision of its understanding of human sexuality in light of recent scientific and sociological research, alongside a recognition of the lived realities of LGBTQI+ and other couples.”

Where the divorced and remarried were concerned “the Church’s ‘rules and regulations’ were seen as draconian” while another group identified as feeling excluded from the life of the Church “was single parents,” it said.

‘Boring, monotonous, jaded’

The document recognised “other minority, yet strong, voices that believe the Church, rooted in the Catholic Tradition, should not conform to secular standards when it comes to questions regarding gender, sexuality, and relationships. For others, the Church has no credibility in modern society as long as discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality exists.”

Submissions, it said “highlighted the importance of a broad and inclusive understanding of family in terms of the composition and formal status of family units” and that in recognising “the diversity and validity of family types, frequent mention was also made of the importance of those who are single and whose needs and capacities are sometimes overlooked.”

There were calls from both young and older participants “for optional celibacy, married priests, female priests, and the return of those who had left the priesthood to marry. Clericalism in all its forms was frequently associated with hurt and abuse of power by participants in the process.”

Some felt “the Church’s liturgies are boring, monotonous, jaded and flat; that they no longer speak to people’s lives. There was a desire expressed by respondents for the full participation of the laity throughout the liturgy; and for a wider more diverse group of people, including women, to take part.”

Many also felt “that decision-making and authority are exercised solely by priests and bishops.” This provoked “discontent in them, frustration and anger with the processes of decision-making and exercise of authority at all levels in the Church,” it said. Yet “some still feel that the laity should not have a voice in the decision making of the Church/parish; that this is primarily the ‘priest’s role’. They are happy to be ‘volunteers’.”

Submissions also highlighted “the morale-sapping effect of negative media treatment of the Church, while recognising the invaluable service of independent media in exposing abuse and failures of accountability within the Church.”

The document said that in submissions “physical, sexual and emotional abuse and its concealment by the Church in Ireland was described as an ‘open wound’.” They related “and link this abuse to so many other areas — our understanding of sexuality and of power; the absence of women in decision making roles; transparency and accountability in governance; clericalism,” it said.

“The scale of abuse within the Church has created a huge sense of loss which infused the responses in our consultation. This sense of loss coupled with continuing anger was expressed by survivors themselves and their families, lay faithful who have become estranged from the Church because of it, and many good priests and religious who also feel betrayed,” it said.

“The contributions about abuse, therefore, represent a call for penance and for atonement at a national level,” it said.

More generally the document found that in Ireland “dramatic economic and social change was seen to have had a profound impact on the structures and processes of the Church, its place within Irish society, and thus on the perceived capacity for participation and mission.”

The Church “increasingly finds itself pushed to the margins of popular culture which it struggles to understand or to find language with which to be understood.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times