The Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Armagh has said the Catholic Church’s response to publication of an Irish consultation document sent to Rome will be a “slow process”.
Bishop Michael Router, who was a member of the synod steering committee, said the National Synthesis document, based on consultations with Irish Catholics, presented “quite clear” desires.
He said its publication on Tuesday marks “only the start” of the global synodal process, which he said will lead to reform.
There will not be an “overnight change” in response to the reports from dioceses around the world, but a process of discussion is planned at the Vatican for October 2023, he added.
The document includes calls for radical change in the church’s dealings with women, up to and including ordination to the priesthood, and for major changes in the treatment of LGBT+ people, the divorced and remarried. Respondents have also urged the removal of the mandatory celibacy rule for priests.
Based on reports prepared by all 26 Catholic dioceses in Ireland, the document also identifies a need to be “more inclusive in outreach, reaching out to those who have left the church behind and, in some cases, fell excluded, forgotten or ignored”.
Speaking to LMFM radio station on Wednesday, Bishop Router said the church will look to see how it can preserve the teachings of Jesus Christ while making people feel they are more included. He said Irish bishops will not go to Rome in 2023 using the document as a manifesto to say how the church should operate, but they will participate in a “process of discussion”.
“How can [people] have a greater sense of belonging within the church even if they are not living according to the ideals. Who of us are? We are all sinners and we are all struggling,” he said.
It is “very clear”, he said, that respondents want women to have a greater role within the church. “There are ways that that can be put into practice … We have to find a way to bring them to the top table,” he said.
Discussing LGBT+ inclusion will be a “difficult conversation” for many, he said. But he recognised that many gay people have brought “so many of their gifts to bear” in their church and parish.
“People often perceive the church as judging those who are gay and, yes, the language the clergy uses at times does not help that. We have to change that language and accept LGBTQI people as our brothers and sisters, as on the journey with us, no more or no less a sinner than the rest of us,” he said.
In a covering letter sent to the Vatican along with the report, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin said it pointed to “many challenges for the handing on of the faith in this country, including a need for inner healing and hope, especially among those who have suffered abuse by church personnel and in church institutions”.
Editor of the Irish Catholic Michael Kelly said it was “quite telling” that the letter to the Vatican did not include an attempt to sell the report’s findings. By contrast, the reports from England and Wales were accompanied by a “sort of commentary” by bishops there, he told The Irish Times.
This gave an indication, he said, that Irish bishops will likely be “completely neutral” when presenting the findings at the 2023 global synod.
“The fact is you don’t get to be a senior bishop in the Catholic Church unless you agree with the church on everything,” he said.
The document proves what has been true for a while: that many people in the pews disagree with traditional Catholic teachings, he said.
In dispute is what should be done about that, with more conservative Catholics seeing the report as a “crisis of faith” to be solved with more teachings, while those more liberally minded seek reforms, he added.
There is a difficulty for the Pope now because he requested opinions and most people would expect their views to be listened to, he said. The Vatican is now “hamstrung” because Pope Francis has already ruled out the ordination of women.
There is much that can be within Irish parishes, he said, referencing concerns raised about people’s ability to communicate their faith to others and a desire among many for parishes to be more welcoming to LGBT+ people.
Mr Kelly said it would be a “massive failure” if all of the issues raised in the dossier were “just kicked upstairs to Rome”.