Irish Catholics demand big changes in church in report sent to Rome

Former president Mary McAleese describes the document sent to Rome as ‘explosive, life altering, church altering’

Demands by Irish Catholics for major change in the church’s attitude to women, LGBTI+ people, those who are divorced or remarried, and single parents have been sent to Rome. They have also urged the removal of the mandatory celibacy rule for priests.

In a covering letter sent with a report outlining the demands, Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin told Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, that 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”.

The document, he said, called for “fresh models of responsibility and leadership which will especially recognise and facilitate the role of women, as well as men. Our listening process has identified the need to be more inclusive in outreach, reaching out to those who have left the church behind and, in some cases, feel excluded, forgotten or ignored.”

Former president Mary McAleese on Tuesday night described the document as “explosive, life altering, dogma altering, church altering”.

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The National Synthesis document was based on reports prepared by all 26 Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland following widespread consultations with many thousands of the faithful since last October. Subsequent reports were all published in June and, with 29 other submissions, were collated into the synthesis sent to Rome and launched on Tuesday.

It is part of worldwide preparations in the Church for a Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis for October of next year.

The National Synthesis document calls for radical change in the church’s dealings with women, up to and including ordination to the priesthood. It calls for major changes in its treatment of LGBTI+ people, the divorced and remarried.

It had come “not from the hierarchy, not from Rome, but from the people of God”, facilitated by the “openness of the process” which “was never the case before”, said Ms McAleese. It illustrated “the momentum of the people of God for change”.

“Clearly there was a very, very strong movement for reform and change and this is reflected fairly and truthfully” in the synthesis document, she added. “There’s no denying those voices now. I hope when it is received in Rome it will be fully honoured.”

In particular she referred to the LBGTI+ focus group which prepared its own uncompromising report, published with but separate from the Elphin diocese report. That focus group report had since “gone viral” she said, while “its powerful voice drew particular attention in the national synthesis document”.

She congratulated Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran for his integrity in publishing that focus group report in its entirety, as agreed with its participants, and for ensuring it would go to Rome as written. “What he did was courageous in the extreme,” she said.

At a Mass in Knock on Tuesday, during which the document was launched, Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh Michael Router and a member of the synod steering committee which prepared it, said he had been “struck by the pervasive desire to feel a deeper sense of belonging to the church and the call for it to be more inclusive”.

Chairwoman of that synod steering committee Dr Nicola Brady said at the Mass “important questions have been set out for deeper reflection and pastoral action at every level of church life and there will be many more opportunities for people to get involved and help shape this process”.

Fr Tim Hazelwood of the Association of Catholic Priests’ leadership team described the document as “stunning and outstanding”. It was “not trying to uphold any of the old negatives of the past”, he said.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times