The Church in Ireland is to hold a national synod within the next five years to – amongst other things – hear the voices of people who have left the Church.
According to a communique issued following this week’s general assembly of the Irish bishops’ conference the Church leaders believe: “A synodal pathway leading to a national synod is inviting us to journey together in discernment of what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Ireland at this time”.
“We are acutely aware of the huge challenges to the faith over the past 50 years from the rapid transformation and secularisation of society in Ireland bringing with it a major decline in practice of the faith and in the number of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life,” the bishops said.
They added that: “We are also aware that many people have left Church behind and in some cases feel ignored, excluded or forgotten – we need to hear their voices also”.
Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis said he wanted to breath fresh life into the concept of synodality articulated at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
The Vatican has defined the principle of synodality as “the action of the Spirit in the communion of the Body of Christ and in the missionary journey of the People of God,” the document added.
In the Irish context, the process is expected to lead to a national gathering of laypeople, priests, bishops and religious to chart a new pastoral programme for the Church in the future.
The Church leaders acknowledge that: “We hear a cry for transparency, greater participation and accountability in the Church”.
On the issue of female participation, the hierarchy note that: “While many women are very engaged in Church life in Ireland, we acknowledge the critical need to honour the contribution of women, to hear their deep concerns, to formally recognise their roles and articulate new models of co-responsibility and leadership involving all lay people – women and men.
“We are also aware that many people have left Church behind and in some cases feel ignored, excluded or forgotten – we need to hear their voices also,” the statement adds.
The plan is that the next two years will be set aside as a period of prayer, listening and discernment. This will coincide with a nationwide consultative process.
It is expected that a task group will be established this summer involving laypeople, religious, priests and bishops.
“As we embark on the synodal pathway, we ask for prayers that this may be a time of renewal, reform and new hope for all the People of God in Ireland,” the statement concluded.